Signs of a thaw between Anna Hazare’s team and the government surfaced on the seventh day of the social activist’s fast on Monday, with both sides displaying a willingness to adopt a flexible approach to break the stalemate on what the Lokpal Bill would finally be.
Prashant Bhushan, a key aide of Hazare, told HT that if some “clean people with political authority” talk to the activists, they would consider amending their Jan Lokpal Bill and rethink their deadlines. “We can talk to AK Antony and Jairam Ramesh,” Bhushan said.
Showing considerable flexibility on the provisions of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill, Bhushan said, “It has gone through 13 revisions and a 14th draft is possible.”
He said that if the Centre removes the trust deficit between the government and the activists, they would be willing to consider Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance that the bill would be passed in the winter session of Parliament.
“But for that, there has to be enforceable assurance from someone with political authority.” Asked whether he would like Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to give that assurance, Bhushan said, “Mere assurances from anyone will have limited value. It has to be a written agreement.”
Ramesh said he’d take up the “job if asked to” but Antony was not available for comment. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior union minister told HT, “All demands that do not conflict with the Constitution can be considered.
Including the PM under the purview of the lokpal is possible. The Judicial Accountability Bill (currently being examined by a parliamentary standing committee) and the Whistleblower’s Bill can be strengthened and fast-tracked to
accommodate some other demands. And we can also ask all Congress-ruled states to have strong lokayuktas.”
He, however, said that including the state lokayuktas and MPs in the national law would be in conflict with the Constitution and, therefore, cannot be negotiated. The minister also ruled out Team Anna’s argument that the Lokpal be empowered to delegate authority to expand its oversight to all government officials. “This, too, goes against the Constitution. Even magistrates are not allowed to delegate quasi-judicial power to others,” the minister said. He, however, ruled out any political leader visiting the Ramlila Maidan. “Who will take the risk of going there and facing humiliation from agitators? The kind of slogans given there doesn’t make it a suitable place to hold talks,” said another minister.
Meanwhile, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar met members of Team Anna as part of efforts to bring an end to the impasse. A Hazare aide said the spiritual guru was acting on his own and was not a government mediator or messenger. Ravi Shankar also met BJP leaders LK Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj and NDA convener Sharad Yadav.
Maharashtra additional chief secretary UC Sarangi met Hazare again — his third meeting with the activist since Saturday evening.
Indore-based spiritual leader Baiyyuji Maharaj, who has also emerged as a mediator, said the government was trying “really hard” to find a solution.
Speaking at a function in Kolkata, the PM said the government was “open to reasoned debate” on the Lokpal issue. “There are differences. All concerned individuals should convey their concern to their representatives in Parliament and to the standing committee,” he said.
The PM reiterated that a Lokpal alone cannot eradicate corruption. “We need to thoroughly revamp existing government procedures to reduce discretion and to make the basis of decision-making as transparent as possible.”