New Delhi: Hundreds of police swooped on the Ramlila ground here just after midnight Saturday and forcibly removed Baba Ramdev after dispersing his restive supporters with tear gas and batons, ending a high-profile hunger strike against corruption he launched less than 24 hours earlier.
In an operation that was clearly meticulously planned, Delhi Police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel descended on the protest venue in the heart of the capital taking by surprise both Ramdev and the mass of his sleeping supporters.
In no time, there was pandemonium as Ramdev tried to evade police.
As the crowds became restive at the sprawling ground, Ramdev took up a mike and frantically appealed to his supporters from the stage not to indulge in violence. He also quickly ran into the crowds, perhaps in the hope that the police may not take him away then.
His core supporters and close aides did throw a human ring around him. But it did not work.
In no time, clashes erupted between the security personnel and Ramdev supporters, some of who armed themselves with iron rods, fire extinguishers and what appeared to be baseball bats.
As some of them hurled stones at the police, the security forces hit back viciously.
A few minor fires erupted on the high stage. The sound system was dismantled. Not only did some policemen throw back the stones hurled at them, but others fired tear gas, choking and blinding hundreds. Men and women who had been sleeping until an hour ago fled in different directions.
Amid the confusion, police personnel got on to the stage and pushed away the organisers and others. Those who refused to get off were hit with batons.
Quickly, Baba Ramdev -- who enjoys a wide following in north India -- was physically lifted and carried away, further angering his supporters. Many had come from distant states.
Police said the reason for his removal was that Ramlial Ground was given for the yoga camp not for protests.
But the police action upset his supporters with many saying there was no need to use force against protestors.
"What they have done is disgusting. It is barbarous," said a former Indian Navy officer who said he had come from Chandigarh to offer his support to Ramdev`s fast against unending corruption and black money stashed abroad by rich Indians.
An angry young man compared the crackdown with the earlier Egyptian protests.
"Even in Egypt they allowed people to demonstrate for so long. Look at this country," he said in a disgusting tone. A young woman accused police of misbehaving with her -- and other women.
Within two hours, the Ramlila ground was in shambles and looking like a war zone. Much of the stage had been broken. Most people left the place by 3 am Sunday.
Some of the protestors were injured. A few showed bleeding wounds in the legs, accusing the police of using bamboo sticks indiscriminately.
There was confusion on Ramdev`s whereabouts. Police and Home Ministry sources initially insisted that he had left the place voluntarily after being served an externment order to quit Delhi.
They denied that he had been arrested or detained. But another officer later claimed that he had been detained and would be taken out of the capital. He did not say where.
An uneasy calm descended on the protest venue by 4 am after electricity was cut off. But a few women defiantly continued to sit there, refusing to clear out.
The midnight police action came just about 14 hours after Ramdev went on his indefinite fast at the Ramlila ground after his talks with senior government ministers failed.