Anti-Corruption

Talks Fail: Team Anna Says Back to Square One; Govt Accuses Team Anna of “Distorting” Facts

BeyondHeadlines Special Correspondent

New Delhi: Following the failure of talks between the government and Team Anna, the civil society is contemplating whether or not hold a third round of talks with the government on Thursday (August 25).  Speaking on the issue, Arvind Kejriwal said that there appeared to be nothing left to talk about considering the government has the civil society’s draft of the Lokpal bill.

Kejriwal added, “We will decide in a short time whether or not to meet the government today. They are saying they will now draft a new bill. Since they already have our bill, there is nothing to talk about. If they come up with any proposal they can send it to us. We are victims of congress’ internal politics.”

The civil society does not appear too hopeful about anything positive coming out of a third round of talks. In view of the situation team Anna will hold a core committee meeting today to decide whether they will go for the third round of talks. A clearly upset team Anna today said, “The government has to move one bill. They are trying to mislead the people by saying they are sending others’ bills as well.”

Team Anna accused the government of taking dual stands stating that the situation was back to square one. Members of the team said that their meeting with the Government was extremely disappointing and that the government had completely changed its stand from the day before.

Talks between government and Team Anna Hazare ended in a deadlock on Wednesday night (August 24) with the two sides failing to resolve the key issues, prompting the civil society to declare that they were “back to square one”.

Upset at the lack of progress, Anna Hazare’s three representatives — Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi — said after another round of talks with government interlocutors headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that difference between government’s attitude yesterday and today was marked like “day and night”.

They were of the view that talks were “back to square one” although the government said another round of discussions will be held on Thursday (August 25).

In a confirmation that Parliamentary procedures cannot be short-circuited, a point underlined by major political parties, Mukherjee said after the meeting that the government had hoped that Parliamentary process will be allowed to complete its exercise and make recommendations on Jan Lokpal Bill for its adoption.

Referring to recommendations of the all-party meeting that due consideration should be given to Jan Lokpal Bill so that the final draft provides for a “strong and effective” Lokpal, he said the government is committed to implementing the spirit of the decision.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his letter to Hazare on Tuesday “assured” that Jan Lokpal Bill would be referred to the Standing Committee and to make its recommendation, the process will also be expedited as per the discretion of the Standing Committee, Mukherjee said.

The standoff capped another hectic day of activities when major political parties made it clear that to the government that nothing should be done to undermine Parliament and Constitution.

Despite hard negotiations, differences persisted over seven issues, including bringing the Prime Minister under its ambit.

The Prime Minister last night candidly admitted that the government was in a “bind” from which it has to come out with “practical and pragmatic” solutions.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters after the 90-minute deliberations with Hazare team that the government would not allow undermining of its bill which has been passed by the Cabinet.

At the all-party meeting, both the Left parties and BJP urged the government to withdraw its Lokpal bill now now before a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The all-party meeting made an appeal to Hazare, whose fast at Ramlila Grounds entered the ninth day today, to call it off. But Hazare maintained that he would not do so. Sources present at the all-party meeting said that out of 40 points presented by the civil society in its Janlokpal bill, there was complete agreement on 26, broad agreement on seven and persisting differences on the remaining seven.

That differences could not be bridged was confirmed when Hazare’s representatives came out of meeting with Mukherjee and there was “disappointment” with the government’s “change in attitude”. “There is a difference of day and night between yesterday and today. There has been a change of attitude. The kind of concern they were expressing yesterday was not visible today. It is totally retrograde,” Kiran Bedi said.

The issues on which the differences remained included a single law providing for Lokayuktas in states, bringing Prime Minister, higher judiciary and conduct of MPs in Parliament in the ambit of Lokpal, coverage of all civil servants, definition of Lokpal and selection process of Lokpal.

Accusing the government of involving them only for the sake of meetings, Arvind Kejriwal said they have gone back to the drafting stage. “We are back to the position where we were two days when no meetings have taken place. The agreement on procedure which appeared reached yesterday has been withdrawn by them,” Kejriwal said.

Expressing disappointment with the meeting, Bhushan said that the discussions will have to be started “once again virtually from scratch”. “Unfortunately, we are back to square one. While yesterday there seem to be some progress, today after the meetings of CCPA, Congress Core Group and all party meeting, we seem to be back to square one,” he said.

The meeting last night was the fourth meeting Team Anna was having with government negotiators that started from an informal deliberation between them and Law Minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday.

At the all-party meeting, there was unanimity that the supremacy of Parliament and Constitution should be upheld but divergent views were aired on the fate of official Lokpal Bill.

A resolution passed at the all-party meeting said “this meeting of all parties in Parliament requests Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast. “The meeting was also of the view that due consideration should be given to the Janlokpal Bill so that the Final Draft of the Lokpal Bill provides for a strong and effective Lokpal which is supported by a broad national consensus.”

The meeting started with the remarks of the Prime Minister who gave an overview of the situation and the developments that have taken place in the recent past, including the discussions that Mukherjee had with the Hazare team on Tuesday.

Singh conveyed the demands of the civil society that government should withdraw the Lokpal Bill in Parliament and introduce in its place Jan Lokpal Bill with some changes in four days, discuss that and pass it in the Monsoon Session without referring to the Standing Committee.

The civil society also said that if a written committment can be given by the government on its demand, Hazare can be persuaded to end his fast.

Mukherjee briefed the meeting on the negotiations he had held with Team Anna.

Others to speak at the meeting were Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP leader S C Mishra, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s D Raja.

Parties, including the BJP, Left, AGP and RLD, demanded withdrawal of the government Bill saying it was weak but made it clear Parliament was supreme and there can be no short-circuiting of procedures like proper and due examination of any legislation in the Standing Committee.

Contending that an “abnormal situation” had arisen due to Hazare’s fast, Swaraj said her party had two points — strong Lokpal which will cover the Prime Minister with riders and wanted the selection committee not to be “dominated by government people”.

She said the government bill was “weak” and should be withdrawn.

Yechury described the situation as close to “anarchy” and favoured redrafting of the Lokpal Bill after withdrawing the official version.

He said the supremacy of Constitution should be preserved.

Lalu Prasad said outsiders should not dictate and that the government’s Lokpal Bill should not be withdrawn.  Ahamed, leader of UPA ally IUML, said the government should not surrender to the civil society.

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