New Delhi: With Baba Ramdev insisting that his hunger strike against corruption will begin as scheduled on Saturday, the government has decided to change its strategy. The new guidelines for ministers who are in touch with the yoga icon dictate that while talks will continue, they will be held on the government's terms.
The government has also decided that senior ministers, especially Pranab Mukherjee, will not meet him again for further talks. The decision came after a meeting of the Congress core committee in Delhi this evening.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal has said he will meet Baba Ramdev tomorrow and the talks will continue. "As politicians we have to meet people. This shouldn't be seen as weakness. If the government is serious and Ramdev is serious, there should be no problem in resolving the issue," he said.
Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay are also likely to meet with Baba Ramdev.
Sources have told NDTV that a draft is being prepared by the government on key issues raised by Baba Ramdev, which will be sent to the ministers and the yoga guru tomorrow.
The Government's tougher stand - at least on paper - hopes to undo some of the damage done after four senior ministers including Pranab Mukherjee greeted Mr Ramdev at the Delhi Airport yesterday. It seemed to be an embarrassing attempt at appeasement, one that did not go down well with the Congress party.
The ministers spent more than two hours with the yoga icon at the airport lounge, reassuring him that the government is serious about tackling corruption with a series of measures including a tough new Lokpal Bill (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill) which is scheduled to be presented in Parliament by the end of this month.
That bill is being drafted by a committee that couples five ministers with five representatives of civil society led by veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare. Earlier this year, it was Mr Hazare's hunger strike that served as a call to action for middle class India which organized a series of protests across the country, demanding that the government end decades of lethargy to introduce a Lokpal Bill that will combat corruption within the government and bureaucrats.
Mr Ramdev's critics say that his fast against corruption is a concerted effort to upstage Mr Hazare - an argument that was bolstered when the Baba contradicted Mr Hazare to state that the Prime Minister and senior judges should not be covered by the Lokpal Bill. Today, however, Mr Ramdev said that he had suggested only that this point be debated.
In Pune, Mr Hazare said he will join the Baba's fast at Delhi's Ram Lila Maidan, where thousands of people are expected to show up starting Saturday. He also said the posse of four ministers that met Mr Ramdev at the airport are not to be trusted because the government is set on diluting the Lokpal Bill. (Watch: Hazare warns Ramdev against govt)
"They will trap Ramdev also. They will cheat him. What is the need for so many people to go? It was ok for one or two to go," the Gandhian said.
The government stands to benefit greatly if Mr Ramdev emerges as a parallel power centre in civil society. Mr Hazare's determination to have non-government representatives involved with the drafting of the Lokpal Bill set a new precedent for India - one that the government tried to fight and has described as dangerous.
But given the overwhelming public support that Mr Hazare received, the government is keen to avoid yet another confrontation with civil society activists. There's also the added concern that the Baba could ally more closely with the Opposition BJP, which has been targeting the government for being tolerant of corruption.
Government sources say that's why the four ministers were seen at the airport yesterday. It was upto Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh to indicate that perhaps the government was making too much of the Baba by taking him seriously as a crusader of the people. "Baba Ramdev is not a guru, he's a businessman. If Congress were scared of him, it would have put Ramdev behind bars. Ramdev is more of a businessman now. He charges Rs. 50,000 for teaching yoga," he said. (Watch: Digvijaya upset with red carpet for Ramdev?)