Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This is Blackmail

After Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death led to the creation of the Government-Civil Society panel on the Lokpal Bill, yoga guru and TV sensation Baba Ramdev has now reached New Delhi to launch a fast of his own, this time with some very interesting demands.

Two of the Baba's demands stand out prominently: hang the corrupt and abolish Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes. What superb proposals: why didn't we think of it before?

Not to be caught on the backfoot again, the Government sent no less than four senior ministers to talk his out of it and present the Government's case. Needless to say, they failed. The Baba is prepared to fast for months at a stretch.

I say the Government should call his bluff. Agreed, Black Money is a serious issue. And there are many serious issues which this Government is too incompetent to deal with. But fasts-unto-death are nothing short of political blackmail. The Baba's demands are noble but some - like the two mentioned above - are outright ridiculous. Currency denominations depend the need of the economy. We have Rs. 1000 notes because bills go up to that amount; it is for the same reason that 50 p coins have become defunct. And if we hang everybody for corruption we would have the least population in the world: such is the widespread nature of corruption and nepotism.

The Baba's timing and speech actually lends credence to the idea that he wants the limelight. Baba Ramdev is known for saying and doing this just to get his name in the papers (a little like Digvijay Singh, but not that extreme). This seems very similar: the nation is angry about corruption, the Baba wants some fame. Two and two make four, simple.

However, the Government cannot be run based on blackmail from anybody, even civil society. There is a difference between pressure and blackmail. To pressurise the Government is necessary; to blackmail it is wrong. The Government should call Baba Ramdev's bluff and tell the nation that the process is indeed long and difficult. The UPA-2 Government enjoys very little credibility but it can still call upon the people of the country and do some straight-talking. When the Baba realises that he's not getting the kind of response he expected, this whole sham of fasts-unto-death will wrap itself up.

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