At the time of writing this, New Delhi is all set for another period of high drama. It hasn’t been long since one Kisan Baburao Hazare went on a hunger strike demanding that the government show interest in the Lokpal Bill. Back then I had opposed and criticised this obvious act of blackmail against the Union Government. It is not that I’m a great fan of our incumbent Prime Minister and his administration that looks (and gladly participates) the other way even as the State coffers are looted and licenses for valuable national property are sold to crony capitalists. Neither do I understand the sophisticated arguments of well known think-tanks that put forth very valid concerns on the issue of empowering select individuals with great degrees of power over other authorities and institutions.
My criticism against Kisan Baburao Hazare and Ramdev is simple. One: we cannot let the idea of anybody holding Government to ransom by threatening to kill themselves get out of hand. Two: ad-hoc, feel good activism and advocacy cannot and must not replace a well thought out, effective political opposition. These are my personal opinions and I’m not particularly dispensed towards altering them at this point of time. But allow me this space to give vent to some usual week-end ranting against the usual suspects.
Now to embark on an attempt to understand the nuances and limitations of constitutional activism might indeed be an appealing idea. It could even give us the warm fuzzy feeling of having landed bang into the centre of Indian intellectual circles – who knows we (I mean the Centre Right India folks) might even be taken seriously! But, to be honest, it does not interest us. We are more interested in observing the banalities being thrown out of Delhi-based TV studios and we care, deeply, about the ramifications that all this Ramdev rhetoric will produce for the still born Indian Right.
Let us begin with our all time favorites. Although Ramdev and Kisan Baburao Hazare came to Delhi with equally bad ideas and an unmistakably eccentric past, the commentary on Kisan Baburao Hazare was quite forgiving if it wasn’t being deferential. With some experience in media watching we would look for those slight hints of condescension, a bit of elitist snobbery and some sanctimonious platitude on the code of conduct for Hindu Sadhus. I’m unable to tell if its elation or contempt that you are overcome by when you look at the manner in which our Delhi based broadcast journalists deliver exactly as we would expect them to.
There is little the average Indian Conservative can do about this except to perhaps fulminate endlessly on social media outlets. In contrast to the candle-holding week-end activism of the urban sophisticated citizen, a Hindu guru from the UP badlands just ain’t hip. It’s not that Hinduism or Hindu ecclesiastical organisations can’t be made hip – just that they really ain’t. This is far from a justification for the snobbery our media celebrities wallow in but the fact has to be stated.
But let us forget these petty issues for a while and study issues of national importance. Before we discuss the short term electoral benefit Ramdev may accrue to the BJP in the upcoming UP elections, let us look at a more fundamental issue we may have to grasp. Senior commentators have pointed out what we may safely coin a strong undercurrent of leftist economic sentiment within the Right. It is also implied that we may not have an option but to reconcile ourselves to this difference – after all the Right is a wide umbrella under which all shades of Conservative opinion may find shelter, right?
We must not even pretend that the ’progressive’ Right constituted by American-style free market proponents and reformists will be able to either unapologetically articulate their ideas or bring more MPs to the party. The Sangh has always had in its world view an ambiguous, or rather hard to understand, economic and governance agenda. Regressive as it may be, one can definitely make allowances for the RSS in this regard considering that they spend more time on ‘social issues’. But why this generosity? Two reasons. First, the Right has no electoral future if it cannot take the Sangh with it. Two, the so called ‘regressive’ Sangh and ‘progressive’ Right agree on more issues than they disagree on. (There is a third reason: the BJP in Delhi is yet to begin articulating a reformist agenda after Atalji retired).
But this is a bad compromise intellectuals tell us. Within the same umbrella we find two entirely different shades when it comes to an opinion on the direction of our economy and governance models. Allow me to disagree. This is the same fallacy that our middle class routinely commits when it indulges an ‘apolitical’ activism once in a while. Their rationale? No party is perfect. Obviously this is pure bunkum for there will never be a ‘perfect’ political organisation. We choose the best of what we have.
Besides, political movements are an aggregation of many narratives – this is especially true in a large, diiverse country like India and a movement that does not make allowances for accommodating these differences will always flounder.
This brings us to the question of the RSS backing Ramdev. It is true that Ramdev neither has a coherent set of feasible demands nor does he bring a credible alternative to the existing INC-dominated Leftist narrative. But expedience dictates that there is merit in not opposing Ramdev for now – the panic in government circles as soon as Ramdev landed in Delhi is palpable. If he plays his cards right, Ramdev may help reinforce the very real image of INC as the camp of the corrupt. A war of attrition with Uttar Pradesh in mind is not a bad idea – if it works.