Negotiations between the government and Anna Hazare’s team on their varying versions of the lokpal legislation hit a dead end on Wednesday night, diminishing hopes of an early resolution that was in sight 24 hours earlier.
Anna Hazare— surviving on water for 200 hours — said the development exposed the government’s “real face” but told his supporters at Ramlila Maidan to maintain peace if the government tried to forcibly remove him. “If you stop them, there will be violence, which is their gameplan,” he said.
Earlier, team Anna had a 90 minute meeting with government negotiators. “We are back to square one,” said Prashant Bhushan immediately after that.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who represented the government along with law minister Salman Khurshid and Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit said, “We requested them to allow the parliamentary process to be completed.”
Both sides, however, said talks would continue on Thursday.
While the government insisted that the basis of negotiations must be its bill, now being examined by the Parliament’s standing committee, Team Anna demanded that the government draft be replaced with their Jan Lokpal Bill, which could then be subjected to amendments.
The government said there can’t be any short-circuiting of the parliamentary process but Team Anna wanted the bill to bypass the standing committee and be enacted into a law in this very monsoon session of Parliament.
The government, emboldened by the all-party meeting that preceded the negotiations, resolved to uphold the supremacy of Parliament. A meeting of senior Congress leaders with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night also concluded there could be no compromise on parliamentary procedures.
They were, however, willing to accommodate all but three of the demands being pressed by the fasting social activist and his team.
One of the major reasons behind the deadlock was the deadline within which Hazare’s team wanted the bill to be passed. “The process of the parliamentary standing committee can be expedited as per the committee’s own decision,” Mukherjee said.
Sources said Mukherjee told Team Anna, “I am not the government, I am not Parliament, I cannot give a commitment on any deadline.”
If the government replaces its bill with the Jan Lokpal Bill, Team Anna suggested fast-tracking of the whole process with specific deadlines and written assurances, which the government refused to accept.
Wednesday’s developments hovered around Hazare’s failing health, which was reflected in the resolution adopted at the all-party meeting and in Mukherjee’s statement after the negotiations.
Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal said, “They (government) told us if Annaji wants to continue his fast he can do so, it’s your responsibility.”
Khurshid, however, said the government was worried about Hazare’s health and was trying everything possible. “In the order of priority, ending the fast is more important than the bill,” he said.
The stumbling blocks were also related to the procedural aspects of implementing the broad agreements on contentious issues that both sides appeared to have arrived at on Tuesday night.