Back to square one, says Team Anna as government hardens stance
Negotiations between the government and Team Anna on the Lokpal Bill broke down on Wednesday night with the latter describing the third round of talks as “retrograde.” They said social activist Anna Hazare's fast on the Ramlila grounds here — now in its ninth day — would continue until the government agreed to enact a law creating a strong and effective Lokpal during the current session of Parliament.
Amidst speculation that the anti-corruption crusader might be forcibly shifted to hospital on Wednesday night, the government nominees are reported to have told Team Anna during the meeting that Mr. Hazare's fast was “his problem.” However, in a late night address to supporters on the Ramlila Maidan, Kiran Bedi, a key member of Team Anna, said she had been assured by senior police officers, whom she trusted, that Mr. Hazare would not be forcibly removed and hospitalised until such time doctors declared there was a threat to his life.
Charging the government with not being serious about bringing in a strong anti-corruption law, Team Anna said there was a “complete change in the attitude” of the government nominees represented by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Law Minister Salman Khursheed at their meeting on Wednesday evening.
“The government has taken a U-turn and has now asked us to give our objections to the government's Lokpal Bill and draft a new Bill, taking everything back to square one,” they said.
Team Anna representatives Ms. Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal said that during their meeting on Tuesday the government nominees seemed to agree on the substantive issues raised by them and said they had a problem only with three sticking points regarding parallel formation of Lokayuktas in States, inclusion of lower bureaucracy and citizens' charters in government departments.
“They had also agreed to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. But today [Wednesday] they went back on everything and said you submit a new draft that will be sent to the Standing Committee,” said Mr. Kejriwal.
“Contrary to the impression they gave yesterday, today they said the parliamentary procedure of the Standing Committee, etc. cannot be short-circuited. There was no clarity on the timeline,” said lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who was present.
When Team Anna's negotiators sought to know if the government planned to remove Mr. Hazare from the fast venue, the government side said it was not competent to answer that question, Mr. Kejriwal said.
Speaking to journalists after the 90-minute meeting, Mr. Mukherjee said the all-party meeting held on Wednesday requested Mr. Hazare to end his fast. Due consideration would be given to the Jan Lokpal Bill in the final Bill, he said, adding the parliamentary process involving the Standing Committee must be completed.
Sources indicated that the change in the attitude of the government came after a “stormy” meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs on Tuesday night in which some Ministers involved in the joint drafting panel objected to its caving in to Mr. Hazare.
Earlier, Mr. Hazare declared that he had fasted for nine days and was fit to continue his hunger strike for another nine days. After a late evening check-up, doctors attending on him said he was stable. “I am energised by the large presence of people,” he told his supporters.
“The Jan Lokpal Bill is nothing but ensuring power to the people. Unless there is decentralisation of power, there will not be true democracy.”
Among those who met Mr. Hazare was National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, who said she had come to enquire about his health. Activist Medha Patkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar also met Mr Hazare.
Despite a flurry of political activity during the day including the all-party meeting, there was little progress at an earlier meeting Team Anna had with Mr. Khursheed giving an indication of things to come.