Baba Ramdev: What exactly is the yoga guru up to?

If mobilising crowds were an Olympic discipline, Baba Ramdev would easily win the gold medal for India. Since the day the yoga guru took upon himself the task of saving the country from its several ills, he has proved to be a good crowd gatherer. We are not using the word crowd-puller here since we don’t know for sure whether the Baba has the natural charisma to attract people. The crowds could well be a product of efficient micro management starting at the level of the impressive spread of branches of the Patanjali Yoga Pith he heads.

Still, no one can deny Ramdev his due. For quite some time he has been able to hog the headlines without anything specific to ask for. The demand for the repatriation of black money is as vague as the demand that Indian athletes win gold in all Olympics events or that the country must eliminate poverty in one year. But who's bothered really? So long as the crowds are there, lack of cerebral matter in a movement is a small issue. Ramdev has been good at playing to the gallery and realising the value of high decibels. In the age of 24x7 television, intelligence must be a low priority preoccupation.

Baba Ramdev with his supporters on the first day of his three-day fast in the issues of black money and corruption at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI

The country is still not clear what the yoga guru is up to. Team Anna had something definite—Lokpal—to ask for. It was poorly thought out, still it was a solution to tackle corruption. Ramdev offers no solution. He just wants black money back. He does not explain how. Obviously, the canny Baba understands black money is a far more complex matter than what he would like his followers to believe. He is also aware that even the Supreme Court finds itself at a loss grappling with the problem.

His secret sympathisers include people well-versed in economic and legal matters. They must have enlightened him that it requires tax experts of high quality and sound knowledge of global banking laws and international money movement processes to start understanding the phenomenon of black money and its magnitude. They would also have informed him that more black money circulates in the domestic economy than in the foreign financial institutions. But the Baba, with his long experience in public life, surely knows nuances don’t cut ice with people. Knowledge and nitty-gritty are irrelevant commodities when you are addressing to the lowest common denominator.

If it was black money last year, his plate is much bigger now with the addition of many more issues. This time round, he has Lokpal on his agenda too. Interestingly, he has said that he was ready for the passage of a Lokpal bill with minor compromises. "We need a strong Lokpal - even if there 100 percent consensus, let's go ahead with 99 percent. The law can be amended later," he said at Ramlila Maidan. It's clear departure from Team Anna’s position on the issue. Does he want to hijack the Lokpal fight and make it his own? The hints are unmistakable.

He is also demanding that the CBI be made independent of the government’s control; a transparent procedure for appointing Election Commissioners as well as the Comptroller and Auditor General, Central Vigilance Commissioner and the head of CBI. It’s a tall order indeed. The Baba wants wholesale changes in the institutional landscape across India and he wants everything quick. He has been mustering numbers to add muscle to his demand and his Ramlila Maidan show today reveals he has done a good job of it. But is it going to help his cause, whatever it is?

One must have clarity on what Ramdev is up to exactly. But before that the yoga guru must be clear about what he wants. If at all he is serious about his demands—frankly, it looks suspect right now—he must have an intelligent game plan. Crowds don't mean much.