New Delhi: The fragile coalition between civil society activists and the government has come completely undone over yoga icon Baba Ramdev's eviction and police action against thousands of his supporters late last night in Delhi.
"The government should resign and a caretaker government should take over," said Shanti Bhushan, a leader of the activists who have united in recent months under an organization called India Against Corruption. The goal of these non-elected representatives is to push the government to take major new steps in tackling the systematic corruption that has been exposed through a series of scandals.
Mr Ramdev was on an indefinite hunger strike at a public ground. His movement against corruption had drawn nearly 75000 people to the venue.
After negotiations between the Baba and the government exploded into accusations of lying and cheating by both sides, the police evicted the Baba. As his supporters tried to hide him and protect him with a human cordon, a lathicharge and teargas was used by the police. The Baba was finally located and driven away.
Accusing the government of excesses comparable to the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi, Mr Bhushan said that while he does not necessarily agree with how Mr Ramdev has conducted his negotations with the government, there is no justification for how the Baba's largely-peaceful demonstration was ended last night.
Mr Bhushan is a close ally of Anna Hazare, the Gandhian who shook the government in April with a nearly week-long hunger strike. Mr Hazare, backed publicly by lakhs of middle class supporters, got his way. The government accepted that a new bill to tackle corruption-the Lokpal Bill-would be presented to parliament by the end of June. More importantly, the government agreed that five activists including Mr Hazare and Mr Bhushan would be included in a committee that would draft this bill. Mr Bhushan was made co-chairman of the committee, along with the government's senior-most minister, Pranab Mukherjee.
The partnership of ministers and activists has been a complicated one. Just last week, the activists on the committee said the government seemed bent on introducing a weak law that was designed to fail in combating corruption.
Mr Ramdev's hunger strike was seen by critics as an attempt to project himself as a bigger mass leader-one who would eclipse Mr Hazare, who enjoys expansive goodwill among the people.