Baba Ramdev intent on fast, puts UPA on the backfoot

Baba Ramdev intent on fast, puts UPA on the backfoot

New Delhi: In a setback to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Baba Ramdev rebuffed fresh requests by a group of senior minister led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to call off his proposed fast against graft and black money.

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The fast will once again focus attention on the alleged acts of corruption such as the sale of second-generation, or 2G telecom licences, and make it politically difficult for the UPA. A concerned government went into an overdrive to manage political damage control with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convening a meeting late in the evening at his residence on 7 Race Course Road. Earlier in the day, the UPA delegation met Ramdev, the yoga guru, immediately after he landed in Delhi. Besides Mukherjee, the team included parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal and minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal. Though the talks made no headway, home minister P. Chidambaram maintained that the government would continue to engage Ramdev and would request a fresh meeting on Friday.

“He (Ramdev) raised important issues which impact on the future of our country. They are significant national issues. They are limited to one or two issues. There were broad range of issues. We prima facie responded to them," Sibal said after the meeting adding that the government will not only “think seriously" but also “move forward".

Later in the day, Ramdev, while addressing media persons at the venue of his fast, Ramlila grounds demanded legislation and not written assurances. Resonating a similar demand as Anna Hazare in his public agitation for Lokpal Bill, Ramdev said the “government will have to issue an ordinance (to bring black money back) and pass the Bill in the upcoming session of Parliament".

Ramdev is going on a fast against corruption beginning Saturday at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds. His principal demand is to bring black money stashed in foreign banks back to the country.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Singh had written to Ramdev requesting him not to go ahead with his fast. Singh in his letter promised “practical and pragmatic" solution to the issue of corruption.

However, with just two days left, Ramdev turned down Singh’s proposal and decided to go on a fast. “The Prime Minister has asked me to halt the fast, but unless 100% demands are not met, we will not stop ourselves at any cost," Ramdev said on Tuesday.

Jagdeep Chhokar, founder-member of the Association of Democratic Reforms, a non-governmental organization, said the government is trying to “expand the scope" of discussions. “It is very hard to say what the government is up to. I think, the government is trying to delay the whole thing as long as they can," he said.

The government is facing a similar situation for a second time in two months. While in April, the government began negotiating with Hazare after he began his fast, in Ramdev’s case, the government has started the process earlier.

Meanwhile, Ramdev clarified that he had no differences with Hazare on the scope of the Lokpal Bill. According to him, the inclusion of the Prime Minister and higher judiciary should be done only after a debate.

“A person who continues to flip flop, it will remain to see on whose side he is," Chhokar said, adding that there is a possibility that Ramdev’s fast could “dilute" what Anna Hazare is doing.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, Shanti Bhushan, co-chairperson of the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill, wrote to chairman Pranab Mukherjee, to invite government representatives of the committee to join a national public debate that is “likely to be telecast live" by television channels. It is proposed to happen on Sunday, a day after Ramdev begins his fast.

PTI contributed to this story.