Prime Minister Manmohan Singh broke his silence to justify the crackdown on protesters led by Baba Ramdev as the government found itself battling a storm of criticism, deepening the crisis that threatens to make it a lame duck half-way into its term.
On a day the government’s weekend actions came in for some serious questioning by the Supreme Court, Singh described the episode as “unfortunate”, but said the government was left with “no alternative”. Police launched a midnight raid on the protest site at the Ramlila Maidan on Saturday, detaining the yoga guru and dispersing his followers assembled to support his anti-corruption campaign.
But the manner of the police action on protesters, many of whom claimed they were beaten up by lathi-wielding policemen, had the Supreme Court asking the government to explain its behaviour, piling on the troubles for the Congress-led UPA that has been hobbled by a series of scandals and is increasingly isolated politically under attack from friends and foes alike.
As bad news poured from multiple quarters, the only respite for the government appeared to come from the markets, which shrugged off the worsening political situation to close higher. The Sensex ended 43 points up, although concerns have been rising about the fate of economic reforms and falling investment flows amid slowing growth and rising inflation.
Avacation bench of the court comprising Justices BS Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar, acting on the basis of newspaper reports, on Monday issued notices to the central and Delhi governments and the Delhi Police, asking them to explain within two weeks the “brutality of the State in dealing with innocent citizens”.
“Considering the gravity of the police atrocities and the brutal force that was used by the police to disperse the innocent people who had gathered at Ramlila Maidan in furtherance to the permission granted by the state, is a matter of concern for the court,” the bench said.
The Supreme Court has been severely critical of the government in recent months, reprimanding it on several occasions, especially on the issue of corruption and black money . Its latest intervention came as the BJP-led NDA and the yoga guru’s supporters across the country intensified their anti-government campaign. The BJP, which launched a 24-hour ‘satyagraha’ to protest the police action on Baba Ramdev and his followers, urged President Pratibha Patil to direct the government to convene an emergency Parliament session.
“The image of the government is that of the most corrupt government in independent India,” BJP leader LK Advani told reporters. Within minutes of the Prime Min- ister’s statement, the Opposition intensified
its offensive against him saying he was trying to defend the indefensible. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj tweeted “I am shocked to read Prime Minister’s statement that the crackdown in Ramlila grounds was unfortunate but there was no alternative.
When emergency was imposed, similar language was used by the then rulers that emergency was unfortunate but there was no alternative. Are we back to the days of emergency?” The party’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Prime Minister’s statement was “insensitive and condemnable. It does not behove the stature of the Prime Minister.” The BJP has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi for the police crackdown at a peaceful protest.
The government’s actions, coming days after it was seen as bending backwards to appease the Baba, has drawn widespread condemnation across the political spectrum, including from quarters not considered sympathetic to the yoga guru. Adding to its discomfiture, Gandhian Anna Hazare and his team of civil society members stayed away from a meeting convened to draft the Lokpal Bill on Monday, angered by the police action against Ramdev.
The group of civil society activists raised doubts about the government’s seriousness to eliminate corruption in high places, although the government vowed to press on and draft a strong Lokpal Bill by June 30 for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament “whether or not someone” comes for the meetings.
The government also came under attack from ally DMK, which criticised it for precipitating the crisis. Relations between the Congress and DMK, which has 18 MPs and is crucial for the survival of the UPA, have been strained for some weeks because of the arrest of the DMK chief ‘s daughter Kanimozhi in the 2G scam. The BJP wasted no time in seizing the DMK’s comments to write the UPA’s obituary. “It’s the beginning of the end for the UPA,” BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said. Economic Times