Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled out all the stops on Wednesday to persuade Baba Ramdev to abandon his indefinite fast from Saturday to demand an end to corruption and black money. But the yoga guru appeared in no mood to soften his stand.
Singh took the unusual step of deputing four senior ministers — Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, PK Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahay — as well as cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar to talk to Ramdev at the Delhi airport on his arrival from Ujjain in a chartered plane.
The gesture went beyond the niceties accorded to visiting heads of state and annoyed many party leaders who, however, did not want to be quoted.
The PM asked Sahay to cut short his foreign trip and use his personal equation with Ramdev to urge him to call off his agitation which, the government fears, could slip into the BJP-RSS’s hands. Sources said Ramdev, too, was keen that Sahay be roped in for the negotiations.
Although Ramdev is still planning to go ahead with his fast, sources hinted that the talks were moving in the right direction, with the government assuring him that it is taking a series of steps to unearth unaccounted wealth, which have started yielding results.
There were, however, discordant voices within the Congress over the developments. “Fasts cannot end corruption in the country,” said party general secretary Digvijaya Singh. Other party leaders, who were not willing to be quoted, appeared unhappy with the government’s overdrive to placate the yoga guru.
Ramdev, who earlier in the day did a volte-face on his statement that the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India should be kept out of the lokpal’s purview, also told reporters his first round of talks with the government was positive and the dialogue would continue.
"But we will not be satisfied with dialogue or assurances. There should be evidence of bringing back black money from tax havens,” Ramdev said after meeting the ministers.
"Till there is 100% agreement on all issues and a decisive stage is reached, the fast will go on,” Ramdev added. “It is a big war. We have to change the system of 64 years. It is not an easy task. But we will get it done.”
The government agreed that the yoga guru had raised serious national issues and a dialogue with him would continue over the next few days.
"He has raised important issues that impact the future of the country. We responded to them. We are running a responsive government,” Sibal said, without elaborating.
Maintaining that black money and corruption were two sides of the same coin, Ramdev said the main issues he raised with the government were a strong lokpal, a public service delivery guarantee act implemented in all states and setting up of fast-track courts to give judgments in one year with provisions for death sentence for the corrupt.
On a day of hectic consultations at multiple levels, Ramdev met representatives of Anna Hazare’s team on the joint drafting committee for the lokpal bill, and the Prime Minister had a stock-taking session at his 7, Race Course Road residence in the evening to discuss the implications of Ramdev’s fast.
The government’s efforts to dissuade Ramdev from launching his fast is intended to prevent a repeat of the Hazare-led civil society agitation that forced it to agree to form a joint drafting committee for a strong lokpal bill.