BeyondHeadlines Staff Reporter
New Delhi: The all-party meeting to resolve the Lokpal Bill issue ended today without a consensus being reached. After meeting for a whopping three hours, leaders of all major political parties formally asked the prime minister to urge Anna Hazare to end his hunger strike against corruption.
A little before that meeting ended, Anna vowed that would not happen. The 74-year-old activist took the stage at his camp at Ramlila Maidan, where even on a weekday, around 15,000 people were waiting to hear him. “I am not weak, I can go another nine days (without food),” he declared.
However, the frail condition of the Gandhian is what is bearing down on the government as it hunts desperately for a compromise with Anna and his associates on the Lokpal Bill, meant to combat corruption among public servants through a new independent agency.
The agenda of the all-party meeting this evening was for the government to find a joint political argument to convince Anna to end his fast. After wide criticism of its vertiginous handling of Anna, the government is also anxious to end its political isolation. The Prime Minister told opposition leaders he seeks “their guidance on the way forward.”
As the parties were debating Anna’s demand for a Lokpal Bill vetted by his team to be passed in this session of Parliament, Anna said “We will continue our fight…corrupt traitors are destroying our country.” As he tried to sit down, he refused assistance.
Dr Manhoman Singh said: “Broadly their position is that (a) the Government should withdraw the Bill introduced in Parliament (b) the Jan Lokpal Bill should be introduced with some changes in Parliament within four days and (c) this bill should be discussed and passed during this session of Parliament by extending it if necessary…. If a written commitment can be given with timelines, then the representatives said they can hopefully persuade Annaji to stop his fast.”
The deadlines set by Team Anna have fazed the government. This Parliament session ends on September 8. BJP leader Arun Jaitley said before heading to the PM’s meeting that it’s not the deadline but the content of the Bill that must be a priority.
The Lokpal Bill provides for the creation of an anti-corruption agency that will be empowered to handle cases of official graft. Team Anna and the government had both prepared vastly disparate versions of the bill. They’re now hammering out a compromise, point by point. Most differences have been resolved. The government, for example, has accepted that corruption charges against the Prime Minister can be investigated while he or she is still in office. Two sticking points prevent a truce. Anna believes that all bureaucrats must be covered by the Lokpal or ombudsman committee. The government says this is not possible, because it would mean providing 20,000 officers to the Lokpal to investigate junior bureaucrats. Team Anna also wants the Lokpal Act to apply not just at the centre, but in states as well. The government, however, wants states to develop their own versions of the bill.
Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who is a key mediator, said a solution may be delivered tonight. He said that “Both sides are being flexible. I think there will be good news soon.”
The prime minister wrote to Anna last evening, expressing concern over the activist’s frail health, and offering that Anna’s Lokpal Bill could be studied by the Parliamentary Standing Committee that already has the government’s draft. However, Team Anna wants their Lokpal Bill to be debated directly by Parliament, which would entail bypassing any deliberations at the committee level.