This Article is From Jun 06, 2011

PM speaks on Baba Ramdev controversy

New Delhi: Amid public criticism of his government's action against yoga guru Baba Ramdev, some of it from within his own party, the Prime Minister today finally spoke about what's turned into a public relations nightmare.

"It is unfortunate that operation had to be conducted but quite honestly, there was no alternative," Dr Manmohan Singh said about the police's dismantling of Baba Ramdev's camp against corruption over the weekend.  He also addressed the widespread belief that the government, caught in a continuum of corruption scandals, is doing little to change the system. "The government is serious and we are concerned about corruption and blackmoney. There is no doubt. But there is no magic wand," said the Prime Minister. (Forum: Do you agree with PM's comments on Ramdev?)

A campaign by civic society activists called India Against  Corruption has captured the imagination of a country that has confronted over the last few months a series of blatant swindles commissioned apparently by those in power.  They have ranged from a Godzilla-sized telecom scam to pilfering crores from the Commonwealth Games that India hosted in September. Riding on the wave of the anti-establishment sentiment, Baba Ramdev announced that he would fast against corruption and in particular, against the black money that's accumulated in foreign bank accounts.

Late on Saturday  night, the police teargassed and lathicharged the camp where 65,000 people had gathered, and the Baba was evicted.  Opposition parties have said the Prime Minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi owe the country an explanation.  Civil activists said the action against Baba Ramdev violates the right to peaceful demonstration - the Baba had launched an indefinite hunger strike against corruption.  

Some of the sharpest words against the government came from senior Congress leader and known Gandhi family loyalist Anil Shastri who tweeted, "What happened last night at Ramlila Grounds in Delhi was unfortunate and avoidable." Another tweet stressed, "It is Manmohan Singh govt. Was not a party decision."

Sources say the Congress was also upset about the government's decision to send four ministers to receive Baba Ramdev when he arrived in Delhi early last week. The ministers greeted the yoga icon at the airport and then spent hours with him at the airport lounge running over the list of demands he presented - most of these want the government to recover black money and confiscate it. The ministerial posse was denounced publicly by the Opposition which suggested the government was down on bended knee to appease the Baba.

Mr Shastri apparently agrees. "Indira ji or Rajiv ji would not have sent their Ministers to airport to placate a 'Baba' arriving in a private jet," he said in another tweet.

The somewhat obsequious welcome presented by the government backfired dramatically over the weekend when Baba Ramdev u-turned away from a deal he had struck with senior ministers to end his fast. That's when the government decided it was time to take off the gloves. The police was asked to move into his camp and disperse the crowd.

Yesterday, the government and the Congress both expressed dramatically different versions of who sanctioned the police action against the Baba. Senior minister Kapil Sibal said the party was aware of the plan; Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said that was not the case.