Govt goes to the Baba
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Apprehensive of another public campaign that could put pressure on it, the government today took the unprecedented step of rushing four of its top ministers, including the effective No 2, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, to the Delhi airport to hold discussions there with Baba Ramdev, who is scheduled to hold a mass fast against corruption at the Ramlila Maidan from June 4.
The backward bend by the government to woo Ramdev came even as the Congress party tried hard, in private, to distance itself from this initiative.
Mukherjee, along with HRD minister Kapil Sibal, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay — Sahay is said to have a "personal rapport" with Ramdev — not only reached the airport a few minutes ahead of the Baba's arrival but gave a patient hearing to Ramdev and his followers in a meeting that lasted two and a half hours. Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar and his designated successor, Ajit Kumar Seth, too, were present at the meeting.
Rolling out the red carpet for the yoga guru, UPA managers suggested, was not only a "pro-active" initiative to prevent a situation which could be exploited by the Opposition, especially the RSS and the BJP, but also to try and prop an alternative to Team Anna Hazare.
Yesterday, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had pointed out in a briefing that there were differences between members of the civil society on the issue of including the Prime Minister and the judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal. "What will happen if the Lokpal is corrupt?" has been Ramdev's refrain questioning the inclusion of the PM and the Chief Justice of India.
Government representatives said that today's meeting was meant to "explain and convince" Ramdev of the steps taken to flush out black money and end corruption and, in the process, persuade him to call off his proposed fast. Ramdev and his supporters touched on a range of issues, from black money to the plight of farmers. Interestingly, there was not much discussion on the Lokpal Bill, sources said.