Buoyed by growing support for his indefinite fast on its second day, anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to "show courage" in tackling the menace as the government indicated its willingness to form a joint committee for drafting the Lokpal Bill.
Even as agriculture minister Sharad Pawar quit the group of ministers (GoM) on corruption after attacks by Hazare, the veteran Gandhian slammed the "malicious slandering" of his fast by the ruling UPA in a letter to the PM.
The government, however, in a change of strategy, appeared willing to accommodate Hazare's demand for the formation of a joint committee of ministers and civil society activists to draft the Lokpal Bill.
Worried by the political fallout of Hazare's fast and his health, the PM, after Wednesday's cabinet meeting, had informal consultations with senior ministers including Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, Veerappa Moily and Ambika Soni.
"We need to diffuse the situation, and fast," said a minister, while sources said the government was trying to open talks with Hazare.
Sensing the advantage, Hazare went on the offensive.
"You say your GoM is drafting the anti-corruption law. But many of its members have such shady pasts that if effective anti-corruption systems had been in place, some of them would be behind bars," he wrote.
He said the government couldn't fool people by allowing "some of the most corrupt people to draft the anti-corruption law".
He also countered government criticism that his fast was instigated by vested interests, saying it was an "insult" to his "wisdom and intelligence".
The government said it was not opposed to Hazare's proposal.
"Even on the demand for a joint committee, we said we were open. In principle, we did not say no," said law minister Moily.
This was in sharp contrast to the government's refusal during two meetings with activists in March.
Hazare slammed Moily too.
"A few hours before our meeting with the PM on March 7, we received a phone call from Moily's office that the copy of the Jan Lokpal Bill had been misplaced and they wanted another copy. This is the seriousness of your government."
Towards evening, he appeared a little soft on the PM, whom he described as a good man, not tainted by corruption.
"Remote control se gadbadi hota hai (problems are created when a remote control operates)," he said, an apparent reference to the real power not being with Singh.