NEWS ANALYSIS Neither UPA nor NDA is keen on conceding political space to civil society groups

On Monday, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, by ignoring three ultimatums issued by Baba Ramdev, sent out the message that it was not going to engage with him: the government intended following the strategy it adopted with Team Anna, which ended its fast earlier this month, “responding” to the call of a bunch of high-profile sympathisers not to risk the lives of Anna Hazare and his followers. The Congress, party sources said, has learnt from the bitter lessons of last year, when every interaction with civil society groups only served to energise them.

On the other hand, with top leaders of three key National Democratic Alliance parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiromani Akali Dal — and representatives of two unattached parties, the Telugu Desam Party and the Biju Janata Dal, sharing the Ramdev platform on Monday, the yoga guru got some ballast for his movement against black money. Later, leading his followers in a march to Parliament, Ramdev ensured an honourable end to a fast that was not getting the response he had envisioned. The government, on its part, treated the matter as a law and order issue — and the police took the yoga teacher and his followers into preventive custody.

‘Mask is off’

Indeed, the Congress went on the offensive: Team Anna and Baba Ramdev are providing the facade behind which the BJP-led NDA is operating, the ruling Congress alleged, pointing to the presence of NDA leaders at the Ramlila Maidan, where he had been sitting on fast. Congress media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi, asked why his party had not responded to Ramdev’s call on black money, said: “Today, the masks have fallen and the real faces have been revealed.” The Congress leader also took a swipe at Team Anna: “Whose fight this is, is also becoming clear. Their other partners, who had announced the formation of a party, have said … that they will not contest in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, but in Delhi. Whose face is this?” The BJP is in power in Gujarat and Himachal, while the Congress is ruling Delhi.

‘Only issued-based support’

In the NDA camp, its leaders said privately that their support was “issue-based,” and that while they were happy to back anything that would embarrass the UPA, they were not interested in a closer relationship. Curiously, while the UPA and the NDA — and, for that matter, other opposition parties — are squaring up to each other, and the UPA’s many constituents, including the Congress, admit that the anti-graft agitations has damaged it, neither of the two national alliances is keen on conceding political space to the civil society groups.

If the NDA leaders spoke from the Ramlila Maidan, leaders of the UPA’s supporting parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, were more circumspect. The BSP’s Mayawati, while pressing the government to take steps to bring back black money stashed away abroad, made it clear she supported only those anti-corruption agitations “that were above party politics.” The SP’s Mulayam Singh, extending support for the issue, refused to comment on Ramdev's description of the UPA as “a sinking ship,” while his party colleague, Ram Gopal Yadav, was scathing about the NDA: “People who don’t trust their cadres and feel that they can’t win elections without support of others only do such things. I will not go to any such stage.”

Meanwhile, though most Congressmen desisted from commenting on the presence of the former Army chief on Ramdev’s platform, Captain Praveen Davar, secretary of the party’s ex-servicemen’s department, issued a strong statement: “Gen. V.K. Singh, by associating with a ‘Saffron Swami’ whose links with the RSS are well known, has rendered another disservice to the image of the Army … respected the world over not only for its matchless valour and professionalism, but also for its secular credentials.”

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