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Government, Ramdev heading for a showdown?

Saturday June 04, 2011 11:37:24 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: Baba Ramdev and the Indian government Saturday seemed to be heading for a showdown as the popular yoga guru vowed to continue his anti-corruption fast at the Ramlila Ground here after the day-long talks ended with allegations and counter-claims from both sides.

Ramdev in the evening claimed before thousands of his supporters that the government had accepted his demands and he will call off his fast if given a written assurance.

But he hardened his stand, when minutes later union minister Kapil Sibal told reporters that the guru had Friday agreed to end his fast by Saturday afternoon.

A furious Ramdev accused the government of betrayal and said that he will not negotiate with Sibal and insisted the government issue an ordinance for bringing black money back into the country.

"The government has betrayed us. The letter was signed saying that it will be given to the prime minister to assure him that it is not blackmailing. He (Sibal) said all demands will be met in two days," Ramdev said.

"We will continue till all our demands are met. Till our last breath," he said to a thunderous applause from his supporters.

The government, which already faced an swelling angry movement against pervasive corruption in public life just two months ago, seem to be buckling in.

But as evening neared, more talks, mostly over telephone, between Ramdev and Sibal, led to an escalation of differences.

Ramdev is one of the half-a-dozen self-appointed leaders of a movement against corruption in high places and public life.

Sibal claimed the government had reached out to Ramdev over three days but can also rein him in.

"We have already reached out, but we can also rein in. We are accommodating, but we can also rein in," Sibal told reporters. "We have honoured all our commitments. If he continues with his fast, then whatever it is."

He said the government was ready to make a law to make ill-gotten money stashed away in foreign countries as national asset. For drafting the law, a committee will be appointed with a six-month timeframe.

"The readiness to form a committee means the government is committed to make the law," Sibal added.

The day started amid high drama, as Ramdev started his fast amid thousands of supporters and hundreds of cameras at the sprawling Ramlila Ground.

"It is overwhelming to see the huge crowd that has gathered in support of our crusade against corruption," Ramdev, who shot to fame through his yoga shows on TV, said.

An edgy government, which saw mass support for another hunger strike by activist Anna Hazare over anti-graft just two months ago, tried all its cards.

As the government ministers tried to persuade Ramdev, Congress leaders went on the offensive, questioning his political support and dubbing his protest a "five-star satyagraha".

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi alleged the protest was "huge logistical operation" and was "remote-controlled by some organisation and parties".

Congress' Digvijay Singh spoke of the guru's jet-setting ways.

"Baba travels in a private jet, stays in a five-star luxury hotel, and has the money for such arrangements before going on a fast. This is surely a five-star satyagraha as you doubt his credibility," Singh said.




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