The midnight police swoop on yoga exponent and telestar ‘Baba' Ramdev and his supporters was arbitrary, brutal, and anti-democratic. A peaceful assembly had suddenly been set upon and tens of innocent people injured for no fault of their own. “No government has reached out as much as ours,” negotiating Minister Kapil Sibal had boasted on the eve of the action. “But if we can reach out, we can also rein in.” Mr. Sibal mis-spoke: what he meant perhaps was ‘No government has the capacity to lurch from one extreme to the other as our government.' First, it reached out to Shri Ramdev in a way that was indistinguishable from obsequiousness, with four Ministers led by the second-ranking Cabinet Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, abandoning all semblance of dignity by going to the airport to receive a man who has since been denounced as a ‘cheat' and a ‘thug' by a senior Congress leader, Digvijay Singh. The message that immediately went out was that given the anti-corruption mood in the country, the Manmohan Singh government was desperate to fend off further political trouble. It then negotiated in secret with Shri Ramdev, supposedly to get on top of the huge and complex issue of India's black or dirty money — which is parked in tax havens, exploits the offshore system that is analysed powerfully in Nicholas Shaxson's book, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World (The Bodley Head, London, 2011), and has figured in global reports and in releases of secret banking records by WikiLeaks that provide a foretaste of what is to come. The message sent out by the midnight police action at New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan was profoundly anti-democratic: for those who won't ‘reach out' to the government by doing a backroom deal, the ‘reining in' will be by teargas and police lathis, fists, and boots.
A quick look at Shri Ramdev's charter of demands reveals that many of them are bizarre or over-the-top or don't fit into India's constitutional scheme. His mobilisation has brought in large numbers of people who are sincere in their detestation of corruption — and also communal elements and reactionaries. But every Act and Scene of the tragicomedy, L'affaire Ramdev, has exposed the political bankruptcy of the United Progressive Alliance government when it comes to dealing with the issues of corruption, ministerial misconduct, and abuse of power. Beleaguered by a multitude of corruption scandals dominated by the 2G-spectrum allocation scam, it has earned the reputation for being the most corrupt dispensation independent India has seen. On top of this, by lurching from one extreme to another in unprincipled and anti-democratic fashion, it has miscalculated badly and landed in a deeper mess.