SC questions Ramdev eviction, PM seeks to justify govt action

SC questions Ramdev eviction, PM seeks to justify govt action

New Delhi: As political polarisation over yoga guru Ramdev intensified, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government why it forcibly evicted him along with his supporters from the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, where they were protesting against black money and graft.

The ongoing anti-corruption campaign and sharpening political divide are expected to take a toll on the government’s attempts to overcome the economic challenges of high inflation and slowing growth. The hostility is likely to spill over into the monsoon session of Parliament, expected to start next month, obstructing the government’s bid to introduce key legislation.

The government itself seems to be going into crisis mode. At least three Union ministers have been asked to cancel scheduled foreign visits, a cabinet minister said, requesting anonymity. Apart from this, an education ministers’ conference, earlier scheduled for Monday, has been shifted to 8 June, “due to some unavoidable circumstances".

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An official in the human resource development ministry said on condition of anonymity that the meeting was deferred as minister Kapil Sibal was busy handling the crisis over Ramdev.

A group of ministers’ meeting on coal, which was expected to be held tomorrow (Tuesday), has been deferred to 9 June and an empowered group of ministers’ meeting on gas allocation has been postponed indefinitely. Mint could not independently confirm the reasons for the changes in schedule.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh justified the midnight police crackdown against Ramdev, which drew widespread criticism, saying it was “unfortunate" but that “there was no alternative". He also reiterated the UPA was “very serious" about fighting corruption. “But there is no magic wand," he told reporters in Delhi.

S.L. Rao, sociologist and chairman, Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore, said: “There is no doubt at all that what we are seeing is the collapse and confusion in the government."

With Ramdev continuing his hunger strike in Haridwar and opposition parties and civil society groups planning a series of protests across the country, the war of words between the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heated up.

A delegation of opposition leaders led by BJP parliamentary party chairman L.K. Advani, met President Pratibha Patil, demanding immediate convening of a special session of Parliament to pass a resolution declaring black money stashed in foreign banks as national assets. Ramdev’s now-disrupted protest fast was aimed at seeking the repatriation of this money.

The BJP, sensing an opportunity to regain popular support, launched a demonstration at Rajghat, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial, to protest against the crackdown on Ramdev and his supporters. It accused the government of “shielding and protecting" the corrupt.

The Congress attacked the yoga guru and alleged that the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were backing him.

“Anyone may call himself a swami, satyagrahi or social reformer—and put some demands and expect that the country will listen," Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said. “This is not part of democracy."

The Congress also alleged the involvement of the BJP and RSS in an incident during Dwivedi’s press conference when a man, allegedly posing as a journalist, appeared to try and hit the party official with a shoe. The man was apprehended.

Four Congress Union ministers had received Ramdev last week when he arrived in the Capital by private jet to negotiate with him before he started his protest.

The apex court took suo motu cognizance of the midnight eviction move against Ramdev, expressing concern over alleged “police atrocities" and use of “brutal force" to disperse the crowd gathered at the Ramlila grounds. The apex court sent notices to Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, Delhi police chief B.K. Gupta and Delhi chief secretary P.K. Tripathi to explain the circumstances within two weeks.

The National Human Rights Commission also issued notices to the Central and Delhi governments seeking reports in a fortnight on the action.

ISEC’s Rao criticized the government’s handling of the Ramdev issue. He also said that the BJP was trying to hitch a ride on the Ramdev bandwagon, although the yoga guru’s credibility was being questioned.

Meanwhile, Sibal, also a ministerial member of the joint drafting committee for the anti-graft Bill, said the government would finalize the legislation by 30 June. The committee met on Monday, but without civil society representatives, who boycotted it in protest against the police action against Ramdev. The panel will meet again on 15 June.

PTI contributed to this story.