M A I N   N E W S

Now, back-channel talks on over Lokpal
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, August 19
After the UPA government and Team Anna worked out a negotiated settlement on the terms for the Gandhian’s fast today, the two sides appear to be exploring ways of arriving at a compromise on the provisions of the Lokpal Bill.

UPA sources admitted that back-channel efforts are on to end the stalemate between the two sides. The government is said to have approached Maharashtra-based NGOs and CM Prithviraj Chavan to open a dialogue with Hazare since they are both from the same state and are known to each other.

The first hint of a possible compromise came from Justice Santosh Hegde who told mediapersons in Bangalore that he would persuade his colleagues (in Team Anna) not to be adamant on bringing the Prime Minister’s Office and judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal.

These are two of the eight points on which Team Anna has serious differences with the government. Striking a conciliatory note, Justice Hegde maintained that they want to move ahead as “nothing is moving forward” and we want a strong Lokpal Bill.

However, there appear to be differences within Team Anna on these contentious issues. In Delhi, another key member of Team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal, known to be a hardliner, indicated that it may not insist on the judiciary being brought under the ambit of the Lokpal if the government brings a strong and effective Judicial Accountability Bill. However, he insisted that the Prime Minister has to be covered by the Lokpal Bill, adding that there could be no compromise on the issue.

Informed sources said Team Anna was also suggesting that if the Prime Minister was to be kept out, the Lokpal should have access to files from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Similarly, it might not insist that conduct of MPs in Parliament be brought under the Lokpal’s purview but will instead press that their conduct outside be within the ambudsman’s ambit. However, Team Anna will not give up on its demand for an independent CBI and the government should not play a dominant role in the appointment and removal of the Lokpal.

As Team Anna gets ready for the Gandhian’s fortnight-long fast for a strong and effective Lokpal Bill, a key associate of Anna Hazare also sounded less belligerent today. Backtracking from its earlier stand that Anna Hazare would go on a “fast-unto-death”, she clarified that he will be “on an indefinite hunger strike” and that they will not confront the government on providing medical aid to Anna Hazare, a suggestion which had earlier been rejected by Team Anna.

“Anna Hazare will fast as long as he can sustain it,” Kiran Bedi underlined.

Meanwhile, a wounded UPA government was licking its wounds after it was forced into a negotiated settlement with an adamant Team Anna in the face of stinging opposition criticism in Parliament and growing public support for the anti-corruption crusader. The government’s crisis managers, who had initially advocated a tough line on engagement with civil society members, withdrew into the background.

The overwhelming view in the government and the Congress party is to maintain a low profile and ride out the storm in the hope that this is a passing phase and will soon run its course.

“This is certainly no time for a confrontation... we just have to wait it out,” remarked a senior AICC functionary, who admitted that both the government and the party had underestimated the growing support for Anna Hazare and its team’s abilities to sustain this movement.





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