M A I N   N E W S

In crisis control mode, govt opens back-channel parleys with Ramdev
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, June 2
Having failed to dissuade Baba Ramdev from going ahead with his indefinite fast against corruption from June 4, a worried government is preparing for a fresh round of deliberations tomorrow where it will make yet another attempt to convince him to call off his proposed ‘satyagraha’.

Ahead of the second round of talks, the Congress top brass was engaged in lengthy deliberations till late tonight as it struggled to finalise a strategy to defuse the looming crisis.

The Congress core group, headed by party president Sonia Gandhi, met this evening at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence to discuss the issue. Soon after, Pranab Mukherjee briefed Union Ministers .PK Bansal, Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay, who were involved in yesterday’s confabulations with Baba Ramdev, on how it proposes to deal with the latter’s hunger strike and his long wishlist.

Later, Bansal announced: “Our talks with Ramdev will continue.” “Discussions and negotiations are the essence of democracy. When people raise issues, it is the government’s responsibility to engage with them,” he added.

It is understood that the government has prepared a detailed “action taken report” on Baba Ramdev’s demands, which include fast-tracking of black money cases, concrete steps to bring back the black money stashed abroad, increase in minimum support price of grains, a pro-farmer land acquisition Bill and countrywide promotion of Hindi language. The government’s report will provide details of the steps already in place, the measures it proposes to initiate and the points on which it is possible for the government to act.

While back-channel efforts are also on to convince Baba Ramdev to call off his proposed fast, social activist Anna Hazare’s decision to join the yoga guru’s hunger strike has only added to the government’s woes as the Centre was hoping to take advantage of the differences between the two anti-corruption civil society representatives.

On the other hand, the government was comforted by Ramdev’s decision to call off his scheduled press conference today, which suggested that the back-channel talks may yield positive results. Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay, who is personally known to Baba Ramdev, is said to have called him up and urged him not to speak to the media till his discussions with the government are concluded.

The panic in the government was evident yesterday itself when four ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, rushed to meet Ramdev at the airport on his return from Ujjain, and spent over two hours with him to explain all the measures initiated by the government to tap black money. Having come in for severe criticism from the Congress for compromising the party’s image and credibility by the government’s overreaction to civil society activists, the Centre decided that while it will continue to engage with Baba Ramdev, it will not to indulge him unnecessarily.

The government is keen on avoiding any confrontation with civil society representatives as it does not want to face a situation as it did when Hazare went on an indefinite fast in April.





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