M A I N   N E W S

Talks begin, but truce not in sight
Govt panel, Team Anna unable to bridge differences on Lokpal after two-hour meeting
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, August 23
As Anna Hazare’s health showed signs of deterioration on the eighth day of his fast, the UPA government stepped up efforts to end the impasse with the Gandhian over the controversial Lokpal Bill.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was deputed to negotiate with Anna Hazare’s supporters, held a two-hour-long meeting with them this evening. After the meeting, Mukherjee drove to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence where an urgent meeting of the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA) was convened to take a view on his discussions with Team Anna.

UPA sources said the government will place the details of these deliberations before the all-party meeting, convened by the Prime Minister tomorrow, to elicit views from other political leaders.

Today’s meeting was inconclusive as Team Anna and the government were unable to bridge differences on three key provisions: the new Bill should provide for the constitution of lokayukts in the states, MPs’ conduct in Parliament be within the Lokpal’s ambit and bringing lower-level bureaucracy under the ombudsman’s purview. According to Team Anna, the government was flexible on the inclusion of the Prime Minister and agreed to place the CBI’s anti-corruption wing at the Lokpal’s disposal. The two sides are slated to meet again tomorrow.

Describing the discussions as “fruitful and constructive”, Prashant Bhushan, a key member of Team Anna, told mediapersons later that Mukherjee and Law Minister Salman Khursheed, who was also present at the meeting, requested them to appeal to Anna Hazare to end his fast as negotiations are now under way. He said Team Anna told him they were not hopeful of a positive response unless the government has something concrete to offer.

Earlier, the PM had written a conciliatory letter to the Gandhian, urging him to end his fast and assured him that the government will request the Lok Sabha Speaker to forward their Jan Lokpal Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which is already scrutinising the government draft. This offer was rejected.

While reaching out to Team Anna, the government initiated simultaneous efforts to take the Opposition into confidence. The Prime Minister has convened an all-party meeting tomorrow to brief party leaders about the outcome of its discussion with Anna Hazare’s supporters and to hear their views on the subject.

Appealing to Anna Hazare to end his fast, the PM’s letter said, “In view of my deep and abiding concern for your health, our government is prepared to request the Speaker to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the standing committee for their holistic consideration along with everything else.”

This is a climbdown for the government which had, so far, maintained that Parliament could only forward that Bill to the standing committee which had been approved by the Cabinet. As it happens, Congress MP from Bareilly Praveen Aron has already submitted a copy of Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill before the standing committee headed by Abhishek Singhvi. Team Anna has rejected the government’s suggestion that it place its views before the standing committee as it sees it as a mere “delaying tactic.”

Responding to their concerns about “time and speed”, the PM went further to assure Team Anna that the government can formally request the standing committee to fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible.

Anna says no to intravenous drip

New Delhi: Anna Hazare on Tuesday night refused to be given saline drips and asked his supporters at the Ramlila ground to prevent the government from forcibly shifting him to a hospital. Looking weak compared to earlier days, Hazare also said that he was not afraid of dying.

"If I die, so many Annas will emerge," he added, pointing his hand towards the roaring, flag-waving crowds.

Earlier, Naresh Trehan, the chief doctor attending on him, said, “His blood count is deteriorating. And we suggested to him that he be shifted to hospital. But he outrightly refused.” — IANS





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