|Sadhvi Ritambhara addresses the gathering as Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna look on at the Ramlila grounds on Saturday. Picture by Prem Singh|
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Late-night crackdown at Baba venue Police fire tear gas, take Ramdev out of Ramlila grounds
New Delhi, June 4: Baba Ramdev was taken out of Ramlila grounds in a late-night crackdown by police who fired tear gas and dismantled the stage at his protest venue, hours after the Centre accused the yoga practitioner of reneging on a deal to call off his fast.
Around 3am, Ramdev’s whereabouts were unclear but the
police commissioner said he had been taken to a safe place. Police sources said he would be taken out of Delhi . But the government clarified that he had not been arrested. Section 144 was imposed in the area. Delhi
Earlier, Ramdev’s supporters formed a human chain around him. The police fired tear gas as the crowd threw stones.
The police were reported to have withdrawn permission for Ramdev’s yoga camp.
At 7pm, minister Kapil Sibal had held a news conference and released a written undertaking given by Ramdev yesterday to end his protest. Sibal then issued a veiled warning: “If we can reach out, we can also rein (him) in.”
If the tactic was to pressure Ramdev into honouring his commitment, it didn’t work. Aware that his protest might now appear discredited as a mere show, the Baba toughened his stance before a crowd of 30,000 and refused to ever again talk to Sibal, the government’s key negotiator.
“We kept calling him since afternoon but the expected announcement didn’t come. We now learn there was some misconception on black money,” Sibal later said.
Sibal added: “We have said a committee will be formed to frame a law to declare illegally gotten money as a national asset. He thought we are only making a committee, not making the law. We will give him in writing that a law will be made if he wants.”
That clarification was given to Ramdev in writing tonight before the police arrived.
A PTI report said Ramdev had admitted yesterday’s deal with the government but claimed he had wanted to continue the fast to make sure the Centre honoured its promise of giving him in writing that it had agreed to his demands.
According to Ramdev’s written undertaking, drafted and signed by his key aide Acharya Balkrishna, an announcement was to be made this afternoon about the agreement with the government. Then Ramdev would have merely continued with his “tap” (spiritual rites) till June 6.
The letter is understood to have been written in the presence of Ramdev, some of his aides, and government negotiators Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay. It begins with a categorical declaration: “According to Swami Ramdev’s consent....”
Sure enough, around 2.30pm, Ramdev had left the dais and entered his tent for “telephone talks with the government”. He came out three hours later to say his fast would continue and that the talks were deadlocked over the issue of tackling black money.
“I will break my fast tomorrow if the government brings an ordinance declaring black money hidden abroad as a national asset. They have agreed to a committee. I want action, not a committee,” he said. He added that he had “put on silent mode” his demand for withdrawal of 500-rupee notes to focus only on black money.
This evening, the two sides appeared locked in a battle of nerves, keen to win the publicity war. Sibal said the government had honoured all its commitments and acted very discreetly, refraining from revealing Ramdev’s letter yesterday.
“But Baba has gone back on his word. We want to make it clear that if the government can reach out, it can also rein in. If we can accommodate, we can also be firm.”
Asked why the Baba was saying the government was trying to scare him, Sibal said: “We don’t want to comment on this. We don’t want to comment on the attempt to scare the government, either.”
Ramdev threatened to continue the fight till his last breath and asked his supporters to carry on fasting if he was arrested.
Although the release of Ramdev’s undertaking appeared to have vitiated the atmosphere, a section in the government felt that causing a dent in the Baba’s credibility was no mean achievement. They said the government needed to send out a tough message amid the popular impression that it had buckled before Ramdev’s agitation.
The Baba had had his last meal of fruits, greens and milk at 7pm yesterday and had only drunk water since, said Jaideep Arya, chief coordinator of Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman Nyas.
The yoga practitioner ascended the dais at 4.50 this morning. He started off with a yoga session, featuring mainly breathing and stomach exercises, but spoke at length against black money and English education.
“The police have given permission for yoga, but even speaking the truth is yoga; satyagraha is yoga,” he said.
He peppered his sermons with one-liners. “Whatever the outcome of this fast, our fat brothers and sisters will shed at least 1,000 kilos of weight.”