The events and the political line-up are eerily reminiscent of 1987 when the then finance minister, V P Singh, quit the Rajiv Gandhi government, launched a movement against corruption that was supported by both the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and eventually went on to become the prime minister in 1989.
Yoga teacher Ramdev, whose fast against corruption ended in his arrest on Monday, is no Singh. But most political parties outside the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), including the Samajwadi Party (SP), on Monday supported Ramdev’s movement. The BJP, Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Akali Dal joined him on the dais. Mulayam Singh Yadav announced anyone who fought to bring back black money would have backing SP.
Ramdev’s movement is based on rhetoric that Indian, especially Congress, leaders have salted away money abroad illegally to avoid paying tax on it. The finance ministry two days ago released a 13-page fact sheet which said Rs 49,325 crore and tax evasion of Rs 600 crore have been detected following investigations based on banking information obtained from foreign countries since 2009.
The fact sheet said the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and the Income Tax Department’s efforts had resulted in undisclosed income amounting to Rs 32,000 crore since 2009 being recovered. Assets had been seized amounting to more than Rs 2,600 crore.
However, Ramdev and thousands of his supporters who caused a huge traffic jam in the centre of the city until they were taken into custody, were unmoved by this information. Political parties supporting the Ramdev agitation prevented the Lok Sabha from functioning.
The agitation has resuscitated several tired political parties. “BJP is fully behind Baba in his fight against black money. He has our full support. There is no political agenda to this agitation. The agitation is of the people and it is not limited to a one single party. Black money should be brought back to the country and spent on the country's development,” said Nitin Gadkari, BJP president, at Ramlila Ground.
BJP leaders believe Ramdev is politically a more stable force than social activist Anna Hazare, whose team members have been attacking BJP.
BJP leaders believe Ramdev’s movement would also benefit the National Democratic Alliance, as it brought together old alliance partners like the Telugu Desam Party and Asom Gana Parishad, whose leaders were also present on the dais at Ramlila Ground with Gadkari.
Ramdev is being propelled to become the face of an inclusive political grouping. Born as a Yadav, Ramdev represents that stream of Hindu religious leaders who, in the run up to the Babri mosque demolition, questioned Brahmin orthodoxy and became the propelling force in mobilising other backward classes (OBC) behind the BJP. Uma Bharati was another such leader, so was Sadhvi Rithambhara. OBCs played a big role in increasing the BJP’s Lok Sabha presence from two seats in 1984 to 119 in 1991.
The OBC consolidation could take place because V P Singh’s acceptance of the Mandal Commission report heightened OBC self-awareness. BJP spotted this and supported the proposition that backwardness is more a factor of social standing than a function of economic status.
By backing Ramdev, BJP is trying to replicate a winning formula, casting Ramdev as VP Singh in a script circa 2014. Ramdev’s own views are a testimony to an OBC appeal. He says no one is born to any caste: “In Vedic culture, everyone is considered to be born a Shudra. Then, based on his or her education, one becomes a Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya. This completion of education is considered to be a second birth. Hence these three Varnas are called ‘Dwija’ or twice-born. But those who remain uneducated for whatever reasons are not discarded from society. They continue as Shudra and perform support-activities for the society” he writes in his blog.
It is another matter that several investigative agencies including the Enforcement Directorate are probing Ramdev’s business dealings.