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Baba Ramdev caught on the wrong foot

Posted by on June 5, 2011 0 Comment

All day, the government waited for Baba Ramdev to announce that he would end his fast on June 6, and though there were back channel contacts, the announcement did not come. Finally, after a meeting on Saturday evening at which Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay were present, it was decided that a press conference, giving the government’s position, would be held.

Mr. Sibal and Mr. Sahay had barely entered the venue of the press conference at the Shastri Bhavan, when the former’s mobile phone rang — the caller, Baba Ramdev.

The two men walked out and in that telephonic conversation, Mr. Sibal told Baba Ramdev, sources said, that he might be forced to reveal the contents of the letter if the latter did not himself publicly announce that his hunger strike would end on June 6. In response, the latter said the government would first have to assure him it would pass an ordinance to tackle black money, as thus far it had only promised him a committee to look at the issue.

To this, Mr. Sibal, ruling out an ordinance, told the yoga guru that it was not just a committee — the committee would be mandated to frame a law on black money. Baba Ramdev acquiesced, only saying that he would like a written clarification. Mr. Sibal agreed to this.

The moment the conversation ended, at 6.50 p.m., the yoga guru announced at the Ramlila Grounds that his demand for a law on black money had been accepted, and that once he received a written assurance to that effect, he would end his fast.

Having heard the announcement on television, Mr. Sibal and Mr. Sahay re-entered the conference hall to brief journalists about Baba Ramdev’s promise to end his fast once he received a written clarification on a law on black money. But instead of stopping there, Mr. Sibal pulled out Baba Ramdev’s letter — it is this that has angered the yoga guru beyond measure. For good measure, Mr. Sibal said that while the government knew how to “reach out,” it also knew how to “reign in.” But its efforts to reign in the yoga guru clearly backfired on Saturday.

At the Ramlila Grounds, Baba Ramdev found himself in a fix answering questions from journalists on the “deal” that he had struck with the government even before the fast began, thus betraying his devotees who had shown up in the thousands to support his demands. Asked why he wrote such a letter on Friday before everything was settled, the yoga guru made some revelations of his own: he said Mr. Sibal had pleaded with him on Friday that he needed something, especially as his meeting with the four Cabinet Ministers at the airport had made the government the object of public ridicule. The yoga guru claimed that he had only written it so that if he did not end his hunger strike on June 6 — by which time he expected all matters to be settled — that letter could be given to the Prime Minister. A weak explanation, but the yoga guru was clearly caught on the wrong foot by the revelation of the letter.

And by now, he was once again demanding an ordinance — something that had been ruled out. Indeed, when Mr. Sahay was asked late at night about the yoga guru renewing his demand for an ordinance, he said there was no talk about it. He also refused to comment on Baba Ramdev’s allegation that the government had betrayed him. Mr. Sahay merely said: “We hope Ramdev will fulfil his part of the commitment to end his agitation once he has the written assurance. Hindu

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