Day 2 of talks: No headway
New Delhi, August 24
Although it had appeared last night that the two sides had narrowed their differences on some of the contentious provisions of the Bill, today’s discussions proved to be a setback and did not hold out much hope of an early settlement.
Despite their differences, Anna Hazare’s associates and government representatives have not closed the door on further discussions which will continue tomorrow.
It appears the talks are stuck on both the contents of the Bill as well as the procedures to be adopted for its passage. The government was left with little room to manoeuvre when all political parties, who were invited for a meeting by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this issue, told the government in no uncertain terms that Parliament’s supremacy should not be compromised.
They were also not in agreement with the deadlines imposed by Team Anna and nor did they endorse all the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill drawn up by civil society groups.
Emerging from the meeting, a grim-faced Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is mediating on behalf of the government, said that “due Parliamentary procedures” will be followed and due consideration given to the Jan Lokpal Bill.
This essentially means that the government is not willing to accept Team Anna’s conditions that their version of the Bill be tabled within the next four days, should not be sent to the Standing Committee for wider consultations and instead be passed in the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament. This was clear when it forwarded Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill to the Standing Committee for its consideration today.
Law Minister Salman Khursheed, who is also associated with the mediatory efforts, said the government could not undermine the official Lokpal Bill that was passed by the Cabinet and sent to the Standing Committee.
At the same time, he struck a conciliatory note, saying the talks were positive and would continue tomorrow. He also underlined that Anna Hazare’s health was government’s top priority and wanted him to end his fast at the earliest.
Prashant Bhushan, a key member of Team Anna, described the talks as disappointing. Both Bhushan and his associate Arvind Kejriwal said there was a sea change in the government’s attitude today. Last night, it was willing to concede on several issues like inclusion of the Prime Minister in the ambit of the Lokpal and giving the ombudsman powers to investigate anti-corruption cases.
The three sticking points which remained were: inclusion of the lower bureaucracy in the ambit of the Lokpal, clubbing the constitution of state Lokayuktas and the Lokpal in one Bill and drawing up a citizen’s charter for each ministry and department.
“Yesterday, they were agreeing to most of our demands, but today we were told that Parliamentary procedures cannot be short-circuited.” Bhushan said adding that today they were asked to give their objections to the official Lokpal Bill in writing.
PTI adds: In an indication of toughening of its stand, the government today made it clear to Team Anna that it would not undermine Parliament and its Lokpal Bill, while maintaining that a broad national consensus on the issue has to be found.
After its second meeting in the day with the three-member Hazare team, the government said talks between them have been "positive" and hoped that such circumstances will be created so that the Gandhian will break his fast.
"Talks are going on in a positive manner. We will also have talks tomorrow. The context and priority is Anna's health. We are concerned about his health. We hope to create circumstances and situation to see that Anna breaks his fast," Law Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters after the nearly 90-minute meeting.
"We cannot undermine the official Bill passed by the Cabinet. A broad national consensus, as suggested by all parties needs to be evolved," Khurshid said.
Khurshid also made it clear that the government would not undermine Parliament and its procedures and said, "Each one of us is trying to ensure that a broad national consensus falls in place."
Noting that the talks are headed towards the "right direction", he said the government was trying to bring on board the points raised by friends of Anna Hazare as part of the broad national consensus. "I hope all issues will be worked out."
East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit, who was also present during the talks, said the discussions are progressing "slowly but steadily" and added that the sticky issues would be again discussed tomorrow.