ANNA REJECTS MEDIATORS, WANTS DIRECT TALKS
From Our Delhi Bureau
NEW DELHI: Fasting anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare on Monday set his terms for negotiations, wanting either the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) or Rahul Gandhi to come forward for talks even as the government is shying away from starting any direct talks despite his movement gaining momentum across the country.
He is even ready to talk to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, but not with the non-government mediators sent on Sunday and Monday and certainly not with Home Minister P Chidambaram or HRD Minister Kapil Sibal with whom he sat in a committee to draft the Lokpal Bill.
Alarmed by the government roping in his NGO nephew, Indore-based religious leader Bhaiyuji Maharaj and Maharashtra Additional Secretary Umesh Chandra Sarangi to influence him to breakaway from his team, the 74-year old crusader declared on the seventh day of his fast at Ramlila Maidan here that he would not speak to anyone without the presence of his Associates like Arvind Kejriwal and ex-top cop Kiran Bedi running the show.
He made it clear that he won't negotiate with Sarangi, Maharaj or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar fielded by the government for the back-channel talks. Let there be direct talks if the government is sincere, he asserted. The government is talking through these negotiators since after the Congress core group, attended by Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi, on Thursday decided to wait and watch with "hands-off" policy.
His associates are angry that no formal proposal has emerged from the government despite the PM doling out the offer of talks two days ago. They are also angry at the government sending mediators who can not take any decisions. Kiran Bedi tweeted: "Let govt come forward... Let PM send his representatives. Any negotiations are rumours."
Anna also set his terms that the Lokpal Bill introduced by the government in Parliament will have to be withdrawn for any fruitful talks as it is too weak to fight the corruption menace and the judiciary can be excluded from the Lokpal's purview only if a strong Judicial Accountability Bill is offered.
At the golden jubilee of the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata, Dr Manmohan Singh asked Team Anna to see "reason," affirming that the government is open to a "reasoned debate on the anti-corruption Lokpal bill." He said "The creation of the Lok Pal as an institution will help, but it will not solve the problem. It needs to be supported by improvements in the pace and quality of judicial processes and revamp of the governance procedure."
In his absence, Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and PMO's MoS V Narayanasamy reviewed the situation and later Khurshid told reporters that the issue can be resolved through talks and the modus of the talks is being debated.
"Talks must take place to resolve this issue. The fact that 2 lakh people are protesting is significant. Solution to complex issues cannot be delivered within 2-3 days. But what the people really want can be decided only through elections," he said.
Even after losing more than five kilos in his seventh day of the fast for strong Lokpal Bill, Hazare drew strength from more than 25,000 people thronging the Ramlila Maidan for the second running because of a national holiday for Janmashtami. It is this endless stream of supporters pouring into the grounds that Hazare and his team re-affirmed not to give up their demand for their version of the Lokpal Bill be passed by Parliament by August 30 or face a "revolution" from August 31.
While Kiran Bedi was busy trying to educate the people on differences between the government's Lokpal Bill and Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill, Kejriwal again gave a call to the people to protest "peacefully" outside the holes of ministers and MPs to pressurise them to accept their line, stressing that such protests are not aimed at destabilising the government as some people say.
Countering charges that Anna's movement is undermining Parliament and its right to legislate, Kejriwal said, "What is democracy? It is not just voting once every five years and handing over your destiny to representatives. It is day-to-day engagement with your representatives."
Meanwhile, Anil Shastri, son of late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and a Congress Working Committee (CWC), came out in open criticising the government for underestimating the Gandhian's movement against corruption and asking it to enter into a dialogue with him.
Shastri, who was summarily sacked as editor of Congress mouthpiece "Sandesh" only two weeks ago for serious goof-ups, tweeted: "Anna's movement against corruption was underestimated by government. It is time that it entered into dialogue with him to end his fast."