x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Raid on yoga guru's anti-corruption demonstration by police sparks fresh uproar

Indian government 'mishandled' Baba Ramdev after first trying to appease him and then adopting heavy-handed tactics, says analyst, so that 'more and more supporters are joining the movement now and the opposition parties will capitalise.'

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev tells followers at his ashram in Haridwar yesterday that he would continue a hunger strike in protest at corruption in India.
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev tells followers at his ashram in Haridwar yesterday that he would continue a hunger strike in protest at corruption in India.

NEW DELHI // India's government faced new protests and pressure from the Supreme Court yesterday after ministers ordered police to crush a peaceful anti-graft demonstration at the weekend led by a famous yoga guru.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], emboldened by an opportunity to revive its flagging fortunes, started a demonstration attended by its leading figures amid an outcry over the raid on Sunday morning.

Local television channels broadcast new footage of police using batons on supporters of television yoga star Swami Baba Ramdev, who was on hunger strike with thousands of followers in New Delhi to protest against corruption.

"Our agitation against the crackdown on Baba Ramdev's supporters will continue until the government admits their mistake. They will have to pay for this," BJP president Nitin Gadkari told reporters in the capital yesterday.

India's Supreme Court also weighed in yesterday, asking the police and home ministry to explain their decision to send hundreds of officers to detain the eccentric Mr Ramdev, leading to a melee that left more than 70 injured.

A political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Socities, Sanjay Kumar, said the government had mishandled Mr Ramdev after first trying to appease him and then adopting heavy-handed tactics.

"They are responsible for giving the issue fresh momentum. The midnight crackdown was a big mistake," he said. "More and more supporters are joining the movement now and the opposition parties will capitalise."

Hardline Hindu nationalist groups joined the BJP in slamming the administration of the Prime Minister ,Manmohan Singh, saying the crackdown on Mr Ramdev, a devout Hindu and spiritual leader, was an insult to the religion.

"By insulting Baba Ramdev they have insulted all the Hindu gurus and saints," the hardline World Hindu Council said in statement on Sunday.

Anger about corruption is high in India after a series of scandals involving the government and the ruling Congress party, notably a $39-billion [Dh143bn] telecom scam that saw a minister arrested.

Mr Ramdev, who disguised himself as a woman to try to evade police on Sunday before flying back to his ashram in the northern town of Haridwar, resumed his hunger strike yesterday and vowed to intensify his campaign.

"People from all walks of life are disgusted, they are hating the federal government," he said in an address to hundreds of cheering followers.

"All the political parties, representatives from the civil society are supporting us, they are giving us strength at every level," he said, adding: "The government is trying to terrorise us but their tactics will not work".

At least 71 people were injured in the police raid on Mr Ramdev's camp on Sunday, with one man suffering a fractured skull while a woman sustained serious spinal injuries that are likely to leave her paralysed, a medical source said.

Mr Ramdev's main request is that Mr Singh's administration forcibly repatriate so-called "black money", cash in foreign bank accounts suspected of being used for bribes or other illegal transactions.

The bearded yoga teacher and healer also wants the death penalty for corrupt officials and has called for large-denomination notes to be withdrawn because they are used in illicit transactions.

The yoga guru seems a man of contradictions. Mr Ramdev's real name is Ramkishan Yadav. He owns a "peace" island in Scotland and runs a business empire said to have generated 11 billion rupees [$245 million] since 1995, according to an interview he gave to the Indian Express newspaper.

Police said he did not have permission to hold such a large protest in New Delhi numbering at least 50,000 people, while the government accused him of reneging on a deal to call off his demonstration.

Using the platform of his daily appearances on the country's top religious channel, Aastha TV, Baba Ramdev has increasingly entered politics, challenging the government on corruption, gay sex and modern medicine.

His current campaign is against corruption, but also rails against Indians sending their children overseas for education, foreign technology, Western medicine, industrially produced food and the use of English in India.