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Baba Ramdev arrested in late night swoop

Last updated on: June 05, 2011 15:05 IST

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev was detained early Sunday morning by the New Delhi police from the stage when he was sleeping with his followers.

Ramdev, who is on a fast against corruption at the Ramlila gounds in the capital, tried to evade arrest and jumped from the 15-feet-high stage. He was gheraoed by women devotees but the police was well-prepared to take him out of the ground. He was taken to an unknown destination on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The arrest and police action at around 1.15 am led to mayhem as 30,000 devotees, men and women, were evicted by force by the Delhi police. More than 5,000 policemen had taken charge of the ground at midnight.

The scene at the Ramlila maidan was scary and ordinary people who were sleeping were confused. Since most of them were from outside Delhi they didn't know where to go.

Many devotees got injured while running away from the maidan. Few young devotees even resorted to stone-throwing but the police resorted to a lathicharge and even burst a few teargas shells.

Shanti Bhushan, a member of the drafting committee of Lokpal bill, has asked the government to resign for such, 'a drastic and undemocratic action' against peaceful demonstrators. He called on the government to resign.

PTI addsThe dramatic police action came after government and the 46-year-old yoga guru had accused each other the previous night of betrayal on mutual assurances.

After daybreak, the police cleared all the remnants of Baba's support by evicting his followers from the protest site amidst stiff resistance.

Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said Baba Ramdev was detained as he was leaving the site. Later sources said he was allowed to go out of Delhi and probably he was headed to Haridwar.

Earlier, Home Secretary G K Pillai had maintained that he was not arrested or detained, a point echoed by Delhi Police Commissioner B K Gupta, who also rushed to the spot.

Gupta said there were some security concerns and that the permission for the yoga camp has been cancelled.

He said Ramdev's supporters indulged in stone throwing. The police did not use force except to use some tear gas, he added.

On Saturday night the government and Ramdev indulged in a blame game. Union Minister Kapil Sibal, who had negotiated with Ramdev, made public a letter written by his aide that the fast would be called off on Saturday evening if the government gave a written assurances on a legislation to bring back the black money from abroad and stringent punishment to offenders.

Ramdev hit back, saying the government has indulged in "betrayal and cheating" and vowed not to talk to Sibal ever in his life. He said he would go by the word of the prime minister.

After mutual accusations, the government on late Saturday night sent a fresh letter of assurance on his demands and appealed to him to withdraw his fast.

Indications that the government could resort to some action were available when Sibal said that government which always reached out can also rein him in. "If we are accommodative, we can also be firm," he had said.

In the midnight drama, that was enacted live in front of television cameras, Ramdev's supporters, who were woken up, rose in protest against the police action.

Some elderly people swooned due to the impact of tear gas shelling resorted to by police.

Thirty of his supporters have been admitted to a nearby government hospital for treatment of injuries allegedly suffered during the police action.

Chaos and commotion prevailed when the police, including a contingent of the Rapid Action Force, arrived at the venue and approached Ramdev, who was sleeping on the specially-erected rostrum from where he was addressing his supporters throughout the day.

As news spread that Ramdev may be arrested, a posse of supporters, including women, formed a human cordon around him making the job of the police difficult to approach him.

Some supporters carried Baba Ramdev, who jumped from the dais, on their shoulders and that was the last that he was seen on television screens before he was removed from the place and detained.

Earlier, Ramdev was seen appealing to the supporters to remain calm and sought to pacify them while urging them not to resort to violence.

There was a minor fire when one of the tear gas shells emitted sparks while falling near the stage. The blaze was put out immediately.

In his address to the supporters, Ramdev appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to allow him to be arrested during daytime.

"Why am I being arrested without any information, at night? I appeal to people to maintain calm...," Ramdev told the gathering.

He also appealed the people of Delhi to come in large numbers to the protest venue.

A section of supporters threw pots, tripods and mike stands on cops to prevent them from coming close to the stage.

The crowd dispersed from the stage after police fired tear gas shells. People were seen vacating the dais and the surrounding area after tear gas enveloped the whole area.

The supporters also claimed that Baba along with Acharya Bala Krishnan and Jaydeep Arya, head of Bharat Swabhiman Manch, were arrested.

They also said Swami Sampoornanand, who is second in command, has taken charge of the agitation and has asked people to gather at Jantar Mantar.

Banners were torn and mattresses and furniture lay all over the Ramlila Maidan that resembled a war zone after the police action.

The Ramlila ground was booked for 20 days by Baba Ramdev for a yoga camp but was turned as the venue for his "satyagraha" movement.

Organisers were asking people not to leave the pandal and continue the protest. Some of them, associated with Baba's movement, contacted their associates in respective states to protest against police action in the morning.

A large number of people were leaving the spot, some were seen arguing with the policemen that why they have taken such an action when their protest was peaceful.

Civil society activists Shanti Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh criticised the police action to end the hunger strike of Baba Ramdev with the former law minister calling it an Emergency-like situation and demanding the resignation of the prime minister.

However, Swami Agnivesh was equally critical of Baba Ramdev, saying he should have called off the fast once the government gave him assurances on his demands. But instead he instigated his followers to continue the agitation with the result innocent men and women were attacked.

Comparing the government's action to that of Emergency in 1975, Bhushan said it shows to what extent the government can go to protect black money offenders.

Agnivesh criticised the police action saying this kind of brutal lathicharge and tear gas shelling on sleeping followers was condemnable.

"But not calling off the agitation and continuing with some provocative speeches were not helpful," Agnivesh said, adding the whole thing was based on some fishy deal.

Another activist and Anna Hazare camp follower, Arvind Kejriwal, said the action shows this government is drunk with power and the whole country will agitate against this.

He said they would like the prime minister to explain as to what was the provocation for such a brutal action.

The decision to conduct the midnight operation at Ramlila Maidan, the venue of Baba Ramdev's hunger strike, was a "political" one, a top Delhi police official said.

The operation, which caught Ramdev and his supporters unaware, began after 1 am and it was almost over within a couple of hours.

"It was a political decision. Otherwise we would not have carried out the operation although we had given permission only to hold a yoga camp and not an agitation," said the police official.

He said the police tried to pursued Ramdev to leave the place peacefully but he did not heed to the request and instead asked his supporters not to leave the venue.

The official said followers of Ramdev had pelted stones at police personnel.

 

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi