26 aug 2011
Anna advisors urge him to end fast, Lokpal debate begins today
“If you are serious,” he said, referring to a new offer made by the Prime Minister on Thursday morning in Parliament, “let’s start a debate tomorrow (Friday) in Parliament on the Jan Lokpal Bill. There are three points of dispute… we will test you on these.” The 74-year-old activist, now on the 11th day of his hunger strike, said if there is consensus on these issues, he will consider ending his fast, but may choose to continue his protest.
Doctors say Anna has lost more than six kilos but his condition is stable. There is increasing criticism of his insistence on continuing his fast. Some of his closest advisors, including Prashant Bhushan, have said it’s time for his hunger strike to conclude. Activist Swami Agnivesh was more pointed. “Annaji listens only to his own voice. You want the Parliament to listen to voice of people, but when it comes to yourself, you only listen to your own voice,” he said.
Aware that Anna may have to be forcibly moved to a hospital, which could provoke violence among supporters, the Government is holding a series of meetings to ensure that a debate begins on Friday on all versions of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill including Anna’s. The focus will primarily be on Anna’s draft with references to some features of the two other versions of the Lokpal Bill. Ministers like Pranab Mukherjee, Pawan Bansal, and Salman Khurshid are calibrating the technicalities of the debate.
“We are starting off focused on the Jan Lokpal bill because that was what the negotiation and the concern was,” said Mr Khurshid. “We wanted to do something that would allow Anna Hazareji to feel a sense of comfort so he could finish with his fast.”
Named for the independent anti-corruption agency that it creates, the Lokpal Bill currently exists in three versions prepared by the Government, Team Anna and a group of activists headed by Aruna Roy. The PM suggested in the Lok Sabha on Thursday morning that all three drafts can be discussed by Parliament; a compilation of the best features from each could then be sent to a parliamentary committee for detailed study and feedback.
The PM’s intervention on Thursday morning, though belated say many, had two significant consequences: Direct negotiations with Anna rather than his associates; and respect for his acknowledgment of Anna’s role in fighting corruption. Dr Manmohan Singh, who has been criticised for appearing too distant during Anna’s movement, said, “His point has been registered. I respect his idealism. Anna Hazare has become the embodiment of people’s concern and disgust with corruption. I applaud him, I salute him.”
Dr Singh then sent his party’s Vilasrao Deshmukh to meet Anna at his protest camp and convey that a debate in Parliament can begin tomorrow on all versions of the Lokpal Bill. Mr Deshmukh knows Anna well, both men are from Maharashtra where the Congressman has served twice as Chief Minister. Mr Deshmukh delivered the Prime Minister’s offer, and took back Anna’s request for an urgent debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Suggestive of a new emphasis on the role of younger leaders and the influence of Rahul Gandhi, several young MPs like Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora were included in the Government’s evening discussions.
Anna’s associates were also busy. In a clear signal to the Government, they organised a meeting with senior BJP leaders including party President Nitin Gadkari and LK Advani. During his evening speech, Anna had dared the BJP to reveal their position on his Jan Lokpal Bill. After the meeting which finished late night, Mr Gadkari said the BJP supports Anna and wants his bill to serve as point of reference for Parliament as it creates “strong and effective lokpal.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Gadkari wrote to Anna to say that the party supports him, and would like his version of the Lokpal Bill to serve as the reference point for parliament’s consideration. Mr Gadkari said the BJP strongly deplores the “changing stance of the government and its visible hardening of postures in dealing with your agitation. The BJP warns the government against any misadventure in this regard.”
So far, Anna’s team has three demands that have been contentious for the Government. “We may have found a route around these points, we may have bypassed these points,” said Law Minister Salman Khurshid. Sources say the government wants the House to discuss these.
The first item of dispute is that Team Anna says the Lokpal – a new independent agency to investigate corruption – must be allowed to cover junior bureaucrats so that graft is combated “from the villages to our ministries.” The second is that Anna wants the Lokpal model to be replicated in states. Finally, he wants government departments to adopt a citizen’s charter that would punish officials for under-performance.