Baba Ram Dev attracted tens of thousands of people to a demonstration against corruption, that made the Indian Government very nervous. They first tried to placate him, sending in senior officials including the Finance Minister but then, in an abrupt change of tact, sent in police with tear gas and batons, who used violence to disperse the men, women and children who were supporting the peaceful protest. Today, another well-known social activist is expected to lead a day-long hunger strike in New Delhi.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Richard Lindell, India Correspondent for the Australia Network
LINDELL. I've been speaking to analysts and economists and people that follow the issue of corruption in India closely over the past week and noone seems to be able to make sense of what the government has done here. At first they tried to placate Baba Ram Dev by sending four ministers to meet him before Saturday's protest. In the process, they elevated a yoga guru, a very popular yoga guru, but they still elevated him to a level of a political leader. After doing that, they then decided to send in the police and knock him down and knock his supporters down in a way which was very undemocratic and in a way that shocked many people in India. So they elevated him and then they knocked him down in a manner which was quite shocking.
The fact that there were scenes of police going in with tear gas and batons to disperse, many men, women and children who were literally sleeping after midnight have also shocked people in India. So the government strategy here appears to be all over the place and really political analysts here have not been able to understand what has been behind the government's action. It's certainly backfired, the government now is under attack and it's actually rallied people behind Baba Ram Dev, who himself is a fairly controversial figure. Many people are not his hugest fans, but still the way he was treated, the way his followers were treated have actually galvanised support around him.
COCHRANE: And I understand another well known activist is going to take over or carry on his protest. Can you tell us about that development?
LINDELL: Well again, this is how support is really rallying around Baba Ram Dev. Anna Hazare, a very known social activist here, a long time anti-corruption campaigner and he is going to go with his followers into central Delhi today to also go on a one day hunger strike again against corruption and in support of Baba Ram Dev. So again, we're seeing very different people here rallying their followers together against corruption and against the government's actions over the past week.
COCHRANE: So are we seeing something of a ground swell of people rising up, sort of popular movements rising up against corruption in India?
LINDELL: Well, I think we've been seeing this over the past year. The Commonwealth Games really surprised many people in India. Middle India thought they were doing really well now and the fact that they couldn't get their act together on the Commonwealth Games in time, the fact that there was so much corruption over such a high profile event really shocked many people in India.
The other thing that happened was the 2G telecommunications scam where a minister is now in jail, where 40 Billion dollars was lost from the government's budget bottom line, because of corruption. These two big events have really raised awareness of corruption in India, but also people in India live with corruption in every aspect of everyday life. You go to get a driver's licence, most of the time you need to pay a bribe. There are millions of illegal roadside stalls which continue to operate, because they pay the bribes to police and to local councils. Every aspect of people dealing with the administration with bureaucracy, there is corruption involved and it goes all the way from the lowest levels of society all the way up to government, to members of parliament and clearly it's also in some of the ministries as well. So people really are fed up with corruption, they really are looking for change in India and I think these two figures in Baba Ram Dev in Anna Hazara are really rallying points and really vocal points for peoples growing anger at the level of corruption in India.
One economist I spoke to called Arum Kumar, who wrote one of India's best books on corruption called "The Black Economy" says that if there was no corruption in India, India's economy would be seven times the size it is now and would be the second largest economy in the world, quite amazing figures that he calculated.
COCHRANE: Richard, is three any indication as to how the government is going to handle this brewing anger about corruption?
LINDELL: Look in the past, what the government has done is try and delay new laws coming which would make them more accountable. But now what we're seeing is a much more active court system. The courts have forced the government's hand on a number of high profile corruption cases. So now we see people like Suresh Kalmadi, the organiser of the Commonwealth Games in jail. Now we see the former telecommunications minister, A. Raja in jail on corruption charges. So the court are becoming much more active, civil liberty groups are becoming much more active and people are really fed up with corruption and are really looking for change. So in one sense, when we see people like Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev, they've come onto the streets with huge followings. In one sense, what we are seeing is a ground swell of support and people saying enough is enough.