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Govt-Ramdev standoff worsens; Baba in tight spot

Baba Ramdev today began an indefinite fast against black money but by the end of the day he was in a tight corner after government released a letter from his aide that he would call off the agitation by mid-day. Ramdev promised to call of strike today: Sibal | Conspiracy to sabotage fast: Yoga guru | Pics

delhi Updated: Jun 05, 2011 01:42 IST


Baba Ramdev on Saturday began an indefinite fast against black money but by the end of the day he was in a tight corner after government released a letter from his aide that he would call off the agitation by mid-day.

As talks failed, the two sides blamed each other of having gone back on their commitments and Ramdev accused the government of "betrayal and cheating".

Union Minister Kapil Sibal's release of the letter by Acharya Balkrishan, Ramdev's key aide, led to attack by the yoga guru that government was indulging in "betrayal and cheating" and that he would now only go by any word from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom he still respects.

The dramatic development came as Ramdev first announced that he would be giving the "good news" of ending the agitation but quickly went back on it after Sibal made public the letter at a press conference also attended by another Union Minister Subodh Kant Sahay.

In a stick-and-carrot message, Sibal said that the government has honoured all its commitments and that Ramdev had a mis-apprehension when he questioned the setting up of a committee on making a law to deal with black money menace.

Ruling out issuing an ordinance on the issue, the minister, who held negotiations with Ramdev yesterday, made a veiled threat that the government that has "always reached out can also rein in".

"If we are accommodative, we can also be firm," he said adding that negotiations cannot be taken as a sign of weakness.

Taken aback by government's aggression, Ramdev threatened to continue his fast till his three demands -- declaring black money as national asset, enacting a law to confiscate blackmoney along with stringent punishment and surveillance on those visiting tax havens abroad.

Ramdev came under severe questioning by media as to why he did not disclose since yesterday that there was an understanding to this effect that he would call off the fast after Government's written assurance on three of his demands.

"You kept the faithful, media and the nation in the dark," was one of the several questions hurled at an uneasy Ramdev who at one point conceded that the reason that he did not announce the understanding on Friday was because peoplewould have left.

However, he quickly hastened to add that government would show its "thumb" to his movement and do nothing about
his demands.

"Kapil Sibal is a liar. I will never talk to him in my life-time," Ramdev said adding that he still reposed faith in the Prime Minister and would go by his decision.

The sudden turn of events started with Sibal releasing Balkrishan's letter which gave Ramdev's "consent" to call off the agitation once the government gave a written assurance of fulfilling his demands within a time frame.

Replying to a barrage of questions, Ramdev said the letter was given after the ministers "pleaded" that this letter was only meant for Prime Minister to show that his fast was not going to be indefinite and that he was not aiming at destabilising the government.

Ramdev claimed the ministers had sought the letter as the government had suffered a huge embarrassment after its decision to send four senior ministers to meet him at the airport on June 1 for discussions.

However, he did not appear convincing in his replies as media grilled him on the letter and its non-disclosure. At one point, he cautioned a reporter to remain within "limits" when the scribe asked him about the funding of his agitation.

Sibal told the press conference that he talked to Ramdev over phone to assure him that government was committed to framing a law and the setting up of a committee is a process towards it.

He however made it clear that there was no possibility of issuing an ordinance in this regard. Sibal said the government will send to Ramdev in writing that its assurance of setting up of a committee is a commitment towards framing of a law.

Defending the decision to make public the communication, government sources said Ramdev was frequently changing
positions and they had to "call the bluff".

Sources said Ramdev's camp had made a commitment to call off the strike by 4 pm and when it did not happen, then
they had to categorically tell him that they were going to release the letter.

Sources also said Ramdev was making fresh demands everyday and many of the issues he raised later were not in the communication sent to the government.

Ramdev told reporters that they were pressurising him to sign the letter but he did not do so and asked the General Secretary (Acharya Balkrishna) to do so.

"They told us that they want to show to the Prime Minister that I have given a commitment that I will call of the strike in two days."

The sources said they had taken the letter to convey to the government that he had given a commitment to call-off the strike.

Early in the morning, Ramdev started his protest with bhajans and his signature yoga sessions before embarking on the hunger strike.

The appearance of fire-brand sadhvi Rithambara raised the hackles of civil society activists of Hazare camp and Congress which alleged that RSS and VHP were fully behind the agitation.

Hazare, who had two days ago announced that he would join Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, was non-committal on the issue today. He said he would go to Delhi on Sunday and take a call on joining the protest.

First Published: Jun 04, 2011 21:51 IST

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