Social activist Anna Hazare’s failing health brought his team and the government to the negotiating table on Tuesday evening after days of tough talking by both the sides.
The government team at the three-hour meeting was led by its main trouble-shooter, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and included law minister Salman Khurshid and Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit.Hazare sent his aides Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi for the meeting. Both sides described the meeting as "cordial and fruitful" but Team Anna said there had been no major breakthrough.
Kejriwal said after the meeting that Mukherjee sought time till Wednesday morning to discuss their proposals with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “More meetings will be required,” he said while his colleague Bhushan hinted that the two sides were still not close to a common meeting ground.
“It would be difficult to persuade Annaji to call off his fast with the kind of discussions we had so far,” he said.
The decision to call the all-party meeting preceded the government's decision to appoint finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as its negotiator for talks with Hazare's team.
Earlier, the PM appealed to Hazare to end his fast and promised him that his version of the bill (Jan Lokpal Bill) could be referred to the parliamentary standing committee.
The government hopes by the time the all-party meeting takes place at 3.30pm, a breakthrough may be possible in the standoff with Hazare and opposition leaders can be apprised about it. A government source said some demands of Hazare and his associates "trespass" on constitutional provisions, and would need a wider political consensus before any decision is possible. "For instance, the government is still not agreeable to bringing the CBI and other investigative agencies under the Lokpal," a senior Congress functionary said.
The government is also not keen on bringing junior level officers under the Lokpal. "The civil society may like to see PM (Prime Minister) to pm (post master) in the Lokpal, but we don't think that is feasible," said the Congress leader.
Hazare's fast overshadowed proceedings in Parliament on Tuesday. The opposition utilised the campaign to target the government, paralysing proceedings and forcing repeated adjournments.
At the all-party meet, the opposition parties are expected to put the onus of ending the impasse on the government.
The government expects the opposition leaders to share its concern over calls for gherao of ministers and MPs given by Hazare.