Govt 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.

New Delhi: 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.

Indications that both the sides were in serious
discussions came when Ramdev called off a press conference
scheduled this 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 today 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, A
K Antony and senior leader Ahmed Patel.

The party, which had disapproved senior ministers
rushing to the airport here yesterday 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 airport yesterday. They were joined by
Antony, Chidambaram, M Veerappa Moily, Cabinet Secretary K M
Chandrasekhar and Home Secretary G K 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.


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