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INSIDE STORY: What really happened at Ramlila grounds

Last updated on: June 6, 2011 21:01 IST

INSIDE STORY: What really happened at Ramlila grounds

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Sahim Salim in New Delhi

It was a battle of wits between the Delhi police and Baba Ramdev in the crackdown on protestors and the yoga guru on the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday. Sahim Salim reports

Ramdev hoodwinked the police and stayed hidden among his supporters for almost two hours before he was finally spotted by the police and arrested, as he attempted to leave the Ramlila grounds disguised as a woman.

Senior police officials involved in the crackdown told rediff.com that Ramdev was "visible" to them till 2.15 am, but then he jumped off stage and disappeared into the crowd.

Baba Ramdev's aides told rediff.com that in their desperation to arrest the Baba, several of his close aides, who were on dais with him, were roughed up by the police seeking information about him.

Dharamveer Singh, a supporter who was fasting with the baba, and was a volunteer in his security said, "Some volunteers and I were sleeping just below the stage. After Swamiji went missing, his close aides such as Acharya Yashdev Shastri, Balkrishna, Acharya Virendra Vikram and others were roughed up by the police. The cops kept asking them where they had hidden Baba Ramdev, while they feigned ignorance."

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Image: A policeman stands under an empty smoke-filled marquee after supporters of yoga guru Swami Ramdev were dispersed by teargas from the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi late on Sunday
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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The police took the supporters by surprise

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Police sources said that they had begun the operation at around 12.30 am, when the baba had gone off to sleep on the dais. Except for a group of people keeping vigil at night, most of his 20,000 protestors had also gone to sleep, when about 5,000 policemen and many personnel from the Rapid Action Force entered the grounds.

"Prior to entering the venue, we had cordoned off all gates of Ramlila Grounds. We had also barricaded all roads leading out to the city so that Ramdev could not escape," a senior inspector posted in central Delhi said.

At about 1.15 am, the group keeping vigil was surprised to see so many police personnel inside the premises.

Ramdev was hastily woken up by his supporters. Around the same time, the police asked the media to leave. Ramdev addressed the crowd, which was threatening to go ballistic, and asked them to maintain calm.

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Image: Ramdev's supporters scatter after teargas canisters were fired by the police
Photographs: Reuters
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'Remain calm', Ramdev told his supporters

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On Acharya Virendra Vikram's idea, some supporters picked Ramdev on their shoulders, and someone handed him a wireless microphone. He again reiterated the people to maintain calm and told them that he was ready to be arrested. After about 45 minutes, at 2.10 am, he returned to the stage.

"Some of the senior policemen went to him and showed him the exterment papers. We told him that he should call off the fast and ask his supporters to leave the grounds peacefully. For a few minutes, he didn't budge, and then jumped into the crowd," a senior police official said.

All hell broke loose after this. The main power supply to the ground was cut off, leaving the area in complete darkness. The police resorted to lathi charge, as his supporters tried to stop the policemen from searching for him.

Two teargas shells were fired one in the crowd and one on the stage, to disperse the crowd. This seemed to work as the supporters and media personnel rushed for cover from the thick smoke.

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Image: A supporter sits under an empty marquee after the place was cleared
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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'The police commissioner was furious'

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By 2.45 am, Delhi police Commissioner BK Gupta arrived at the spot.

"He was furious," said a police source.

"He kept asking us where he had gone, and to arrest him at any cost. We posted some personnel at the main gate and increased vigilance at the barricades on roads leading to the main city," the officer said.

Lathis were used in abundance and water canyons were fired at the crowd to flush out Ramdev. All this while, he was hiding among a group of women supporters.

"One of the women lent him a pair of salwar kamiz and dupatta from her air bag. He changed into these and covered his beard and head with the dupatta. Taking advice from the women, he managed to slip out of the ground in between them," the source said.

"The policemen manning the gate could not spot him, since panicked people were rushing out of the premises. Using the crowds as his cover, he managed to get on the road leading to Zakir Hussain College," the officer said.

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Image: A Baba Ramdev supporter being dragged away by the police
Photographs: Reuters
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'He was the only one with his face covered'

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"One of our men at the barricade saw that the women were trying to hide someone, whose face was completely covered, between them. This made him suspicious as none of the other women were covering their faces. He approached them and removed the duppatta from Ramdev's face and raised the alarm," said the officer.

The women protestors tried unsuccessfully to stop the policemen, as they whisked him away in a police car. The Baba was finally arrested at 4.15 am, almost two hours after he hoodwinked the police.

Police officials said that Ramdev was then taken to the Palam airport, where he was kept under custody at the Palam guesthouse for hours, while the police arranged for a plane to take him back to Haridwar.

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Image: Baba Ramdev can be seen with the dupatta around his neck

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It took them 4 hours to disperse a 20,000-strong crowd

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Meanwhile, the cops back at the Ramlila grounds were still trying to disperse the crowd. More water canyons and lathis were used to evict the people off the premises. In the end, the police lobbed eight teargas shells to force the 20,000-strong crowd off the grounds.

By 5.30 am, it was all over. Every single protestor was out of the ground. According to the records at Lok Natyak Jai Prakoash Hospital, 71 persons were brought in with injuries, four of them critical. The rest were discharged after first-aid.

If the police are to be believed, almost an equal number of cops were also injured in the clash after "the supporters hurled stones, flower pots and whatever they could get their hands on" on the police.

Joint Commissioner of police (northern range) Sudhir Yadav said, "Of the total injured, 23 were policemen and 39 were supporters."

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Image: Non-New Delhi residents were seen scampering to catch buses to their destinations after they were evicted by the cops
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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The supporters hurled stones at us: Cops

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When asked if they were not afraid that a stampede would take place, considering that there were children, women and senior citizenss among the supporters, the officer said, "We were extremely cautious on that front. The only reason we lobbed teargas shells was because they were hurling stones at us."

"As they ran out of the ground, there were policemen all along the way to guide them to safety outside. Elderly citizens were helped out of the ground by our men," he claimed.

Bharat Swabhiman, which organised the protest, however, claims that it was only because of their efforts that no stampede took place.

"Our volunteers used torches to help people to get to safety. Several supporters did not budge from their positions, demanding that Swamiji be brought back. They were forcefully taken out. When teargas shells were fired, we covered our faces with damp clothes and helped the elders, women and children in the crowd," said Dharamveer.


Image: A supporter blocks a police vehicle after her eviction
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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