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Ramdev determined to fast; PM, Sonia mull ways to dissuade him

Thursday June 02, 2011 09:35:32 PM, IANS

New Delhi: Yoga guru Baba Ramdev is determined to go ahead with his proposed hunger strike for purging corruption from society, even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met here to find ways to dissuade the saffron-clad sanyasi, who has thousands of middle class followers for his yogic and healing powers.

Support for Ramdev, 46, came from not only the political class, but also from spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Gandhian Anna Hazare, who had gone on a fast in April to press for a strong anti-graft Lokpal Bill, extended his support to the yoga guru. But he cautioned him against "government tactics". He also denied rifts between him and Ramdev.

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

Although Ramdev's close associates said that the yoga guru was determined to go on the hunger strike, 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.

As the government feared a repeat of the Anna Hazare-like mass movement in the country or one even bigger than that as Ramdev has a bigger fan following, the Congress core committee met at prime minister's 7 Race Course Road residence to find urgent ways to address the issue.

The meeting was attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and other senior leaders.

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, sources said.

The government is hopeful it will be able to persuade the yoga guru as Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is scheduled to meet Ramdev Friday.

But, his close associates said despite various government officials meeting Ramdev, he was determined to go on a hunger strike.

"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 Baba'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.

Ramdev, who met his close associates but called off his press conference at the Ramlila Ground Thursday, told reporters in Gurgaon: "More than 70 lakh people die of hunger every year in the country according to the Global Hunger Index."

"Those who are indirectly responsible for the death of more than 70 lakh people, what should be the punishment for them? No one sees 70 lakh people dying, but if someone corrupt is being hanged, they say 'Save him'."

Support came for Ramdev and his cause from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

"We are all together in the cause. Our working styles are a little different but we are all together no doubt. I am not going on fast because it will have more international impact," he told the Times Now TV news channel.

"I don't want these things to go beyond the Indian border and have people all over the world getting upset. I don't want such things to happen so I am keeping a low profile but I am supporting fully, the cause. We are all together," he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also reiterated its support for Ramdev.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari said that they "support Ramdev's demands and will include it in our political resolution" at the two-day national executive meeting beginning in Lucknow Friday.

Senior lawyer and BJP Rajya Sabha member Ram Jethmalani also said he supported the yoga guru as he was fighting for the restoration of the country's stolen property.

Although the Congress wooed Ramdev, 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," he 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.

In an unprecedented act that appeared to betray government nervousness, as many as four ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, met Ramdev when he arrived at the Delhi airport Wednesday to try stop his hunger strike. But, the red carpet treatment did not impress Ramdev.

However, Anna Hazare had a different take.

"Four ministers went there to receive him, had one or two gone it was fine. When so many ministers go, it means they are trying to fool Baba. They will give assurances to delay the matter," he said in his village Ralegaon Siddhi.

"I'll talk to Baba Ramdev so that he does not get influenced by government tactics. The government should not do to Baba what they did to us," Hazare told reporters.

Hazare, however, said he would not fast with Ramdev but support him.




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