Ramdev vs Govt – Who will blink first

For the last one week, the country has witnessed swiftly unfolding high voltage drama ever since Ramdev reached Delhi onJune 2 . The state reception he got at the airport, the 5 hour hush-hush negotiations in Claridges Hotel, Kapil Sibbal displaying hand written note of Ramdev’s close aide Balkrishna, police crackdown on 20,000 protesters at Ramlila Ground, Ramdev being expelled to Haridwar, Ramdev’s allegation of Govt’s conspiracy to kill him, Govt’s allegation of RSS hand behind Ramdev, Sonia Gandhi’s displeasure over Govt’s inapt handling of Ramdev, Anna Hazare’s group boycotting joint drafting committee, Sushma Swaraj’s dance at Rajghat, Ramdev continuing his fast and reports of his deteriorating health, Anna Hazare’s group’s day long protest at Rajghat, Ramdev’s announcement to raise an army of 11,000 youth, Home Minister threatening to take action if he does so, Shoe thrower at Congress HQ, Loose cannon Digvijay Singh firing salvos at regular intervals, confused media and eventually confused public. One would never have imagined that in a country where nothing moves for years, so much can happen in a week.

The standoff between the Govt and Ramdev not only continues but is getting worse by every passing day. While the Govt seems to have presumed Ramdev to be a closed chapter and is only trying to address its vote banks in view of coming UP elections, Ramdev has refused to bite the bullet. He is continuing his fast which enters its 5th day today. He is still attracting a considerable media attention which must be a cause of worry to the Govt. What must be worrying Ramdev is that how long should he continue his fast? In spite of the rhetoric, it is unlikely that he would have imagined being in a situation like this when he started his fast. With the Govt paying no heed, the big problem for him is how to get an honorable exit. It’s a perfect Catch 22 situation – he can’t continue and he can’t end his fast. He will have to play a big gamble and continue his fast. The only hope is that if he continues the fast and his condition deteriorates to a near death situation, it will make the Govt sit up and take notice. Such a situation will also fuel public anger and the Govt will come under immense pressure to act. It will of course require the bigwigs in the Congress Party and the Govt to shun their ego and reopen talks with Ramdev. Both parties would be “once bitten twice shy” and would be more interested in an honorable exit rather that real agreement on Ramdev’s demands. As soon as the Govt restarts talking with Ramdev, the impasse would end.

The scenario sounds good but easier said than done. Firstly, how long would the fast continue or rather in how many days Ramdev’s heath would deteriorate to alarming level? Let’s look back in the history – Mahatma Gandhi fasted a total of 17 times throughout his career. Most of his fasts lasted only a few days, though the two longest (in 1924 and 1943) went on for three weeks each. Mamta Banerjee fasted for 25 days during her protest on Singur. However, the most horrible case of fasting in the history of independent India is that of Manipur rights activist Irom Sharmila who is into 11th year of her hunger strike. Her fast has lasted so long because the police has been force feeding her through nasal drop on regular basis. Ramdev is lucky that he is finally back to Uttarakhand where the BJP’s Govt is supportive of him and he doesn’t have to fear forced feeding by police.

However, the most unbelievable example of going without food is that of Prahlad Jani from Rajasthan who claims to claims to have had no food or drink for 70 years. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/7645857/Man-claims-to-have-had-no-food-or-drink-for-70-years.html) The big difference is that he has left food voluntarily and not for protest.

Both Mahata Gandhi and Mamta Banerjee are no match to Baba Ramdev’s physical fitness. With his Yoga Power, it is expected that he should be able to sustain his hunger strike much longer that Gandhi and Mamta. However, it was a bit surprising to see reports of deterioration in his condition within 4-5 days. It was claimed that he has lost 4-5 Kg weight. The possibility of such rapid worsening of his health is highly unlikely. What is possible is that this could be a tactical move to catch Govt’s attention and public sympathy. The Govt would certainly consult medical experts who would provide the necessary comfort that it is too early to be alarmed. The bad news for Ramdev is that having missed the opportunity on June 4, now there are no short cuts. He will have to carry on for at least a month to expect any softening of Govt’s stand. From Govt’s point of view also, this will not be a very comfortable situation as Ramdev will continue to hog the national headlines for these many days which will not be very helpful for the coming elections in UP.

For the time being the standoff is very much on – let’s see who blinks first!!

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Latest Update – Indian Express (June 12 2011, 10:53 hrs ) – “Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ‘persuades’ Ramdev to break nine day fast ”  ( http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sri-sri-ravi-shankar-persuades-ramdev-to-break-nine-day-fast/802506/)

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