New Delhi: As the prospect of a compromise emerged that could lead Anna Hazare to end his fast, the 74-year-old activist addressed his by-now-standard crowd of thousands at his protest camp in Delhi. He acknowledged that the prime minister and he have exchanged messages about how to end the crisis over his Jan Lokpal Bill that Anna has drafted with his associates.
Anna, who has been on hunger strike for 10 days, said that he has conveyed to the prime minister, “If you are serious, let’s start a debate tomorrow in Parliament on the Jan Lokpal Bill. There are three points of dispute….we will test you on these.” He said if there is consensus on these issues, he will end his fast.
Anna also referred to the prime minister’s rich tribute to him in Parliament this morning. “Thanks to all those who praised me,” he said. “It is actually you who deserve the praise. But I worry that this is just a ploy.” He added, “I want to ask opposition parties why they are silent. Speak up. Say that you support our Jan Lokpal Bill.”
The prime minister today reached out to the 74-year-old activist with a sincere tribute and a new offer for compromise, both delivered in Parliament.
Dr Manmohan Singh, who has been criticized for appearing too distant during Anna’s massive anti-corruption 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. “
He then sent his party’s Vilasrao Deshmukh to meet Anna at his protest camp and convey a new exit route from the current crisis. Mr Deshmukh knows Anna well, both men are from Maharashtra where the Congressman has served twice as Chief Minister. Hoping for a breakthrough today, the PM will meet his senior ministers at 5 pm.
Anna has vowed not to end his fast till the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by him and his colleagues is placed in Parliament. 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 prime minister has suggested 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.
Anna gave Deshmukh a written response to this proposal which stressed that he wants a debate to begin immediately in Parliament on the major points of dispute between the government and his team.
Anna’s team has three demands that are contentious for the government. The first is that the Lokpal -a new independent agency to investigate corruption – must be allowed to cover junior bureaucrats so that graft is combatted “from the villages to our ministries.” The second is that the Lokpal Act must be introduced not just at the centre but in states. Finally, he wants government departments to adopt a citizen’s charter that would punish officials for under-performance.
So far, the government has said that the Lokpal’s powers over the lower bureaucracy could give it an authoritarian dimension. It also wants each state to decide on its own version of the Lokpal Act.