Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Slander as Rejoinder

If you can't fight activists on an intellectual plane, or if they don't submit to your blandishments, discredit them. Question their integrity. Impute motives. Allege links with fanatical organisations. That is the strategy of the government which flip-flops between ignoring activists, then falling at their feet and then getting firm with them.
When Anna Hazare didn't give up his fast and the government was forced to constitute a drafting committee with civil society activists for the Lokpal Bill, the slander campaign was directed against Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant, both members of the committee. Allegations about shady land deals and evasion of stamp duty were planted in the media, which was anyway critical of these activists. The Bhushans had a rejoinder but his got much less play than the allegations. Then came a CD which had the father-son duo reportedly speaking to Amar Singh about fixing some judges. The Bhushans got a lab test to show the CD was doctored; the government got another test to show it was genuine. Only a few newspapers carried the Bhushan version. See this story in a media website for more details.
The idea was to show that the crusaders against corruption (the Bhushans have been at the vanguard of the movement against judicial corruption and also behind the public interest litigation on the 2G scam) were not lily white.
Now it is being said that Baba Ramdev has evaded stamp duty of Rs 58 lakh and has grabbed fertile farmland. And Home Minister P Chidamabaram is on television right now, saying that Ramdev is an RSS agent. Questions are now being raised about the extent of his empire and shady deals are being hinted at. Enquiries have been ordered into the medicines and formulations his ashram produces.
Like I have said before in my previous posts, I have huge problems with the Hazare-Ramdev gang. But their analysis of problems and solutions to them can be countered at an intellectual level. Their pronouncements are so ridiculous that it's very easy to do this. They have been able to capture the popular imagination only because of a trivialising, sensation-seeking electronic media.
But that does not justify slander campaigns against them.
If Ramdev is a stamp duty defaulter, why was action not taken all this time? If his empire is involved in shady deals, why had they not been put under the scanner and action taken? If his formulations were suspicious what were the relevant authorities doing all this time? Did his political clout have anything to do with it? And was the government using all this to bargain with him to be its pawn in dividing the anti-corruption movement? Is all this coming out now only because he didn't play ball?
The latest weapon that this government and the Congress deploys against anyone who crosses their path is The RSS Slur. Chidambaram is on CNN-IBN detailing how Ramdev is a front for the RSS. The television media has been going on about it ever since Sadhvi Rithambra appeared on the stage at Ramlila Maidan. There were some Muslim leaders too. Using that same logic, Ramdev should be the front for some hardline Muslim organisation too! Parts of the media have picked this up willingly, with one shrill television anchor writing a column saying this anti-corruption movement is part of India's right-wing nationalist revolution, if you please.
This is meant to scare the urban English-speaking middle classes away from glorifying (deifying, in the case of Hazare) these activists. It is a kind of McCarthyism at work. If you are not with us, you are not just against us, you are also with fanatical organisations.
The fact that this government and the Congress has only this method to counter a bunch of loose cannons shows its utter intellectual bankruptcy.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Your Activist and My Activist

At the risk of being dubbed a RSS person, and without holding any brief for the Anna Hazares and Baba Ramdevs, I have to say this: I totally agree with the RSS  chief Mohan Bhagwat asking if Hazare and Ramdev are outsiders, what about the members of the National Advisory Council (NAC).
I have, in earlier posts, been quite critical of Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death over the Lokpal Bill and of the way his gang of civil society activists were trying to impose an ill-thought law on the country.
I have found Baba Ramdev's pronouncements on black money and corruption highly amusing and I was aghast when I found the government seriously engaging with him. It was a ridiculous attempt to pit one set of loose cannons against another and ultimately it backfired badly.
But when I see the government and the Congress depicting the Hazare-Ramdev bunch as irresponsible and asserting that the government cannot be dictated by them, then I can't help looking at the exalted status that the civil society members of the NAC enjoy.
Now the government and the Congress are saying that law making is the prerogative of the government and Parliament and it cannot be outsourced to civil society. Home Minister P Chidambaram reminds the country that we are a parliamentary democracy and elected representatives should not cede ground to civil society activists. Sure. A very valid point.
So what is the NAC doing, preparing draft legislations and using the clout of its chairperson - Sonia Gandhi - to force the government to accept them? And when the government refuses to accept ill-thought out recommendations, NAC members hold demonstrations.
On 24 May, three NAC worthies - Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and Harsh Mander - demonstrated outside the Planning Commission along with close to 70 campaigners of the Right to Food Campaign over the definition of poverty.
Is demonstrating wrong? No. Peaceful demonstrations are a vital part of democracy. It is a way of expressing mass sentiment. (It's another matter that often crowds are paid and don't know what they are demonstrating for. Or that participating in demonstrations is just very fashionable these days, as we saw during Hazare's fast.) What raised eyebrows in this case was that the demonstration was led by NAC members. The NAC, after all, is a part of the current political establishment, though it is not a constitutional body and has been set up by an executive order.
The NAC, its website, says, "has been set up as an interface with Civil Society. The NAC would provide policy and legislative inputs to Government with special focus on social policy and the rights of the disadvantaged groups."
The NAC has been trying to dictate the agenda to the government on a range of issues ever since it was set up.  Many of its proposals, especially relating to the social sector, put a demand on fiscal resources that will strain the exchequer to the extreme. It drafts legislations and these are forwarded to the government, which is expected to take its recommendations on board.
So one set of civil society activists get a privileged status, while the rest are pilloried and discredited and set upon by the police.
Doesn't seem very fair to me.