‘This is a synchronised war on the government’

Ashwani Kumar: ‘Peaceful protest is a fundamental right. But that is only in a situation where the government is unresponsive. Here on the contrary, not only has the government been responsive, we have in fact been faulted for going out of our way to accommodate Ramdev and Hazare’ Photo: Shanker Chakravarty   | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

Over the past year, the Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance have been hit by an avalanche of scams and scandals. If that was not enough, party and government have earned themselves more trouble by refusing to engage with Anna Hazare and ordering a midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev. Why has the Congress become synonymous with authoritarianism and corruption? Union Minister of State for Planning, Parliamentary Affairs, Science & Technology, and Earth Sciences Ashwani Kumar counters the charges in this interview with Vidya Subrahmaniam.

Why is that every time voices are raised against corruption, the Congress turns it into an issue of communalism? Now the party has launched a vicious attack on Baba Ramdev, calling him communal and divisive.

The corruption versus communalism debate is spurious. It is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts. The Congress believes that we need to fight corruption and communalism with equal commitment and determination. Corruption is an evil against which there is a national resonance. The forces of communalism have been rejected politically, so they have found a way to hit back.

But this national resonance or feeling is against the Congress and this government, with both being seen as thoroughly compromised and corrupt.

This is ironic because it is the Congress, and this government, that have pro-actively moved to root out corruption. If you dispassionately examine the track record of the Congress and the government, you will see that our fight against corruption predates the current agitations. The fight was officially placed on record at the party's December 2010 Burari session, where Sonia Gandhi outlined a five-point programme. This was taken forward by Manmohan Singh with a series of initiatives including engagement with civil society on the drafting of the Lok Pal bill. The Government has on its own taken constructive and purposive initiatives, including bringing to book those within the government against whom prima facie cases have been made out.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar must introspect on their own comparative record. The BJP has repeatedly protected corruption in Karnataka, and indulged those charged with misdemeanours in Uttarakhand; its party president was caught with his hands in the till.

Having failed to take power through the front door, the divisive and discredited party, which has been repeatedly rejected by the people, is now desperately seeking a backdoor entry by latching on to Baba Ramdev. This is a synchronised war on the government. Look at the identical language in which both have attacked Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister. Suggestions about Ms. Gandhi's foreign origins were first raised by the BJP and now they have been outsourced to the Baba who is nothing if not a mukhota (mask) of the Sangh Parivar.

Why have you clubbed Ramdev with Anna Hazare? The latter claims to be ideologically opposed to Ramdev. By not recognising the difference, is not the government uniting its enemies?

There is an umbilical chord connecting Baba Ramdev to the Sangh Parivar, which has been clearly and publicly demonstrated by the BJP-RSS's orchestrated support for him. What more proof do you need than the presence on the stage of Sadhvi Rithambara and other sundry sadhus who are close to the BJP? Also it cannot be purely fortuitous that much of the huge land empire that Ramdev controls today is to be found in BJP-ruled States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Those of us who are in active politics know of his proximity to senior functionaries of the BJP.

As for Anna Hazare, he must ask himself if he has not consciously identified himself with Ramdev and his brand of unlawful brinkmanship by linking the police action in Ramlila Maidan — an entirely extraneous issue — to the boycott of the joint Lok Pal Bill drafting committee. We all know that authority and power in democratic governance have superior legitimacy only because they have been legalised through the harnessing of popular consent. Therefore, in a truly democratic country, the government represents the will of the entire nation, including those of civil society organisations. There is no room in democratic governance to pit civil society against a democratically established government. Otherwise we would be walking straight into anarchy.

Are you saying that there is no place for popular movements in a democracy? Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of the citizen.

It is not my case that there should never be any civil protest against government. Peaceful protest is a fundamental right. But that is only in a situation where the government is unresponsive. Here on the contrary, not only has the government been responsive, we have in fact been faulted for going out of our way to accommodate Ramdev and Hazare; we have been faulted for sending four ministers to the airport to see Ramdev. The irony is Ramdev acknowledged that almost total understanding had been reached with government negotiators. His representatives gave a signed agreement to that effect and also promised in advance to call off the protest for which he had not taken permission.

You send four M inisters to meet him and then you set upon his followers. Where is the logic in this? And if he has no credibility, why talk to him?

In hindsight, one could say that perhaps there was no need for the four Ministers to have gone to the airport. But if they went it was because of a genuine desire to engage with him and to avoid a situation of confrontation. Had we not met him half way, we would have been equally accused of not hearing civil society voices. It was only after it became clear that he was not going to honour the commitment he had given in writing to the government that the latter, left with no other option, acted against him. Strangely it is now being argued that the government is using a technical illegality to justify his eviction.

If he had permission only for a yoga shiver, why was he allowed to convert it into a political protest? And then you compound the folly with a midnight crackdown.

When Baba Ramdev converted the yoga shiver into a political protest, the government in its wisdom decided not to create a crisis — because the impression was that the Yoga guru was going to call it off anyway. Since he reneged on the commitment, and he was also in breach of police permission, the government decided that it could not indefinitely condone an illegality. Had the government allowed the protest to continue it would have been accused of selective and arbitrary application of the law.

In the event the government badly mishandled the situation. The midnight swoop is being compared to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

It is always left to the police authorities to devise the most appropriate way to carry out an operation. If there are excesses, as it is being alleged, there can be an official inquiry into them. However, Jallianwala Bagh is a perverse comparison. How can anyone compare the eviction of 50,000 people with a few people unfortunately injured, with the massacre of helpless Indians by General Dyer of the occupation British regime? This is the BJP brand of politics — a politics premised and fed on arousing hatred and communal feelings through endless repetition of falsehood.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 4:12:36 PM |

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