India Insight

When the Ramdev circus rolls into town

By Annie Banerji

Hundreds of devoted volunteers and followers are preparing a tent stretched across an area the size of four football fields, as scores of media personnel throng the site of yoga guru Swami Ramdev’s fast-until-death at New Delhi’s Ramlila Ground.

With several volunteers working day and night making arrangements for Ramdev’s impending indefinite fast to retrieve black money and formulate stringent anti-graft laws, preparations for this grand personal campaign, which is expected to draw several thousand supporters, are in full swing.

From the entrance to the end of the ground, there are volunteers scurrying about with duties ranging from construction of the sprawling waterproof tents to installation of lights and fans. Followers of Ramdev started pouring in to the city from all over the country a week ago.

“Our country has so much potential, but we are all spiritually and morally lost. The key is to reach to the bottom rungs of society, to provide the rural population basic amenities and education of international standards. Swami Ramdev is our platform to improvement,” said Shailesh Nage, one of the organisers of the event.

24-hour water supply has been provided to ensure the efficient functioning of 600 toilet facilities and the 500 faucets which will provide filtered and purified water, for drinking and bathing. The open-air kitchen, which is supposed to serve thousands during this nine-day campaign starting June 4, is divided by a rivulet of muddy water — vegetables are chopped and utensils are washed on one side and food is prepared on the other.

Manmohan Singh: middle-class darling no more?

For nearly two decades, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the darling of the Indian middle classes, who saw the Oxford- and Cambridge-trained economist as a rare alternative to the stereotype of the uneducated, corrupt and criminal politician.

Prime Minister Manmohan SinghThat love affair had begun to fray at the edges of late, after Singh’s perceived inaction over several corruption scandals that had emerged in his second term as premier, but now, it may finally be over.

As thousands of mostly middle-class Indians across the country demonstrated in support of veteran social activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike against corruption, the anti-government and anti-Singh mood was very much palpable.

Fight against corruption good; what about the method?

Even as Anna Hazare’s protest demanding an anti-draft bill gains nationwide momentum and nears a solution, there has been some criticism of the methods the veteran social activist has adopted in his crusade.

While everyone seems to agree with demands of more transparency in the system and more accountability in governance, Hazare’s fasting to force the government to accept his demands has led to some calling his tactics as being unconstitutional and unreasonable.

The primary argument is, if a single man can launch a protest, and within four days can virtually force the government to come up with a tweaked version of a legislative bill, does it augur well for a democracy?

Business tycoons express solidarity with Lokpal bill protests

Leaders from India’s influential corporate industry on Friday expressed solidarity with Anna Hazare in his campaign for a tough anti-corruption ‘Lokpal’ bill, joining ranks with thousands across the country galvanised by the activist and his Gandhian method of non-violent agitation.

Word about Hazare, who is on a fast until death, has spread through television, SMSes and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, drawing thousands of protesters on to the streets across various cities at a time when stories of mass corruption are dominating the media.

The government is under increasing pressure to resolve the impasse with protesters, who are now demanding that their nominee head a team to draft the Lokpal bill, before the agitation takes on new dimensions and the health of Hazare deteriorates.

Congress’ 2007 leadership whispers underscore 2011 election dangers

Rumblings within the ruling Congress party that suggested the “jettison” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the party’s electoral failures in state elections in 2007, cited in a secret diplomatic cable published on Monday, are a timely reminder of the dangerous implications of failure for Congress in elections this month.

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi watched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) fills nomination papers seeking to retain her post as the party chief at her residence in New Delhi September 2, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

The electorates of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go the polls this month to elect new state legislatures, in the first tests of public confidence in India’s ruling party that has been implicated in a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals over the past nine months.

Singh, a 78-year-old technocrat and economic reformist, had his leadership questioned by senior aides to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who mooted a more politically sellable replacement following electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, detailed a U.S. state department cable accessed by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

Congress dithers on Lokpal bill as pressure builds

As the scandal-tainted Congress coalition in India struggles to deal with graft allegations, the focus has shifted to an anti-corruption bill that may well be the bane of future governments.

A view of the parliament building in New Delhi February 12, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesThe Lokpal bill, which aims to bring the prime minister’s office and lawmakers under the purview of an anti-corruption ombudsman, has been introduced, rehashed and abandoned several times since 1968, the year it was first proposed.

Under growing pressure from the opposition and a hunger strike by 72-year-old activist Anna Hazare, the government may find it difficult to ignore the bill further.

The bitter truth behind BJP’s deafening budget silence

To some, the parliamentary walkout by India’s opposition prior to the vote on the country’s annual budget motion marked the failure of India’s ruling Congress party to engage with its primary adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over its claims that the Prime Minister had lied to parliament to protect his own reputation.

To others, the sight of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj leading her MPs out of the chamber as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee prepared to deliver the most important parliamentary bill of the year encapsulated the sorry state of India’s increasingly bitter partisan politics that show no signs of repair since trumpeting corruption became the opposition’s raison d’etre.
Lawmakers and leaders of India's main opposition alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Sushma Swaraj (front, L) and L.K. Advani (front, R) attend a protest against rising prices wearing aprons with protest slogans inside the premises of the Parliament House in New Delhi REUTERS/Stringer(INDIA)
Swaraj would later tell The Hindu that her walkout was to avoid disrupting the passage of the bill, but the damning point rang out loud and clear: the opposition had decided the corruption drumbeat was more important than the budget.

Mukherjee had earlier pleaded with senior BJP leaders to allow the budget to be debated prior to any discussion on a parliamentary privilege motion submitted against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Swaraj, promising a two-and-a-half hour debate on the issue after the budget had passed.

Wikileaks cash for votes allegations implicate India’s Congress

India’s ruling Congress party offered cash for votes to pass a crucial 2008 confidence vote in parliament, a secret U.S. state cable released on Thursday said, embroiling Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government in yet another corruption scandal that risks further opposition attacks on the graft-smeared coalition. File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

The secret U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on Thursday details a conversation between a senior Congress party member and a U.S. Embassy official surrounding the payment of almost $9 million by a government facing a crucial confidence vote to members of a regional political party to secure their support.

Fight corruption – at your own risk

The judges in the Supreme Court had finished hammering out for delivery the next day a landmark verdict in the battle against corruption, when a thousand kilometres away, another anti-graft crusader was beaten to death.

An activist shouts slogans during a protest in New Delhi March 4, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesNiyamat Ansari’s killing on Wednesday night in the poor eastern state of Jharkhand came days after he exposed large scale embezzlement of funds meant for India’s flagship social security programme.

A recent spate of corruption scandals has sparked off outrage among Indians and the newfound zeal against graft has been reflected in the Supreme Court’s tough stance. But the killing shows, these measures may be just curing the symptoms, not the ills.

India’s Games shame as countries ask for $70 million in outstanding fees

The athletes are long gone, but like the faded posters that are still scattered across New Delhi, the embarrassing legacy of India’s Commonwealth Games rumbles on in a widespread corruption investigation and charges of financial mismanagement by foreign contractors who are reportedly still owed $70 million.

Eight countries, representing 18 private firms, wrote to India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sports Minister Ajay Maken claiming to be owed $70 million still outstanding from the organising committee, Times Now reported on Saturday.
President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur
The committee, and its chairman Suresh Kalmadi, a powerful ruling Congress party politician, was roundly criticised in the lead-up to the October 2010 Games for shoddy construction work, missed deadlines and a huge overspend, and has seen members investigated and arrested by the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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