New Delhi, Aug. 9: Members of the now disbanded Team Anna could have with some justification today accused India’s political class and former ally Baba Ramdev of plotting to outmanoeuvre them.
The day’s developments made it clear that the yoga televangelist, with possibly some help from friends in high places, was angling to displace the erstwhile Team Anna as the symbol of the anti-corruption movement.
Ramdev began his anti-black money agitation today at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, from where he had escaped in a woman’s disguise during a police crackdown last year.
He started a three-day fast as a “last warning” to the government to enact a strong Lokpal bill this Parliament session and bring back black money from foreign banks.
He was careful to qualify his criticism of the Centre with praise for Indira Gandhi and even invited Sonia Gandhi, whom he claimed to respect, to his stage.
As if on cue, the BJP disrupted the Rajya Sabha around 11am, demanding a government statement on Ramdev’s agitation. The BJP had studiously avoided any statement in support of Hazare’s agitation at Jantar Mantar that concluded last week.
The Centre wasn’t far behind, ministers Pawan Bansal and Harish Rawat promising the Lokpal bill would be tabled this session and saying the government was willing to discuss black money with Ramdev.
Congress sources claimed they weren’t too worried by the agitation, indicating an understanding with Ramdev that the Centre would meet some of his demands. They said Ramdev was unlikely to cross the line given the tabs the Enforcement Directorate and income-tax authorities were keeping on his allegedly unaccounted money.
Ramdev, who insisted this wasn’t a fast till death, too said he was open to talks. “I can tell Sonia Gandhi that our doors are open for discussions.”
The Congress had denied any possibility of talks during Hazare’s agitation.
Ramdev’s speech seemed a studied effort at appropriating the Lokpal cause from the erstwhile Team Anna. “The fight for a Lokpal has not ended. In fact, the time has come for this battle to reach its fruition.”
That Ramdev is the sole leader of his agitation became clear when his aides asked all the others on the stage to vacate it when he reached the venue.
He signalled he didn’t support Team Anna’s political ambitions and drew a distinction between Hazare and his associates. “We are with Anna’s social agenda,” Ramdev said, without commenting on the activist’s newfound political agenda.
Ramdev said nobody from his stage would name individuals, unlike Hazare associate Arvind Kejriwal who had said corrupt politicians should be “named and shamed”.
“We are not against any particular political party or any individual,” Ramdev said. He added that he had not praised Indira Gandhi to make the Congress happy. “She did great deeds for the country.”
Law minister Salman Khurshid said the government was “doing its job” on black money. “We are already working on it... discussing the issue... first the root of the generation of black money and then how to control it.”
The BJP was vociferous in Ramdev’s support. “If he is sitting on a dharna then it is for the country’s sake. The entire country should extend support to him. The issue of bringing back black money has been raised by L.K. Advani,” Shahnawaz Hussain said.