New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government plunged into a fresh political crisis after it initiated police action early on Sunday morning to disperse the agitation led by yoga guru Ramdev who was demanding government action on black money.
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The ensuing violence, which injured 75 people, has united the political opposition that is now accusing the UPA of using state oppression to quell democratic dissent.
Already struggling to clear itself of charges of alleged corruption, the government, say analysts, will, after the latest developments, find it difficult to manage a fresh wind to revive its political fortunes in its second term.
Analysts, who say the government has mishandled the issue, predict fresh logjam in the upcoming session of Parliament that could impact the government’s ability to push through long pending legislative changes.
Late evening on Sunday, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi convened a meeting of a core group to evolve a political strategy.
Almost all opposition parties and civil rights activists have attacked the government, saying that the “police brutality” in Ramdev’s makeshift tent was a “shameful chapter” in the country’s democracy.
The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is seeking to take the initiative, even accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi of ordering the police action.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, termed the police action as “deplorable” and “short-sighted”. The party has also reiterated its demand for “immediate repatriation of the money illegally kept abroad”.
“They have made him a hero, but I would add a rider that if he continues to mobilize more civil society people in his campaign, it can develop into a huge trouble for the government,” said Badri Narayan, an Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst. “It will be a bad news for the government as it would lead to policy paralysis.”
The first political fallout of the police action was the decision of civil society activists led by Anna Hazare to boycott Monday’s meeting of the joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill and the threat to resume the agitation at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The UPA had constituted the panel after Hazare, a rights activist, held a similar protest demanding legislation to prevent corruption.
Terming the crackdown on Ramdev as “emergency-like situation”, Hazare, who declared that he would also fast in the national capital against corruption on 8 June, blamed the Prime Minister for what has happened.
While Narayan said the UPA was “repeating mistakes after mistakes” N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman, Centre for Media Studies, blamed the government for not having any connect with the cause of corruption or black money.
“There are no visionaries in Indian politics now. They are tatkal politicians who work on a day-to-day basis. They do not realize that the new generation is better educated and understands the power of democracy better,” Rao said. “Persons like Anna Hazare and Ramdev are popular because they connect with the people in the grassroots level and politicians do not.”
Police fired tear gas shells and stormed the makeshift tent where Ramdev, whose yoga camps had attracted millions across the world, had launched his indefinite hunger strike demanding a legislation to repatriate the alleged black money stashed in foreign banks and declare it as national wealth. Two Union ministers had held various rounds of negotiations with Ramdev, but failed.
Ramdev was taken to Dehradun, where he announced that he would continue his fast outside Delhi and intensify his campaign, which the Congress alleges is backed by Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP.
Among other proposals to combat corruption, he also demanded that the government should introduce death penalty for corrupt officials and withdraw large denomination Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, which, he says, are used for illicit transactions.
While the government and the ruling party—some leaders were not appreciative of the way the government handled the issue—tried to put up a united face, the opposition raised the pitch of its political attacks.
“This is not democracy...the police could not alone have taken such a step,” said Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. “It had the approval of the Prime Minister and full approval of the Congress president.”
In Patna, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar described the use of “brute force” to evict Ramdev and his supporters as a “major blow to democracy”.
Launching a nationwide 24-hour-long agitation against police crackdown, BJP leaders led by party president Nitin Gadkari and L.K. Advani reached Rajghat to begin a satyagraha, or sit-in agitation.
The government, however, justified its action.
“What is crucial is that a man who teaches yoga asanas (positions) should not teach political asanas... The permission given to him was for holding a yoga camp and for 5,000 people. However, 50,000 people ended up coming,” Union minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal, one of the interlocutors, said.
The police claimed that the yoga guru was bundled away after finding there was threat to his life. Dharmendra Kumar, special commissioner, law and order, told reporters that the police had requested Ramdev to call off his agitation as the permission was withdrawn on Saturday night.
PTI and AFP contributed to this story.