Indian police storm yoga guru’s corruption protest –

Indian police firing tear gas stormed a New Delhi camp on Sunday to evict a mass protest against corruption by a famous yoga guru and thousands of his followers, sparking a melee that left 53 injured.
Opposition parties and anti-graft campaigners accused the government of resorting to heavy-handed tactics to crush the demonstration, which comes after a damaging series of corruption revelations at high levels of power.
Police also used batons in their early-hours raid on a vast tent in the centre of the capital where Swami Baba Ramdev, a television yoga star, had begun a hunger strike on Saturday.
“We had given permission for only 5,000 people to attend his yoga camp but 50,000 turned up. We had not given any permission for a public agitation,” Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.
Ramdev later described his terror as police swooped on his camp and vowed to intensify his campaign, which has the backing of the main opposition party and several far-right Hindu nationalist groups.
“My fast is not over yet and I will continue with my satyagraha (civil resistance),” he told reporters from his residence in the town of Haridwar in northern India where he flew on Sunday morning.
“We will observe a ‘black day’ to protest the conspiracy and we will intensify our anti-corruption campaign across the country,” the socially conservative and eccentric activist added.
Delhi police officer Aslam Khan told AFP that 53 people including 23 policeman had been injured in the early morning raid, but none of them was hospitalised.
“The policemen received injuries from stones, flower pots and fire extinguishers thrown at them by the people there,” she told AFP from the now empty site of the protest, where personal possessions littered the floor.
The saffron-robed guru had piled pressure on the scandal-tainted government over corruption after beginning a fast to protest so-called “black money”, cash from bribes or other illegal transactions in overseas accounts.
He had demanded the government accept all of his demands to tackle the problem, including introducing the death penalty for corrupt officials and withdrawing large-denomination bank notes used in illicit cash deals.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration had attempted to talk him out of the “fast unto death”, nervous that his campaign could spiral into a mass challenge to the government’s authority.
Anger over corruption is high across the country after a string of high-profile scandals, including a telecoms licence scam that might have cost the country up to $39 billion and has seen a minister arrested.
Singh sent a succession of ministers to negotiate with Ramdev, leading to criticism from some commentators that the government was appeasing a man with views far outside the political mainstream.
The sudden police raid on Sunday morning in full view of India’s media, which have been covering every twist in the protest, left some questioning the sudden change in tactics.
“It was badly mishandled and it will have a negative impact on the government,” M.J. Akbar, a columnist and political commentator as well as a former Congress party MP, told AFP.
“This smacks of incompetent governance and a complete absence of understanding of the political consequences,” he added.
A senior leader from the ruling Congress party, Digvijay Singh, was unrepentant, telling reporters that “the kind of treatment needed to be meted out to a fraud has been meted out to him.”
Ramdev is popular among millions of Indians who watch his daily televised yoga sessions and he has strong backing from the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The BJP strongly condemns the police action initiated at the PM’s behest to break up a peaceful and non-violent campaign against corruption,” BJP president Nitin Gadkari said in a hastily convened press conference.
“BJP activists will hold a 24-hour protest across the nation in towns and villages to protest what has happened,” Gadkari added, accusing the government of “fascist tendencies”.
Anupama Jha, the India director for anti-corruption lobby group Transparency International, said the police raid “shows how rattled the government was by the campaign”.
“It will only strengthen civil society’s resolve to take up the campaign in a more determined manner,” Jha said.