New Delhi: Hectic back-channel efforts were on till late Thursday night to persuade Baba Ramdev from going ahead with his indefinite hunger strike from Saturday as the Congress party and the government held consultations at the highest level to avert a Hazare-like protest on the streets.

Indications that both the sides were in serious discussions came when Ramdev called off a press conference scheduled for this evening at Ramlila Maidan where he is to sit on fast two days later.

The cancellation of the media briefing took place on the ground that there was "serious dialogue" on with the government and that he would update the media about the "conclusive" outcome on Friday after the second-round of talks.

Acharya Balkrishnan, a close aide of Ramdev, said even if the government concedes to all the demands, the 'satyagraha' fast will take place for three days at least.

After reports that civil society was divided on the Lokpal Bill, Anna Hazare on Thursday announced that he will join Ramdev's protest on Sunday but cautioned him that the government would "play fraud" by making false promises.

The Core Group of the Congress met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence where party chief Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, A K Antony and senior leader Ahmed Patel.

This was followed by another high-level meeting of ministers and top officials when a draft of an agreement is understood to have been firmed up. This would be put on offer at tomorrow's meeting with Ramdev.

The party, which had disapproved senior ministers rushing to the airport here on Wednesday for talks with the yoga guru left it to the government to deal with the issue in a proper manner.

No senior minister to meet Ramdev

Meanwhile, the government which is under severe attack for rushing senior ministers to the airport to meet Ramdev, is understood to have decided that senior ministers, especially Pranab Mukherjee will not meet him again for further talks.

Party sources said that Mukherjee will meet Ramdev but it was the turn of the yoga guru and his team to come to him for any negotiations.

The party would not mind ministers like Subodh Kant Sahay, who has good relation with Ramdev, conducting a dialogue with him, the sources said.

The decision came after serious reservations were expressed by the Congress on Wednesday's extraordinary step of holding a dialogue with Ramdev on airport.

The issue was discussed at the Congress Core Group meeting attended by Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some other leaders on evening.

Senior party leader Digvijay Singh, who has been critical of Ramdev, met Mukherjee Thursday night and expressed party's concerns over the issue, the sources said.

The party was so cut up on the issue that none of the spokespersons made any comment on the issue except a brief remark by Abhishek Singhvi who said the government's efforts to reach out to Ramdev should not be seen as a sign of weakness.

"As a responsive and sensitive government, we are engaging constructively to find real and practical solutions in national interest. This should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness or fear," Singhvi said.


Differences between Govt, Cong denied
 
Union Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid on Wednesday said there were no differences between the government and Congress over handling of the proposed fast to be undertaken by yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

"There are no differences between the government and the party on the Ramdev issue. Government always conducts itself on the path laid down by the party," he told reporters here on the sidelines of a function at the Indian Merchants Chambers (IMC) here.

Khurshid, however, admitted a picture about the presumed differences may have emerged since the party has more freedom whereas the government has restrictions.

Worried over Baba Ramdev's threat to go on fast, the Centre had in an unprecedented action on Thursday, sent three senior ministers to receive the yoga guru at the Delhi airport in a bid to persuade him not to go ahead with the protest.

Khurshid's comments come in the wake of reports that Congress had disapproved government's action.

Asked about the standoff over Lokpal Bill, Khurshid, a member of the joint drafting panel, said ordinary citizens feel there is an urgent need to tackle corruption.

"Some decisions appear good and some bad. Let's see how things develop," he said. The minister expressed confidence that the solution to get rid of the menace of corruption would be found.

Ramlila Maidan set for Baba’s fast

A huge 2.5 lakh square ft tent is waiting here at the historic Ramlila Maidan for lakhs of Baba Ramdev's supporters who are expected to join the Yoga Guru's proposed fast unto death against corruption from Saturday.

The ground, which has been booked for a month long Yoga workshop, has been decked up apart from facilities like drinking water facilities, toilets and bathrooms.
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More than 5,000 ceiling fans and coolers, 1,300 toilets and bathrooms have been installed so that supporters of the Yoga Guru do not face any inconvenience during the fast which is scheduled to begin from 5 am onwards on Saturday.

An eight ft long stage has been set up for the yoga guru from where he will instruct his followers. Large screens alongside the stage have also been installed.

The sitting area near the stage is being divided into three parts -- one for those who will sit for fast for a single day, one for those who will sit for the entire duration and one more for daily visitors.

Further, drinking water and medical facilities will be provided to people participating in the Satyagraha.

"We have installed a RO water purification system for drinking water facilities. 650 water taps have also been installed," said Acharya Virendra Vikram, President of Bharat Swabhiman Trust, Delhi.

"Around 50- 60 doctors from our own medical facilities will be available here throughout the day," he said.

Along with the Delhi Police, thousands of volunteers from the Bharat Swabhiman trust will be manning the ground.

"Ours is a peaceful protest and we do not expect any violence to errupt," he said.

An official said 30-40 close circuit cameras will also be installed on the main ground as well as in entry and exit points.

Vikram said an estimated two lakh supporters will flock to the capital to participate in the protest along with the yoga guru, who wants the country to be rid of black money and corruption, besides seeking change in the "system".

The youth wing of Bharat Swabhiman Trust has also invited young professionals from across the country to join the Ramdev in the fast. Organisers said young professionals will descend on Delhi from across the country for the fast.

"Amongst us, we have thousands of professional MBA youths who are willing to support Baba in this satyagraha. Instead of working for corporates, we have made a conscious decision to join Baba in his efforts and bring about a change in the country's corrupt system," a youth wing volunteer said.

Thousands of women volunteers from across the country will also assemble at the grounds in the Baba's support.