Faced with countrywide support for Anna Hazare's campaign for a
stronger Lokpal bill, the government Tuesday opened formal
negotiations with Team Anna as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
appealed to the social activist to end his his eight-day hunger
strike and assured that steps will be taken to place his version
of the anti-graft bill in parliament.
On Tuesday evening, the government mediator and Finance Minister
Pranab Mukherjee opened talks in his North Block office with Team
Anna's key members - Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran
Bedi. Mukherjee was assisted by Law Minister Salman Khurshid and
Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit.
Khurshid had held talks with Kejriwal earlier in the day, but the
latter said there was no progress even as the civil society
protests peaked with Hazare's supporters holding demonstrations
outside the residences of MPs across the country.
Determined to break the deadlock over the ballooning agitation led
by Hazare, the Congress pulled out all stops to end the row and
appealed for "flexibility and restraint" from all stakeholders on
the Lokpal bill. The United Progressive Alliance government called
an all-party meeting Wednesday to break the logjam. Congress
general secretary Rahul Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
amid intensified efforts to find common ground on the contentious
Manmohan Singh, who only a couple of days ago had said he was
ready for give and take, threw his full weight behind the
resolution of the festering crisis and shot off a 500-word letter
to Hazare, expressing his "increasing concern" over his health and
assured him of justice to his Jan Lok Pal bill.
"Our government is prepared to request (Lok Sabha) Speaker (Meira
Kumar) to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the standing
committee for their holistic consideration alongwith everything
else," he wrote. "I do hope that you will consider my suggestions
and end your fast to regain full health and vitality," the prime
He said only the paths and methodologies taken by the government
and Hazare's team were different. "The government is committed to
passing a constitutionally valid and the best possible Lok Pal
legislation with inputs from civil society with the broadest
possible consensus. We are ready to talk to anybody," he said.
Treading a middle path, the prime minister also reiterated that
parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters
of legislation should be kept in mind. He said that all options
were open before the standing committee, which is already
considering the government's version of the Lokpal bill.
"Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and
clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the bill
introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like
those prepared by (social activist) Aruna Roy.
He said the standing committee was "fully entitled" to make any
changes to the bill introduced by the government.
"In that view of the matter, the formal non introduction of the
Jan Lokpal Bill version by the government is irrelevant and would
largely boil down to a semantic debate," Manmohan Singh said.
He said the government could request the panel to try and fast
track their deliberations on the bill to "the extent reasonably
"I would like to say that this letter and each suggestion herein
is actuated solely by the twin considerations of deep and genuine
concern about your health and the emergence of a strong and
effective Lok Pal Act in accordance with established
constitutional precept and practice," he said.
Appealing for flexibility after the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were
adjourned for the day Tuesday, Congress spokesperson Abhishek
Singhvi commended the government for sending the Lokpal bill to a
parliamentary standing committee, and said wide ranging discussion
and consultations could be held to make the legislation stronger
"All stakeholders show flexibility and restraint. All stakeholders
should give the committee a fair chance. It may, in fact, surprise
all critics," he promised.
Singhvi also welcomed all efforts, official or unofficial, to hold
dialogue with protesting Hazare's team members to end the impasse
over the Lokpal bill.
Asked for his reaction to Hazare's demand for passing the civil
society activists' version of the Lokpal bill in parliament before
Aug 30, Singhvi said: "Anything that seems perfunctory, not
debated upon and done overnight, will be highly criticised."
He said under parliamentary methods, all legislation needed "due
consideration". The parliamentary committee, however, can take
shorter time for debating a piece of legislation, he said, noting
that the panel, headed by him, held its first meeting "unusually
fast" in the parliamentary system.
Singhvi said the committee will consider different views on the
provisions of the Lokpal bill, but to what extent those
suggestions would be accepted was anybody's guess at this point of