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Defiant Baba Ramdev targets Sonia Gandhi, will continue campaign in Haridwar

Defiant Baba Ramdev targets Sonia Gandhi, will continue campaign in Haridwar
New Delhi/Dehradun:  It was an eventful Sunday for Baba Ramdev. In less than 24 hours, he saw police action at the site of his hunger strike, disguised himself as a woman, was evicted from Delhi and addressed three press conferences at his ashram in Haridwar. He broke down during the first of those but had bounced right back by the third, wearing his trademark saffron and announcing that his next hunger-strike would be at Haridwar.

Late on Sunday evening, Baba Ramdev also said, "We have moved court against the police brutality. No one can crush our protests. The whole nation has shown its response."

Ramdev said he would also approach Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati for permission to address his supporters in Noida or Ghaziabad, near Delhi. He was not allowed into UP today. "I wanted to go to Noida to protest. I went till Muzaffarnagar but was sent back from there. I was told Section 144 was imposed. The Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate told me that they were bound to arrest me under the law."

The yoga icon had begun his hunger strike on Saturday. At around 1 am on Sunday, the Delhi Police swooped down on the Ramlila Maidan and there were scenes of violence. The Baba spent the night in the protection of the police and was flown out from the Palam airport in the morning. He has been served an externment order and cannot enter Delhi, though he is free to travel anywhere else in the country. (Read: How the Ramdev crisis developed)

Baba Ramdev reached his Haridwar ashram by early Sunday afternoon dressed in white, a woman's salwar-kameez, he said. He recounted events leading up to his eviction from Delhi breaking down several times. The police action at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan was the "darkest night of my life, " he said, alleging that the police had used a lathicharge, tear gas shells and dragged and beaten up his supporters. Never before, he said, had he seen such atrocities before. "The police force 5000-10,000 in number, did not even spare the smallest children. Women and children were dragged and beaten up." (Watch: There were chills down my spine, says Ramdev)

Baba Ramdev described, voice cracking, how he wept and told "cops to stop misbehaving with women supporters", but to no avail. The Baba, who initially escaped the police dressed as a woman, said he was not dressed in a white salwar-kurta because he wanted to and described how he spent hours hidden among women, face covered with a dupatta. (Read: Police found Baba Ramdev dressed as a woman)

The government, he said, had betrayed him. "They said they would declare black money as national assets, find out where it was stashed and would bring it back." Top ministers negotiating with him on behalf of the government he said, had asked him to abandon his fast first saying he would get a written assurance that his demands would be met. But when that letter came, he said, it made no mention of his primary demand.

A few hours later, the wan and weary Ramdev had given way to a composed and resolute one. He came out to declare that his fast against corruption will continue. (In Pictures: Baba Ramdev's satyagraha)

"We will rally all over the nation, hold fast and dharnas; we will go to each house and tell people about government's action," he said, making a scathing attack on the government for the police action at his camp.

Ramdev said, "The government has been ruthless towards women, children, we still don't know who has been thrown where? The government tried to suppress peaceful protests. One of our workers, Rajbala, is very serious; she will probably not make it. We have got a list of over a 100 people who are injured, like Ajay Arya whose both legs are broken; he can't even be operated upon. There are thousands like them who did nothing wrong. This is a huge blemish on the government."

"When did we say that we want a change in system? We spoke about Lokpal and corruption. You don't accept our demands it's fine, but this is not the way to act - by beating women and children", the yoga expert thundered.
 
In his laments and attacks today, Baba Ramdev singled out senior minister Kapil Sibal as "the most scheming man ever" and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, when he said, "Last night's brutality means Mrs Gandhi doesn't love this nation or its people. How can she be so cruel?"

Government justifies action

The government has justified the late night eviction of the Baba saying he had violated permission granted for a yoga gathering. Kapil Sibal said Baba Ramdev had been given permission for a yoga camp for 5000 people but when over 50,000 people descended on the capital's Ramlila ground, the government "couldn't allow law and order to be disrupted."

Baba Ramdev's stage, Mr Sibal said, had become one for "political asanas" and "not yoga asanas." (Read: How the Ramdev crisis developed)

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, called a meeting of all leaders in-charge of states at her 10, Janpath residence. The meeting took stock of the political situation in different states and sent out a message from the Centre.

