Congress core group discusses Baba Ramdev's fast on graft
Top Congress leadership, including Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Thursday met here to discuss yoga guru Ramdev's proposed hunger strike from Saturday even as back-channel efforts were underway to persuade him not to go ahead with his protest.
As Ramdev remained adamant on undertaking the fast, the Congress core group discussed ways to defuse the situation and prevent the recurrence of events that unfolded when civil activist Anna Hazare went on fast-unto-death in April.
Besides Gandhi and Singh, those who attended the meeting were finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister P Chidambaram and defence minister A K Antony, sources said.
The meeting took place even as informal back-channel efforts were underway between the government and those close to Ramdev to persuade him not to go ahead with the proposed agitation, the sources said.
Ramdev has decided to go on strike to press his demand for strong measures to curb corruption and bring back black money stashed abroad.
Meanwhile, Congress put up a brave face, saying the efforts to defuse the situation should not be seen as weakness.
"As a responsive and sensitive government, we are engaging constructively to find real and practical solutions in national interest. This should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness or fear," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.
Ramdev cancels press meet
Baba Ramdev cancelled a press conference scheduled on Thursday evening in view of "serious dialogue" with the government.
His aides notified the media about the cancellation of the press conference at Ramlila Maidan, where he is to sit on fast from Saturday, saying the yoga guru would update the media about "conclusive" outcome on Friday.
Four senior ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, met him at the airport on Wednesday to discuss issues raised by him that includes repatriation of black money stashed abroad. The ministers are scheduled to meet him on Friday.
Hazare warns Ramdev, says beware of govt's motive
Anna Hazare on Thursday decided to associate himself with Baba Ramdev's hunger strike with a warning to the yoga guru that he should not be swayed by the overtures made by the government saying it plays "fraud" by first agreeing to demands and then backing out.
Hazare, who rattled the government in April through his fast for a stronger Lokpal that generated widespread nationwide support, said all those fighting against corruption should not be satisfied with the oral assurances of the government.
Hazare said he would join Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, where he is to sit on a fast-unto-death protest, on Sunday, emphasising that there was no divide in the civil society on the issue of corruption.
"I will support Ramdev so that the government does not do what it did when we were fighting. We will fight together against corruption," he said.
Hazare criticised Wednesday's extraordinary step by the government to send four senior ministers, including finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, to Delhi airport to receive Ramdev and talk to him there.
"There was no need for so many ministers to go. One or two ministers would have been enough for the talks. When so many ministers go, it means there is a plan of fraud. Sign papers, make promises, all this is to pass time," he said.
"Once the time passes, they (government) will do what they want to. When I went on fast, it reached such a stage that the government conceded to all our demands to save itself. Now, they have backed out," Hazare said.
He was referring to the question of bringing Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal, which he claimed the government had agreed to earlier but now disfavours.
Claiming that the government has "cheated" activists on the issue of Lokpal and people have realised the "betrayal" by the government, Hazare said, "it is a fraud if the government agrees on certain issues and say the Prime Minister will be accountable under Lokpal and later backs out."
Hazare also noted that the yoga guru has a standing in the public and wherever he goes people gather to hear him.
"Baba Ramdev has been raising the issue of black money from so many days. Why did the government not think of doing something on the issue? People have now come to know what the intentions of the government are.
"Now no more hollow assurances and oral promises. What we want is action and the fight against corruption will continue throughout the country till we get what we want," he said.
He said the government was getting its act together now only after Ramdev made it clear that he would start his agitation from June 4.
"For so many days we are demanding (immediate implementation of the Lokpal Bill), why did the government not listen to us. Now the government is running just because time has to come to sit on fast, he said.
Asked about the bitterness that surfaced recently between government and civil society members of the Lokpal drafting committee, Hazare said he warned that if the draft of the proposed bill was not prepared in time and in line with their demands, they will part ways and hit the streets again.
"Government is not bigger than people. People are bigger than people," he said.
Hazare also made it clear that everybody should come under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill. "All the government officials should come under the ambit of the Lokpal," he said.
"If the government agrees to bring the Prime Minister in the ambit of Lok Pal Bill, its (govt's) prestige will increase, not decrease. The prestige of those running the government will increase," Hazare said.
"The image will go out that see, we have brought the PM under the Lok Pal ambit...We want to give a clean administration," he said.
Ramdev says he's with Anna Hazare
Ramdev also cleared the air over reported differences with Gandhian Anna Hazare, who has spearheaded a campaign for a strong anti-corruption Lokpal Bill, saying they were together.
"I talked to Anna Saheb before coming here, there are no differences, we were together and we are together," he added.
Re: Congress core group discusses Baba Ramdev's fast on graf
No senior minister will meet Ramdev, let him come for talks
No senior minister will meet Ramdev, let him come for talks: Govt
Under severe attack over rushing senior ministers to the airport to meet Baba Ramdev, the government is understood to have decided that senior ministers, especially Pranab Mukherjee, will not meet him again for further talks.
Party sources said that Mukherjee will meet Ramdev but it was the turn of the yoga guru and his team to come to him for any negotiations.
The party would not mind ministers like Subodh Kant Sahay, who has good equation with Ramdev, conducting a dialogue, the sources said.
The decision came after serious reservations were expressed by the Congress on Wednesday's extraordinary step of holding a dialogue with Ramdev in the airport.
The issue was discussed at the Congress core group meeting attended by Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some other leaders on Thursday evening.
Senior party leader Digvijay Singh, who has been critical of Ramdev, met Mukherjee Thursday night and expressed the party's concerns over the issue, the sources said.
The party was so cut up on the issue that none of the spokespersons made any comment on the issue except a brief remark by Abhishek Singhvi who said the government's efforts to reach out to Ramdev should not be seen as a sign of weakness.
"As a responsive and sensitive government, we are engaging constructively to find real and practical solutions in national interest. This should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness or fear," Singhvi said.
A senior minister conceded that the government's overdrive on Wednesday was a "weak symbolism" though the government itself was not weak.
Though there were some reservations about the ministers going to the airport, it was conveyed that it was a decision of the cabinet committee on political affairs that such a move be undertaken, the minister said.