Its not yet forty eight hours since the standoff between the UPA Government and Baba Ramdev took a decidedly regrettable turn. Having pandered to his demands so far, the Government decided that it was time to do an about turn and clamped down with a pretty brutal hand. And so the country woke up on Sunday to discover that Baba Ramdev had been flown away, ostensibly due to a potential threat to his life. The so-called threat seemed a ridiculous concotion in the light of the fact that the police dispersed off Baba Ramdev's followers using tear gas shells and lathis.
Having given the yoga guru rather more importance than ground realities warranted, the Government ended up giving an even bigger boost to his popularity in the eyes of the people through a brutal crackdown that finished off any sense of legitimacy insofar as it still had any. How can any government justify aggression on peaceful protesters who had displayed not the least intention of unleashing violence?
But the real problem is not the Government's rapidly slipping moral position, but the growing popularity of social activists. Keeping aside the passions of the moment and looking at the situation cold-bloodedly, the recent turn of events are extremely worrying. For one, social activism can never be a substitute for organised polity and for another, coercing a legitimate government- whatever be the objective- could easily set a dangerous precedent.
Most Indians at this point in time would unquestioningly support Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. To be honest, I too am strongly behind them. Nevertheless, I am also not blind to the repercussions of resorting to unconstitutional means to challenge a legitimately elected government. Something similar was tried thirty six years ago. What did it give us? The emergency and the Janata Government, whose performace was so disastrous that the Congress- the excesses of the emergency notwithstanding- was voted back to power with a thumping majority in just three years.
True, the events of the seventies are unlikely to ever repeat themselves. Nevertheless, we as a nation should be alive to the dangerous precedent that we could end up setting. Having successfully coerced the Government using extra-constitutional means, what is the guarantee that another demagogue may not do likewise in the future to further his nefarious ends? If there is even the slightest truth in the Government's assertion that Baba Ramdev has been agreeing to one set of terms and then adding fresh demands in his public utterances, he could well be a man with a personal agenda.
There is no denying the fact that after countless failures to bring in a strong anti-corruption law, the emergence of an Anna Hazare like figure was inevitable. There is also no denying that the creation of a Jan Lokpal could empower us, the people of India, against corrupt and irresponsible officials. Nevertheless, as responsible citizens, we also need to be aware of the dangers of overlooking long term repercussions to achieve a short term objective.