Government engages Ramdev in back-channel talks
Hectic back-channel efforts were initiated today to persuade Baba Ramdev from going ahead with his indefinite hunger strike from Saturday as the Congress party held consultations at the highest level to avert a Hazare-like protest on the streets. Factbox: Baba Ramdevdelhi Updated: Jun 02, 2011 20:17 IST
Hectic back-channel efforts were initiated on Thursday to persuade Baba Ramdev from going ahead with his indefinite hunger strike from Saturday as the Congress party held consultations at the highest level to avert a Hazare-like protest on the streets.
Indications that both the sides were in serious discussions came when Ramdev called off a press conference scheduled on Thursday evening at Ramlila Maidan where he is to sit on fast two days later.
The cancellation of the media briefing took place on the ground that there was "serious dialogue" on with the government and that he would update the media about the "conclusive" outcome tomorrow after the second-round of talks.
After reports that civil society was divided on the lokpal bill, Anna Hazare on Thursday announced that he will join Ramdev's protest on Sunday but cautioned him that the government would "play fraud" by making false promises.
The Core Group of the Congress met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence where party chief Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, AK Antony and senior leader Ahmed Patel were also present.
The party, which had disapproved senior ministers rushing to the airport in New Delhi on Wednesday for talks with the yoga guru, left it to the government to deal with the issue in a proper manner.
The Core Group meeting was followed by another high-level meeting which was attended by Mukherjee and the three ministers -- Kapil Sibal, P K Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahai -- who met Ramdev at the IGI airport on Wednesday. They were joined by Antony, Chidambaram, M Veerappa Moily, cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar and home secretary GK Pillai.
Congress also put a clamp on leaders speaking out of turn on the issue. Senior leader Digvijay Singh had attacked Ramdev saying he is more a businessman and less a "sanyasi".
Sources close to Ramdev said that the back-channel talks revolved around a "definite time-frame" on issues that he has raised with the ministers.
The issues related to a commitment by government on promulgating an ordinance on repatriation of wealth from abroad which he wants to be declared as a national asset, fast track courts to try the corrupt and provision of death sentence for them and enactment of a law for guaranteeing public delivery.
There was no official word on what the government proposes to do but there were indications that it would try to placate Ramdev and make all efforts to see that it does not ahead with the fast.
Hazare, who rattled the government in April by his fast for a stronger Lokpal that evoked nationwide support, said all those fighting against corruption should not be satisfied with the oral assurances of the government.
"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," Hazare said.