M A I N   N E W S

Cong core group weighs options
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, August 19
With Anna Hazare attracting huge public support, a harried UPA government is hard pressed to evolve an effective strategy to deal with the Gandhian's hardening stance on the Lokpal Bill and his growing fan following.

The Congress core group, comprising senior Cabinet ministers, met this evening at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence to take stock of the situation amidst reports that Team Anna is unwilling to back down on its version of the Lokpal Bill.

Having been criticised roundly for its initial efforts to prevent Anna Hazare from undertaking his indefinite fast, the government and the Congress are now in retreat mode. While hoping that passions will cool off in the coming days, it has decided not to adopt a path of open confrontation. On the contrary, Congress leaders are being fielded to "apply the healing touch" even at the risk of questioning and criticising the government's handling of the situation.

Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit, son of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, today publicly admitted that the decision to arrest Anna Hazare was wrong. "It was a mistake to arrest Anna Hazare. The government has realised that it's a mistake and rectified it. I would want that the way Anna Hazare has supported the public, he should also guide the government and help break this impasse," said Dikshit.

Speaking in the same vein, Minister of State Parliamentary Affairs Harish Rawat even as far as to descrbe Anna Hazare as a hero of heroes. "Any person who is a social activist and fighting for a cause of the people of the country is a hero.His cause should be channelised properly," said Rawat.

At the same time, the government has approached some Maharashtra-based NGOs, which enjoy a good rapport with the Gandhian, to engage with Hazare in an effort to defuse tensions and to persuade him to cut short his fast.

There is one view in the government that the Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted by Team Anna, be sent to the Parliamentary standing committee which is already scrutinising the official draft. It is, however, unwilling to withdraw its Bill as being demanded by Team Anna today. Instead, there is another section which believes that the Parliamentary committee, which is an all-party body, can invite Team Anna to present its version of the Bill and convince them about its merits.

The government's decision to lie low follows the belated realisation that it had failed to realise the extent of support which Anna is garnering. The government had first given in to Anna's demand in April when he went on a hunger strike to press for a joint committee on drafting a strong Lokpal Bill.





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