Ramdev firm on fast; PM, Sonia favour more talks (Intro Roundup)

June 3rd, 2011 - 1:23 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) Yoga guru Baba Ramdev was firm Thursday on going on a fast against corruption and illegal money in tax havens abroad, but the government tried another shot at conciliation, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi meeting to find ways to dissuade the saffron-clad sanyasi, who has thousands of middle class followers, from his protest.

Ramdev, who enjoys a huge following for offering cures for many lifestyle-related diseases, including cancer, through yoga, plans his fast from Saturday in New Delhi’s sprawling Ramlila Ground to demand measures to curb corruption and bring back black money stashed abroad.

Meanwhile, support for Ramdev, 46, grew and spread across his lakhs of followers from the middle-class, political parties, and from the spiritual fraternity with ‘Art of Living’ exponent Sri Sri Ravi Shankar backing his peaceful hunger stir.

Gandhian Anna Hazare, who had gone on a fast in April to press for a strong anti-graft Lokpal Bill, extended his support to Ramdev and also denied any rift with the yoga guru, but he cautioned him against “government tactics”.

Although Ramdev’s close associates said the yoga guru was determined to sit on a fast, there was no news of the Baba himself after his morning appearance in Gurgaon, bordering Delhi. Through the day, government tried to persuade him through back-channels.

“Many government people have approached Baba Ramdev, but how can any one stop the cause the Baba has initiated,” his spokesperson S.K. Tijarawala asked while speaking to IANS.

He also said various sections of the society, irrespective of caste and creed, will join the Ramdev’s cause. “People from almost every district are coming forward to join the cause the Baba has taken up. The government has so far made false promises, but this time they can’t escape. Baba Ramdev is fighting for the cause of the nation and to make the system corruption free.”

“The prime minister has taken a serious note of Baba Ramdev’s call,” Tijarawala added.

On the government’s part, it was said late Thursday night that more talks would be held with Ramdev Friday.

“The next talks will be held Friday”, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal told reporters after he, along with Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay, held special meeting with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on how to negotiate with the yoga guru.

“Talking to someone is not sign of weakness,” Bansal said, apparently in reference to criticism within the Congress that the four senior ministers had held talks with Ramdev at Delhi airport Wednesday, but could not convince him to give up his fast.

As the government feared a repeat of the Anna Hazare-like mass movement in the country or one even bigger than that in view of his huge following, the Congress core committee under chief Sonia Gandhi met at prime minister’s Race Course Road residence to find urgent ways to address the issue.

The committee decided to dispel all impressions that there were differences between the government and the party over the strategy to deal with Ramdev’s agitation, even as party leader Digvijay Singh again attacked Ramdev.

“Even to teach yoga, he charges Rs.50,000 from those who sit in the front seats, Rs.30,000 for the backseat and Rs.1,000 for the last seat. What else is this,” Digvijay Singh asked while addressing a meeting in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress general secretary said the party was not scared of Ramdev and was holding discussions with him. “If the Congress was scared, Ramdev would have been put behind bars. There is no fear that is why he is out in the open and there are discussions with him,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to the defence of Ramdev, with party president Nitin Gadkari saying, they “support Ramdev’s demands and will include it in our political resolution” at the two-day national executive meeting beginning in Lucknow Friday.

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