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Speculation rife on Anna-govt talks

delhi Updated: Aug 21, 2011 16:56 IST
PTI
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Social-activist-Anna-Hazare-center-listens-as-associates-Prashant-Bhushan-left-and-Arvind-Kejriwal-right-discuss-as-they-sit-on-the-stage-with-a-backdrop-of-a-giant-portrait-of-Mahatma-Gandhi-during-Hazare-s-hunger-strike-in-New-Delhi

Speculation was rife on Sunday about back-room negotiations to resolve differences between Centre and Anna Hazare after a senior Maharashtra government official met the Gandhian in New Delhi, but his team ruled out any compromise on its demand for bringing Prime Minister and higher judiciary within Lokpal's ambit.

Maharashtra additional chief secretary Umesh Chandra Sarangi visited Hazare on Saturday night at the Ramlila Maidan, where he is on an indefinite hunger strike demanding a strong Lokpal, a meeting described by Team Anna as "personal" while maintaining that "no compromise formula" was discussed.

The meeting between the official and the 73-year-old anti-corruption crusader figured in today's meeting of Hazare's Core Committee, sources in Team Anna said.

Attended by Hazare, the meeting decided not to climb down from its position on bringing the Prime Minister and higher judiciary in Lokpal's ambit but kept its door open for negotiations if the government "earns their trust" by withdrawing the Lokpal Bill from Parliament.

Justice Santosh Hegde, former Karnataka lokayukta and a close associate of Hazare, who proposed that the Team could think of giving up their demands on Prime Minister and higher judiciary provided other key demands are met, also attended the meeting, the sources said.

After the Core Committee meeting, Hegde held another round of discussions with key members of Team Anna. The sources said the issue with regard to the Prime Minister and judiciary was also discussed at the meeting but the activists finally decided against lowering their bar.

"We are open for talks. In order to open a door for dialogue, the government has to create an atmosphere. They have to create an atmosphere of trust by withdrawing the government bill from Parliament and introduce Jan Lokpal Bill. We will not budge from our stand. This is the least they should do to earn our trust," Swami Agnivesh, a Core Committee member, said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remarks that there was "a lot of scope for give and take" and that the government was open to "discussion and dialogue" was being seen as a positive move from the government side, the sources said.

The meeting was attended by Hazare's close associates Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan and Manish Sisodia. Activist Medha Patkar was also present.

Team Anna took stock of the situation as well as deliberated on the future course of action, activists said.

Both government and Team Anna on Saturday spoke of the need for a dialogue on the Lokpal issue.

Hazare had on Friday raised the political stakes by giving a deadline to the government to pass the Jan Lokpal bill by August 30 failing which he would continue his fast "till my last breath".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking on the issue on Saturday, had affirmed that there was "a lot of scope for give and take" and that the government was open to "discussion and dialogue".

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