New Delhi, Aug 25
Breakthrough continues to elude to solve the snowballing political crisis triggered by social activist Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast that continued for the ninth day Wednesday, as his side and the government hardended their stands over a sweeping anti-corruption law.
Talks between the government and Hazare’s aides ended in a deadlock as key issues remain unresolved.
At the latest round of talks between the two sides, the civil society activists insisted that their version of the Lokpal bill should be expeditiously passed, but the government refused to bypass the parliamentary procedure.
Hazare’s representatives — Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi were visibly upset at the lack of progress in the third round of talks with government interlocutors led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
But the government appeared positive saying they were still talking and would have another round Thursday.
“I don’t think it is a situation that calls for strong words. We will take positive steps that will break Anna Hazare’s fast. The talks are progressing positively,” one of the interlocutors Law Minister Salman Khurshid said, after the meeting.
The impasse comes after a day when it seemed the two sides were narrowing differences on some key points of contention.
“We are quite disappointed with today’s meeting. We will have to start from scratch if talks have to continue,” Bhushan told reporters after the meeting.
He said the government on Tuesday had promised that their demands would be “considered sympathetically” but “unfortunately we have to report that we are back to square one”.
“We have been told that the parliament procedure of the standing committee cannot be short-circuited,” he said.
Mukherjee confirmed the point which was also underlined by major political parties at an all-party meeting earlier.
The government hoped that parliamentary process would be allowed to complete its exercise and make recommendations on Jan Lokpal Bill for its adoption, the finance minister said.
The minister said the government would implement the spirit of the decision at the all-party meeting, referring its recommendations that due consideration should be given to Jan Lokpal Bill, prepared by Team Anna.
As the all-party meeting urged Hazare to end his fast, a worried Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said “anything can happen” even as efforts were on to “defuse” the crisis.
But the determined 74-year-old activist refused to end his fast even as his health was deteriorating.
He asked his supporters not to stop police if they evicted him forcibly from the Ramlila ground where he has been on a hunger strike.
The veteran activist appealed to thousands of his supporters not to resort to violence “if they evict me, please don’t stop them”.
His aide Kejriwal alleged that the government was planning to forcibly remove Hazare at around 4 a.m. and take him to some other place.
They declared that Hazare would end his protest only after the government withdraws its Lokpal bill and presents their Jan Lokpal Bill to parliament for approval.
In his remarks at the all-party meeting, Manmohan Singh said Hazare desired a written commitment from the government that it will bring a new version of the Lokpal bill and pass it in this session of parliament.
“The fast of Hazareji and his failing health are a matter of concern to all of us,” Manmohan Singh said, as political party after party demanded a strong Lokpal bill to fight mounting corruption.
He admitted there was a need for “a strong and independent institution (to) deal effectively with corruption”, but said parliamentary forums cannot be bypassed while framing law.
Later, at the iftar dinner on the lawns of his residence immediately after the all-party meeting, Manmohan Singh told IANS that the government was doing its best to “defuse the situation” but was worried that “anything can happen”.
He said it was difficult to say what turn things would take in the next few days and expressed concern that “hardliners might prevail” in the standoff situation and violence might break out.