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Ram Lila maidan gears up for anti-corruption baba

Last updated on: June 1, 2011 08:55 IST

Ram Lila maidan gears up for anti-corruption baba

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Sahim Salim in New Delhi

Sahim Salim reports on the hectic activity on in New Delhi's Ram Lila maidan ahead of yoga guru Baba Ramdev's fast-unto-death stir against corruption

The streetlights on Asaf Ali Road leading to the Ram Lila maidan (ground) in New Delhi are decorated with posters of Baba Ramdev inviting people for a "Jan Andolan". On ground zero, massive preparations are underway to welcome the "anti-corruption baba", as he is referred to by his followers.

Come June 4, this maidan -- which can accommodate 25,000 people -- will be filled to the brim by Baba Ramdev's followers.

Encouraged by the "successful mass-response" to social activist Anna Hazare's fast unto death call, Baba Ramdev will lead proceedings with his own version of fast-unto-death Satyagraha.

On June 4, the 'Satyagraha' will start with morning prayers at 5 am. The Upwas Karyakram (fasting programme) will also kick off simultaneously along with the yoga camp.

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At the under-construction tent in this maidan in central Delhi, around 300 volunteers have already arrived.

They sit patiently inside the stuffy 'volunteer-centre-tent' at the extreme end of the maidan, listening to coordinators on microphone explaining their roles.

In the sweltering Delhi heat on a Tuesday afternoon, about 250 labourers are working on setting up a massive 2,50,000 square feet overhead waterproof tent. After all, the television-savvy baba likes to do things in style.

Consider this -- there will be 100s of taps across the maidan that will provide fresh drinking water to participants. In addition to the mammoth overhead tent, a special facility centre will be set up for the media with three communication towers.


Image: Volunteers listening to coordinators

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Virendra Vikram is one of baba's disciples who will sit on fast with him. He arrived at the maidan five days ago to oversee preparations and coordinate volunteers arriving from across the country.

"I will also sit on fast, as what the baba is doing is commendable. He is sitting for a just cause. He has a lot of support from the people and he is using it in the right direction," Vikram says, fanning himself in the stifling volunteer centre tent.  

Vikram says that there are 1000s of volunteers who are conducting street-gatherings across the country to raise awareness about the baba's "Satyagraha".


Image: Virendra Vikram

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Says one volunteer, Santram Pradhan, chairman of the Delhi Jal Board, "I came here to help in preparations after witnessing a street gathering in Noida last week. I will also sit on fast. The corruption levels in this country, even in the national capital, are increasing by the day. In Delhi Jal Board itself, where I work, the corruption levels are rampant."

The government, which was caught on the back-foot after the surprising turn-out to Anna Hazare's call, had unsuccessfully tried to dissuade Ramdev from undertaking his fast.

Ramdev had declared his indefinite fast, demanding the government to bring back black money in Swiss Banks.

He has four demands -- (a) the establishment of a foreign account policy, so that the amount of 400 lakh crore deposited in Swiss banks is retained and distributed across five lakh villages of India. (b) to re-send the United Nations Convention against corruption agreement, which has been pending since 2006 (c) to bring down high denomination value currencies to reduce the circulation of black money and (d) to enact all the three demands to the Lok Pal bill.


Image: Delhi Jal Board chairman Santram Pradhan

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The government's efforts in dissuading Ramdev from undertaking the fast have proven unsuccessful. Even as a committee, headed by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, has been constituted to strengthen laws to curb the generation of black money, he has not called his fast off.

"There is no question of calling off the fast, as no concrete steps have been taken by the government. Talks are going on between baba and the government, but the Satyagraha has not been called off. Thousands of people will join him," says Ramdev's spokesperson, SK Tijarawala. 

Dr Jaideep Arya, a spokesperson for Baba Ramdev's institution, says that the baba is glad that the government is keen on bringing back the stashed money, but no concrete steps have been taken in this direction.



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"The fast is definitely on. We expect one crore people from across the country to participate in the protest. Thousands of the Baba's followers abroad will also take part in the fast," says Dr Arya.

When rediff.com asked Dr Arya about the government's move to institute a committee, he says, "Our priority is that all demands are met. If that is not possible, atleast most of the demands have to be met. A parliamentary sitting has to be called at least to discuss such a complex issue."

"We have not just made blind demands of bringing back the black money; we have actually given suggestions to the government to bring back the Rs. 400 lakh crore. The private accounts in foreign banks in which this amount is stashed should be nationalised and a floating warrant has to be issued against the accused."

Talking about other demands, Dr Arya adds, "In addition to our other demands, we also demand that people indulging in stashing away black money be declared as traitors and they be given the death sentence."  



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