Midnight swoop on Ramdev gives government nightmares (Intro Roundup)

June 5th, 2011 - 9:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) The Indian government battled a major onslaught from the opposition and civil society Sunday after ordering a midnight crackdown on popular yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who hardened his stand against corruption after being forcibly evicted from the capital amid chaos.

A defiant Ramdev, who began an indefinite hunger strike Saturday morning at Delhi’s Ramlila ground, vowed to continue his protest after being sent back to his ashram at Hardwar.

From political parties of the Left to Right to Bollywood twitterati, there was bitter criticism of the vicious police action on Ramdev and his army of supporters that left 100 men and women in hospital, many critically injured.

To register his own protest against the way Ramdev was treated, Gandhian activist Anna Hazre announced a day’s hunger strike here June 8 and said he and his colleagues would boycott Monday’s meeting of a panel meant to draft a Lokpal bill to check corruption in high places.

As the opposition singled out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for condemnation, cabinet ministers and Delhi Police went on the backfoot, trying to justify the decision to physically remove Ramdev.

“This is a black day in Indian history,” thundered Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, echoing the sentiments of an enraged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley was livid: “Can’t people protest peacefully?” “This is state terrorism,” said an indignant Ramdev aide, Vedprakash Vaidik.

The government hit back. Human Resource Development Miniter Kapil Sibal, who until Saturday evening had been talking to Ramdev, said Sunday that he was a front for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“Today it has become clear that he is another face of the RSS,” said a combative Sibal. “What we have done is right.” Police have ordered Ramdev not to enter Delhi for a fortnight.

While Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh called Ramdev a “thug”, government ministers accused him of trying to whip up passions, necessitating the crackdown.

Back in Hardwar, Ramdev appeared twice to speak in public, the first time teary eyed and aggressive hours later.

“Had they requested us to cancel our fast, we would have done that. But the way they manhandled me and the people is a stigma on Indian democracy,” said Ramdev.

He accused the government of going back on its promises made during talks with ministers. “They wanted to kidnap, kill me, or send me somewhere,” he said.

Ramdev vowed to continue his fast. “My fast has not ended.”

It all began after midnight Saturday when hundreds of Delhi Police and Rapid Action Force personnel descended on the sprawling Ramlila ground and tried to seize the 46-year-old Ramdev, a cult figure for his mastery of yoga.

Ramdev was on hunger strike to ask the government to take measures to check corruption and bring back money stashed abroad by Indians. Thousands joined him, coming from all parts of India.

In a bid to evade police, Ramdev jumped from the stage and ran into the crowds. And although he repeatedly appealed to his supporters not to take to violence, clashes broke out.

As police used bamboo sticks to push off people from the stage, hitting people repeatedly, Ramdev supporters armed themselves with iron rods and fire extinguishers.

Some hurled stones at the police, creating more mayhem. Policemen threw back the stones. The carefully set up sound system collapsed. In no time, three or four minor fires gripped the stage.

Hundreds who had been sleeping until then and were taken aback by the onslaught fled in panic, leaving behind books, bags, slippers and clothes. Within two hours, the Ramlila ground resembled a war zone.

“What happened here was barbaric,” said a former Indian Navy officer.

The injured included a woman who was paralyzed after being hit on her spinal cord and two young men whose skull bones had cracked.

Apart from political parties — the BJP, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Telugu Desam Party and the Communists — the government took flak from Gandhian activist Hazare, whose five-day fast in April forced New Delhi to set up a panel to draft a tough Lokpal bill to check corruption.

“We condemn this action. This is a blot on humanity,” said Hazare. “We have decided we will organise a day’s fast on June 8.”

Urging Indians across the country to follow suit, he said: “Wherever you may be, you may stage a fast. And pray to god to give wisdom to this government.”

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