New Delhi: Yoga icon Baba Ramdev left Delhi very much on his own terms this afternoon after keeping the police waiting overnight, winning the endorsement of all political parties except the Congress, and serving notice to the Prime Minister and his party about his plans to ensure they lose the next election.
"The Congress is paying for its sins," he said to a crowd of about 2000 supporters, who had followed his lead and refused to vacate the Ambedkar Stadium, where the Baba was brought after he was arrested on Monday afternoon. "Congress hatao, desh bachao (vote out the Congress to save the country )," he said, before drinking a glass of juice to end his six-day-long fast against corruption and black money. (Track updates)
"Mr Prime Minister, tomorrow is Independence Day. If you don't speak about black money and corruption (in address to the nation), then you are as guilty as those who are corrupt," Baba Ramdev said in a speech at the stadium before he ended his fast. "We could have stopped the PM from unfurling the national flag tomorrow," he warned.
The police had been reasoning with Baba Ramdev and his supporters to vacate the Ambedkar Stadium since 7 last evening, when they were told they were no longer in detention and were free to go. When the crowd refused, the police decided to let the protestors spend the night. This morning, Baba Ramdev led his audience through a yoga class, and then a lengthy speech before he was escorted by the police to the airport where he boarded a SpiceJet flight to Dehradun, near his ashram. (Read 10 big developments)
By arresting him on Monday afternoon while he was riding a jeep en route to Parliament, the Delhi Police gifted to the yoga guru the drama and momentum that had been missing since he began his sit-in camp last week at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan. He managed a 15,000-strong crowd on Day One, but then the numbers waned. The charismatic teacher, whose televised yoga classes have made him a national celebrity, is not used to a tepid response. There were national flags and patriotic songs at his camp, but the effort seemed a bit forced, drawing comparisons to the failed attempt by activist Anna Hazare and his aides last month to re-invoke middle-class rigour and interest in their campaign against corruption. Team Anna ended its indefinite fast by announcing it would form a political party. When Baba Ramdev began his camp, he said he would not target a political party or personality. That promise dissipated on Sunday, when he began asking his audience to ensure the Congress is defeated in the next round of elections. Since then, his attacks on the Congress have become increasingly aggressive.
That was the cue that opposition parties had been waiting for. One by one, they pledged their support to Baba Ramdev, praising him for focusing on the need to repatriate black money or undeclared income that has been deposited abroad by Indians to evade taxes. BJP president Nitin Gadkari visited Baba Ramdev's camp on Monday before the yoga teacher was arrested, and pledged his support. So did the BJP's allies, like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. At Parliament, Mr Gadkari's party kept the focus on black money by asking the government to explain its alleged inaction. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati - whose parties often bail out the Congress-led ruling coalition in crucial votes in Parliament - said they agree with Baba Ramdev's cause. The Congress stands isolated. "He should also understand that Parliament is established by the Constitution of India and the Constitution is created by sacrifices of freedom fighters. He does not understand that language...forget about the parliamentary language. Let him limit himself as a decent person. This is what is required of him," senior minister Veerappa Moily said.
Baba Ramdev has also proved to Team Anna that he remains a crowd-puller. Some of Anna's closest aides, like Arvind Kejriwal, were reportedly upset when their leader offered to share his stage with the yoga icon last month. Today, Mr Kejriwal tweeted, "We support Swami Ramdev's agitation and issues raised by him. Urge people to support his cause. But we caution him against political parties who are expressing their support. They are neck deep in corruption and their support is mere opportunism (sic)"