Four Cabinet Ministers, led by Pranab, meet the yoga guru at Delhi airport
In an unprecedented act, the Union government, literally rolled out the red carpet for the jet setting yoga guru Baba Ramdev: when he touched down sometime after noon at the Delhi airport on Wednesday in his own private plane, there were no less than four Cabinet Ministers, led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and the Cabinet Secretary waiting to meet him, thus according him a welcome not reserved for even the most powerful heads of state.
But the two and a half hour conversation at the airport that followed yielded no result, with Baba Ramdev, who now runs a multi-million dollar yoga and health empire, saying he was determined to go ahead with his hunger strike as part of his campaign against black money from June 4, as what he wanted was “action, not promises.”
Those present at the interaction with the yoga guru, which started just after 1 p.m., included — apart from Mr. Mukherjee — Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay and Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar.
“During the conversation, Swami Ramdevji raised a broad range of very important and significant national issues… that impact on the future of our country,” Mr. Sibal said. “We listened to him. We also prima facie responded to him and we will meet each other and have another dialogue in the next couple of days.” To another question, he responded, “I'm sure that as we are a responsive government, we will take all those issues which were raised and this is all I have to say as of now.” Later in the day, Home Minister P. Chidambaram — who was not at the airport meeting — told journalists that the next meeting with Baba Ramdev would be on June 3.
Baba Ramdev, who arrived from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, was earlier scheduled to meet Mr. Mukherjee, who has been deputed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to talk to him, at his office in North Block. Later, there was a change of plan. Sources added that Mr. Sahay was included in the negotiating team as he had a close, personal association with the yoga guru going back several years.
But even as the Union government pulled out all the stops, there was disquiet within the Congress. A senior party functionary told The Hindu that “the party does not approve of this. From now on, those facing enquiries or accusations of land grab can blackmail the government — and it will succumb like this.” The reference, Congress sources said, was to public accusations made by fellow sadhus against Baba Ramdev.
Clearly, the government is in a quandary: after the Anna Hazare episode, they don't want to take chances. The fact that Baba Ramdev, with his known RSS links, has lakhs of supporters around the country who follow his yoga programme on TV and attend his camps appears to have unnerved it, even though there is speculation that the government is trying hard to divide the civil society groups by pitting Baba Ramdev against Mr. Hazare.