Social activist Anna Hazare on Saturday slammed the Congress for alleging that his agitation was backed by the BJP and the RSS. “People who are saying such things should be sent to mental hospital. They have linked us to the United States and now they may link our agitation to Pakistan also,” the Gandhian said.
The Gandhian's comments came on Day 5 of his fast even as the government and his team spoke of the need for a dialogue on the Lokpal issue.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh affirmed that there was “a lot of scope for give and take” and that the government was open to “discussion and dialogue“.
Hours later Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal said that they were ready for talks and asked “whom should we meet, where should we meet and when should we meet.”
At the Ramlila Maidan where Mr. Hazare is fasting, his associates Mr. Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi spoke some tough words like “we cannot trust this government”, but at the same time maintained that the government should come forward and start discussions.
There were no signs as to which side would take the initiative to break the deadlock, but it was obvious that the move would have to come soon since Mr. Hazare would enter sixth day of his fast on Sunday. As of now, his vital health parameters were “stable.”
Calling for a broad national consensus on Lokpal, the Prime Minister expressed the hope that the government can enlist the cooperation of “all thinking segments of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end-product is a strong and effective Lokpal which all sections of our community want“.
”...We are open to discussion and dialogue. We like a broad national consensus to emerge. We are all in favour of a Lokpal which is strong and which is effective,” he said.
Asked about Mr. Hazare’s demand that the Jan Lokpal should be passed by Parliament by August 30, Dr. Singh said “well, clearly, I think there are difficulties. It is a logic of the legislative process.”
Meanwhile, a Parliamentary Committee examining the Lokpal Bill on Saturday sought suggestions from the public within 15 days, making it clear that the August 30 deadline set by Mr. Hazare on passing the anti-corruption legislation would not be met.
The move was termed as a “waste of time” by Team Anna which asserted the Committee should totally reject government Bill.
Coming down heavily on Team Anna, Minister of State for the PMO V. Narayanasamy said its criticism of the Standing Committee was a “clear case of breach of privilege” and calling MPs “thieves” is equal to casting aspersion on Parliament itself.
The Minister also asked the Team Anna not to cross the Lakshman rekha.
Reacting to the charge, Mr. Kejriwal said “we have not crossed any limits but what we are saying is that the government is using the Committee as a shield.”
Team Anna also refuted the charge that they were trying to extract assurance from the government on “gunpoint“.
“We are being accused that we are demanding passing of this Bill by the government on a gunpoint. If government is saying....Parliament will take a decision on the Bill. We are common people who want Jan Lokpal like this”, it said.
When a reporter asked whether there are any differences between the NCPRI headed by Aruna Roy on the Jan Lokpal Bill, Mr. Bhushan said there were some “small” differences.
“We have differences with Aruna Roy on two issues. We have recommended that all government servants should come under Lokpal but she suggests that there can be a separate body to look into the grievances against them,” he said.
To a question, Mr. Bhushan said Team Anna was not interested in “pulling down the government but we are fighting to bring about a change in the system.”
Both Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Bhushan said they were prepared to talk to the government but would not compromise on the issue of corruption.
“What we are saying is that there is a fundamental defect in the Bill that has been brought by the government in Parliament. We are ready to take and they can incorportae the main elements of the Jan Lokpal Bill. They can table the Bill and Parliament can debate it for 4-5 days and it can take a call on that,” the eminent lawyer said.
He also insisted government conduct a referendum to know how many people want Jan Lokpal to be passed as referendums conducted by ‘India Against Corruption’ have showed that 80 per cent of the people wants the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed by Parliament.
Mr. Kejriwal said the Jan Lokpal Bill was “prepared by people” of this country while the government’s draft was formulated by “five ministers sitting inside a room.”
During his earlier speech at the Ramlila Maidan, Mr. Hazare said the funds in government treasuries were being threatened not by thieves but from those guard it and the country is being threatened by these traitors.
“Why should we fight? The funds in government treasuries are ours. The treasuries are not threatened by thieves but by those who guards it. The country is not betrayed by enemies but by these traitors,” the Gandhian said.
He told the gathering the fight will not end with the passage of Lokpal Bill but they have be ready for a longer struggle for electoral reforms as well as ensuring farmers’ right to their land.
“I want to tell the youth of this country that this fight should not be stopped with Lokpal alone. We have fight for removing the faults of the present electoral reforms. Because of the fault in electoral system, 150 criminals have reached Parliament,” Mr. Hazare said.
Mr. Hazare said the country actually did not get “actual freedom” even after 64 years of independence and the only change was that “the whites have been replaced by the blacks“.
“The same loot, same corruption, same rowdyism still exists,” he said.
Touching upon the contentious issue of land acquisition, he said there was a need to fight for a proper law regarding this.
“After the fight for Lokpal, we will also have to fight for farmers’ rights. Bring a law that ensures permission of gram sabhas before acquiring land of farmers,” Mr. Hazare said.
Noting that the chain of corruption should be broken, he said, “Government is giving land to the companies which employs labourers and suck their blood. They tell the labourers you ensure production or else you will lose job.
“Is this democracy? All have come together to make money. The chain of corruption has to be broken,” he said.
Mr. Hazare came to the podium at around 10 a.m. as supporters started pouring in Ramlila Maidan where he launched his protest on Friday after coming out of Tihar Jail.
He said he has lost three-and-half kg in the last four days. “I feel a little weak. But there is nothing to worry about it. The fight will go on till we get a strong Lokpal,” Mr. Hazare said in his brief address to the gathering.