The Delhi Police said on Sunday that no one was lathicharged at the Ramlila Maidan. Dharmendra Kumar, Special CP (Law and Order) said 39 policemen were injured when people threw stones at them. The police also said Baba Ramdev was removed as much for his own security as to prevent a law and order situation. "We got specific inputs that Ramdev could be targeted", Mr Kumar said. (Read: Stick to yoga not political asanas, says Govt on Ramdev)

But the Opposition and civil society is out in full force to attack the government over the midnight action, saying peaceful protest is a democratic right. Many have likened it to the Emergency imposed by the Congress government of 1975. Leader after top BJP leader has slammed the UPA and demanded an apology from the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. (Watch: No one was lathicharged, says Delhi Police)

BJP launches 24-hour agitation

The BJP sensed a political opportunity and BJP chief Nitin Gadkari announced a "satyagraha" at Delhi's Rajghat from 7 pm on Sunday. The main Opposition party has launched a nationwide 24-hour-long agitation and has asked the government to bring back black money parked abroad. Top leaders have reached Rajghat amid massive police bandobast. Party patriarch LK Advani is among those that will sit on dharna through the night. (Read)

Earlier in the day Mr Advani exhorted President Pratibha Patil to not be "a passive observer" and convene a special session of Parliament to discuss the Ramdev crisis. He said the crackdown reminded him of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Talking to NDTV, Mr Advani attacked Prime Minister Mammohan Singh saying the government's mishandling of the Ramdev crisis proved his earlier allegation that Dr Singh was India's "weakest Prime Minister." (Watch: Mishandling of Ramdev crisis proves Manmohan Singh is India's weakest PM, says Advani)

Party leader Sushma Sawarj said the police action had the backing of the Prime Minister. "All this has been done with backing of PM and Sonia Gandhi. This was done with the advice of Sibal and Chidambaram," she said.

And Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was responsible for the crackdown and dubbed the police action as "Ravanlila in Ramlila Ground". (Read)

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh said, "The Central government has lost mental balance. Some politicians in Congress do not have the manners how to address someone. They called Ramdev a thug. I think the party president should tell them how to speak in public."

The police action was compared to the Emergency by eminent lawyer Shanti Bushan and others like Swami Agnivesh said that because the Baba's supporters had been largely peaceful, the police has violated basic democratic rights. "The government should resign," said Mr Bhushan. (Read: Government should resign, says Shanti Bhushan)

Around 71 people were injured in last night's clashes at the Ramdev camp. Most were discharged fairly soon from hospitals suggesting they were not seriously injured. However, four people are currently in the Intensive Care Unit at Delhi's LNJP Hospital.

Activists like Anna Hazare disagree with those reports. "Bahut pitai hua (many were beaten up)" said Mr Hazare, whose own hunger strike in April received mammoth public support and led to the government agreeing to work straight away on a new law to check corruption among politicians and bureaucrats. (Watch: Action against Ramdev strangulation of democracy, says Hazare)

On the other side of the political argument, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh used strong words calling Baba Ramdev "a thug who is misleading the nation... We can't allow someone like Ramdev to run riot in Delhi. He had permission only to run a yoga camp. He was trying to incite people." Mr Singh has spoken frequently this week against the Baba and his attempts to force the government to launch a mission to recover crores of black money from foreign bank accounts. (Read: 'Thug' Ramdev misleading the nation, says Digvijaya Singh)

Late-night drama at Ramlila Grounds

At 1 am, close to 600 policemen arrived at Ramlila Maidan to demand that the crowd of 60,000 supporters disperse. Their argument was that the gathering had been granted permission only for a yoga camp and not as a mass demonstration. (Watch: Thousands gather at Ramlila Maidan)

A group of policemen trooped onto the stage, reportedly after some people threw stones at them. The Baba asked them to go away. He then leapt from his stage, his saffron robes fanning out behind him, into the crowd of supporters. Seated on a follower's shoulders, the Baba then delivered a lengthy speech, waving his fist in the air. Finally, the police managed to get to him. (Watch: Eyewitness account) | (Read: Ramdev wants peaceful agitation against police action)

At 2 am, teargas shells were launched upon the thousands of people who were present, allegedly in an attempt to force the crowds to leave the grounds. A small fire broke out on the stage that had been used by the Baba but fortunately, it did not spread.

At 5.30 am, the Baba was evicted from Delhi and moved to his ashram in Haridwar.

Government sources say that the Baba was detained for just a few minutes.

The Baba and the government had hit the collision course at around 9 pm with both sides accusing each other of betrayal. Baba Ramdev said the government had falsely assured him that it would meet his charter of demands that include recovering black money held abroad by Indians and declaring it a national asset. The government in turn said that the Baba had in writing promised even before he began his fast that it would end early last evening. The implication was that unknown to his supporters, the government and the yoga icon had struck a secret deal. Stung, the Baba accused the government of lying and said the gloves were coming off.

Another letter from the government was then sent to him assuring him that the government was serious about following up on his demands. The letter appealed again for the Baba to end his hunger strike.

Baba Ramdev has been the government's top priority this week - top ministers spent hours meeting with him to persuade him that his "satyagraha against corruption" should not be launched because the government was willing to work with him to address his concerns.

Several rounds of talks-including those on Friday- were followed by reports that a compromise had been reached. But late on Friday evening, after meeting with senior ministers Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay at the Claridges Hotel in Delhi, the Baba returned to Ramlila Maidan and told a crowd of thousands that his fast would begin as planned on Saturday. He said his movement would be non- violent and that he would fast "till the end." (Watch: Ramdev's '5-star satyagraha' has RSS support, says Digvijaya Singh)

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