DEHRADUN/KOLKATA: Yoga guru Baba Ramdev Sunday broke his nine-day-old fast that sparked a political slugfest heeding appeals of spiritual and religious leaders but vowed to continue his campaign against corruption.
In Kolkata, senior Congress leader and Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee Sunday hit out at Mr Anna Hazare and Ramdev over the civil society’s anti-corruption movement, accusing them of undermining democratic institutions and did not spare the Bharatiya Janata Party either.
Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar, who met the 46-year-old yoga guru for the third day at a Dehradun hospital to persuade him to give up his fast said, "Ramdev has broken his fast by taking juice." "He ended the fast in the presence of various religious and spiritual leaders," The Art of Living founder said.
Doctors said he will be discharged from hospital in two to three days though his condition is "stable." The Congress and the BJP welcomed Ramdev’s decision to end the fast. Congress general secretary, Mr Janardhan Dwivedi said it is "good news" while BJP spokesperson, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party had a "sense of satisfaction."
Ramdev, who went on a hunger strike to protest against corruption and black money issues, was admitted to the Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences here on Friday after his condition deteriorated at his Patanjali Yogapeeth ashram in Haridwar. The yoga exponent’s close associate, Mr Balakrishna, who also ended his fast at the hospital, said, "Ramdev has considered the request of hundreds of his followers and people from the saints’ fraternity." Mr Balakrishna said, "He (Ramdev) will take this satyagraha forward till his last breath."
While announcing Congress’ plans to launch a nationwide anti-corruption campaign, Mr Pranab Mukherjee took on BJP saying it was backing Mr Hazare and Ramdev to gain support of people after its debacle in the recent assembly polls and accused the party of providing "logistical support" to their agitations and resorting to "unconstitutional practice."
"The Constitution has given the power to legislate only to Parliament and the state assemblies. If 5,000 or 6,000 people dictate from outside what the Parliament ought to do, this will weaken democracy," he told a press conference in Kolkata. The campaign is seen as a bid by Congress to counter the movement by Mr Hazare and Ramdev.
In hard hitting remarks targeting BJP, Mr Mukherjee said, "When the parties are rejected by the people and if they want to resort to unconstitutional practice it is totally unacceptable. They are providing logistic support to all those agitations." He, however, did not name the party. "In a democratic system, in a democratic society, everybody has a right to agitate on certain issues which he feels right or wrong….Those who want to dismantle the process of Constitution, Congress party will fight against them," he said.
Mr Mukherjee also ruled out acceding to Mr Hazare’s demand for videography of the drafting process of the Lokpal Bill, saying this was not possible in view of the fact that the drafting committee members will express their views "freely." Their views, however, would be available on audio recording, he said. Referring to Mr Hazare’s August 15 deadline for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, Mr Mukherjee said, "We have suggested that the Bill be tabled in Parliament during the monsoon session. But who can say when the House will pass it? The Parliament is supreme."
Mr Mukherjee said the audio recording of every meeting of the drafting committee was available on the website of the Department of Personnel and "if people are interested, those can be heard from the websites." "Every word is audio-taped. When required, those may be published together," he said. "The Congress and its allies have formed governments in three states after the assembly polls. So, the BJP supported the fast of Anna Hazare. The CPI(M) politburo took a resolution supporting him. Some political parties also extended support," Mr Mukherjee said.
Mr Mukherjee, who released a document in English containing his party’s views on the issue, said the Congress was launching an awareness campaign all over the country. "The documents will be made available in other languages. Debates, discussions and seminars would be organised right from the district to the block levels to put forth our views," he said.
Asked why the government had earlier held talks with Mr Hazare and Ramdev, he said, "We gave them a chance because if you do not talk to them, you will be accused of arrogance. Now that you have talked, it is said that you are weak." To a question whether the situation now was similar to the situation that prompted the Centre to impose Emergency in the Seventies, he said, "It is not exactly the same, but there are some similarities … But I can assure that there will be no repetition of Emergency." Mr Mukherjee said that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was raising the corruption issue because it had become "jittery" after the Congress accused it of having links with the Malegaon blasts.
Stating that the Constitution was supreme in the Indian system, Mr Mukherjee said the Congress was bound to protect it. "The Congress will do just that. We will fight whoever tries to subvert the Constitution." On the question of black money, the Finance Minister said the UPA-I had enacted the Prevention of Money Laundering Act with provisions for confiscating the property of the offender. On the demand for declaration of black money stashed abroad as national asset, Mr Mukherjee said even if that was done, the government could do nothing "if the government of a foreign country refuses to part with the money."