Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Deficit of Trust

Ronald Reagan, the American president responsible for the beginning of the end of the mighty empire of the Soviets, used to frequently repeat a phrase. That phrase, rather ironically, was also frequently quoted by the communist ideologue, Vladimir Lenin, during his times in politics. "Trust, but verify". And right now, all around the world, there seems to be a serious deficit of trust.

In India, there has been an ongoing battle against corruption for the last few months. A very public one, if one might add. And yesterday, Baba Ramdev, the famous Yoga Guru, took this battle to New Delhi, leading a peaceful sit-in demonstration, that doubled  as a Yoga camp. His initial set of demands was simple, though a lot of people believed that what he was asking for, was a tad too harsh, and quite impossible to achieve, in a democratic setup such as ours. He was asking for the death penalty for corruption, withdrawal of high denomination currency notes, and a declaration from the government that all ill-gotten wealth is national wealth. At the surface, some of these looked quite do-able, except the death penalty law, which the Baba seemed flexible on. Till yesterday evening, senior ministers in the government were negotiating a "deal" with the Baba, and it looked like things were heading towards a logical conclusion.

Then, around 1 AM in the morning, all hell broke loose. Thousands of policemen surrounded the venue of Baba's sit-in, beat up peaceful demonstrators, including women and children and evicted the Baba. They used water cannons and tear-gas shells, and most of the country was watching this event unfold on national television till early morning. On every single news channel. And when day broke, we found out that all the opposition parties were screaming bloody murder. And the government was sending out all its firefighters. To fight a very public fire. 

This is a massive public relations blunder for the government. A few months ago, they were humbled to a surrender by Anna Hazare's movement. And recently, they have been dragging their feet on everything they promised to legislate against corruption. So, one cannot really blame the Baba for refusing to believe their promises, unless an ordinance was promulgated. After all, how could he trust the government, during these times? Of deficit of trust.

But, a lot of people are asking another question. On very similar lines. Can we trust the Baba? After all, he represents a lot of people, but doesn't the government represent all of the people? How do we know that he is simply not a demagogue with a hidden agenda? How do we know that we can trust him and his movement?

And so, a lot of Indians are just confused. They look at the government with suspicion. But, they look at these "civil society" movements with suspicion too. As an Indian, I think I have some control over my government, in a constitutional framework, which provides me with certain rights. But, I have absolutely no control over any Yoga guru, since he is not answerable to me. In any particular way.

So, like a lot of Indians, I am a little confused. About who to trust, and who not to. But, we do know that these are times of deficit. Of trust.

But, something that bothers me a lot, in the context of this entire episode, is the violation of my constitutional rights. I may not agree with the Baba, but I will defend his right to say what he wants to say. Because, if his rights are trampled over, by the government, so are mine. After all, he was protesting against a national menace, and fighting for certain rights that sound quite justified. And perhaps, the fact that millions around the country support him, leads some credibility to his cause. And since he had taken permission to use the grounds and had a peaceful sit in, one fails to understand how he suddenly became a security risk. How did the government suddenly have the right to use brute force against people, who were exercising their right to make a statement? In a peaceful way. And so, I am not sure if I can trust the government either. To guarantee my constitutional rights, that I expect them to.

So, now that we all agree, that we cannot trust anyone any more, may be, it is time to invoke Ronald Reagan and Vladimir Lenin -- one more time. Trust, but verify.

At this moment, we cannot verify a thing. We don't know if the Baba has a hidden agenda. Unless someone takes the government to court on this rather unusual use of force, we won't know if what they did, was legal. And unless, the government enacts a law against corruption in the next few months, we won't know if they can be trusted to deal with corruption. 

And, while all of this unravels slowly, I wonder what will happen to the struggle against corruption. Perhaps, we will get somewhere with that. In another sixty three years.


  1. Whether his demands were justified or not is another story. But yes with a government like this we are heading nowhere.

    Isn't this the same party that inflicted the emergency. As with everything else, it is the stamp of the dynasty that rules. Democracy is dead, long live democracy!

  2. Indeed, this sets a very dangerous precedent for how peaceful protests should be treated in a democracy.

  3. Janani Sampath: Living in Tamil Nadu, you can't talk about dynasty politics, can you? You sound like an RSS worker.

    And the government that you seem to hate never evicted Anna Hazare from his dharnas -- the ongoing as well as the previous one. Just that Ramdev made such a clown of himself by making bizarre demands.

    I am into yoga, and I have great respect for Ramdev as a yogi; but my soul felt so happy seeing him being bundled out of Delhi. From a yogi he became a businessman; from a businessman he became an ultra-rich businessman; and now he wants to become a powerful politician. Screw him.

    For all you know, tomorrow he could be the Commissioner of Moral Police. Tomorrow, his 'army' could be guarding the nation on Valentine's Day. Who will stop him then?

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  5. @ Mr Ghosh: I am neither a RSS supporter, nor a Baba Ramdev shagird. The only thing I know is that slamming Ramdev is taking the fizz out of the original debate. Why are we after the man and not the cause he stands for? Now everyone seems to be up in arms because a Hindu baba lambasted the government.

    Like I mentioned on your blog, would we be reacting the same way if an archbishop, or mullah, took up the same cause? Would this secular government dare bundle them out?

    Besides, is it my fault that I live in a state that is ravaged by dynasty politics and its ramifications? I don't support that government. I am glad they have been booted out, finally!

    I know Baba Ramdev is no saint. He wouldn't be staying in five star hotels and rolling in money, if he was.

    But let me admit, I am quite livid with Ramdev for diluting the original cause. Now it seems to be more about religion and lesser about corruption.

    I am not even remotely religious. But I must tell you, it has become the in thing- to lambaste Hindus and branding them as 'fanatics'. If this government was truly secular it wouldn't have cared if it was Baba Ramdev or the face of RSS. They would have acted, but they didn't. That shows who is truly corrupt. I can forgive Baba Ramdev, he is just an astute businessman, like you said.