In a blow to the anti-corruption movement, talks between the government and Anna Hazare’s team were on the verge of a breakdown on Monday, with both sides nowhere close to a meeting point on major issues.
“Today’s meeting was quite disastrous… Definitely the government’s intentions are suspect,” said a terse two-page note from Hazare’s team after the meeting, the joint panel’s fifth.
The 10-member panel, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to draft a strong anti-corruption bill, saw the two sides disagreeing virtually on five of the six contentious issues taken up for discussion.
The government firmly ruled out bringing the prime minister and the higher judiciary within the purview of the lokpal. They also disagreed over allowing the anti-corruption watchdog to probe allegations of corruption inside Parliament against MPs.
Hazare’s team made it clear that the talks appeared to be doomed for failure. “Please prepare yourself for the next huge movement in the country. We will go for the next few meetings. We will try our best till the last moment for a strong and effective lokpal, but if the government disagrees, we should be ready for taking to the streets,” the Hazare-led India Against Corruption said in a statement.
In the evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a meeting of the cabinet committee on political affairs to take stock of the situation. The decision of yoga guru Baba Ramdev to go on an indefinite fast from June 4 against the alleged failure of the government in bringing back the black money stashed abroad was also discussed.
“Response of the government was not reasonable, we are quite disappointed,” said panel member Prashant Bhushan.
His colleague, Right to Information activist Arvind Kejriwal, said the government was going back on its version of the draft bill. “The government had proposed bringing the prime minister within the lokpal’s purview…, but now the ministers are saying the PM should be completely out.”
The government said talks would continue despite the disagreements. “The talks will continue during the next meetings on June 6 and 10,” said telecom minister Kapil Sibal.
He said the panel had decided to seek the views of states and political parties on issues of disagreement with the Hazare’s team.