NEW DELHI (AP) ― Hundreds of police officers swooped down Sunday on the venue of a hunger strike by a charismatic Indian yoga guru and forcibly removed him and thousands of his supporters.
Officers detained Baba Ramdev for security reasons, but later released him, said Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman in the Indian capital, New Delhi.
Renowned yoga guru Baba Ramdev performs Yoga exercises before going on a hunger strike with his followers in New Delhi on Saturday. (AP-Yonhap News)
Saffron-robed and bearded Ramdev and tens of thousands of his supporters went on hunger strikes across India and in several cities in the United States, Europe and Africa on Saturday in a campaign to try to root out India’s endemic corruption.
The police clampdown early Sunday came within hours of both the government and Ramdev announcing an agreement on steps to battle corruption.
Police said they had given permission to Ramdev to hold a yoga function with 5,000 people. “More than 40,000 people had turned up at the venue, and it was not possible to provide security to them,” Bhagat told the Associated Press.
Television channels reported that police sealed off the venue of the hunger strike and used tear gas and canes to disperse Ramdev’s followers, causing injuries to some people. Television images showed police firing tear gas.
As police officers reached the dais to take away Ramdev, he jumped into the crowd of his supporters. But police soon overpowered him.
Bhagat said officers used tear gas to clear the area of supporters of Ramdev who had defied police for nearly two hours. He had no information on any injuries.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported that nearly 30 people were injured and were hospitalized with limb and head injuries. The report cited a doctor, Lokesh, who uses one name.
Arvind Kejriwal, an activist who was not at the scene, described the government’s decision to break up the hunger strike as “highly undemocratic.” “There was no provocation to assault people like this as they remained peaceful,” he told reporters.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, also condemned the police action. “This government has no will to fight corruption,” he said.
For years, Ramdev, a wildly energetic man, has contorted his body through a series of complex yoga poses, drawing millions of people across India to gather in front of their televisions to follow his every move.
On Saturday, Ramdev chanted Hindu religious hymns and performed yoga exercises before starting his hunger strike, which critics said undermined the country’s democratic institutions.
He vowed to battle the pervasive culture of corruption in a country where everything from getting a driver’s license to setting up a business involves paying bribes.
“There is a powerful anger in the people of this country. They want urgent action,” he said.
Ramdev told his followers later Saturday that the government had agreed to his demands and that he was waiting for written assurance before ending his protest.
His demands include immediate steps by the government to bring back millions of dollars illegally stashed abroad by Indians and the imposition of tough penalties on those who continue to put their money in safe havens.
Kapil Sibal, a government negotiator, had said he would soon give Ramdev written assurance. But later he criticized the guru for continuing the protest despite an agreement with the government.
That angered Ramdev, who announced that his hunger strike would continue until the government acted on its assurances.