New Delhi: After a rally on Sunday where he shared top billing with anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev met BJP president Nitin Gadkari this morning - first call on a series of visits to political leaders, says the yoga guru, to build support for a campaign to recover crores of black money or undeclared income kept by Indians in foreign bank accounts. In a move that is likely to create some controversy, Mr Gadkari touched Baba Ramdev's feet in a sign of respect.
"Our culture is that when there is a sanyasi, we seek his blessings. I touched his feet according to Indian culture, " said the BJP President defending his action.
The yoga icon's different trusts are being investigated for violating foreign exchange and income tax guidelines; Baba Ramdev has said this is the government's way of punishing him for his campaign against corruption and black money.
At the rally held in 45-degree heat in Delhi on Sunday, there were signs of a rift between the Baba and Arvind Kejriwal, who is Anna's closest aide. Mr Kejriwal raised allegations of corruption against 14 senior ministers, whose names he listed. Baba Ramdev immediately told the audience, gathered in 45 degree heat, that he does not think any individuals should be named in the campaign. Mr Kejriwal left the venue soon after. His exit was followed by emphatic denials of a rift, issued on twitter by Mr Kejriwal. "There was no problem. I was sick so I and told Anna and Baba Ramdev that I wanted to leave," said Mr Kejriwal today. "I have great respect for Swamiji (Baba Ramdev)," he added.
Mr Kejriwal and other activists who work closest with Anna are meeting in Noida near Delhi today to plan their campaign for the Lokpal Bill, the new legislation aimed at tackling corruption among government servants. Mr Kejriwal and others are scheduled to begin an indefinite fast on July 25 to protest against the government's refusal to order an independent investigation into an alleged coal scam, for which the activists say the PM must accept blame.
Earlier this month, Team Anna went public with allegations of corruption against the PM and senior ministers including Pranab Mukherjee and SM Krishna, provoking criticism from even the BJP, which has supported their movement in the past. The Prime Minister took on Team Anna with strong words, vowing to resign if "even an iota of truth" was found in their allegations.
Mr Kejriwal's allegations against the PM are based on an alleged coal scam that took place between 2006 and 2009. Mr Kejriwal says that the PM, who was in charge of the Coal Ministry, abused his position to allow private players to be allotted coal fields at under-market prices. The Anna aide says that the PM over-ruled advice to auction the coal fields. A preliminary report by the government's auditor, CAG, finds that the lack of an auction may have cost the country up to 1.8 lakh crores in losses. The Prime Minister's Office has denied all reports of a breakdown in process - it said that coal fields were allotted to develop industry and infrastructure in keeping with the existing guidelines at that time. Revenue was not the primary objective, Dr Singh's office stressed.
The CBI has begun a preliminary inquiry into the coal scam based on a complaint filed with the Central Vigilance Commission by BJP leader Prakash Javadekar. The CBI has said its inquiry is against "unknown persons of the Coal Ministry." Team Anna says that a CBI inquiry is not good enough, because the agency reports to the government, and can therefore be influenced to protect government interests.