New Delhi: Caught in a fix over Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast to press for a strong Lokpal Bill and a nationwide support to the Gandhian, the government on Tuesday broke the ice with Team Anna and held discussions in a bid to end the impasse. However, the meeting between the two sides ended without any breakthrough.
The discussions were held close on the heels of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh writing a letter to Anna and nominating Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the negotiator for talks with the civil society group. A decision to this effect was made after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who is recuperating in the US after undergoing a surgery, asked the PM to appoint Mukherjee as the negotiator.
The UPA’s key trouble shooter held a three-hour-long meeting with a three-member team of the civil society consisting of Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhusan and Kiran Bedi at his official residence here. Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit were also present in the meeting.
“Dialogue will continue. I am hopeful we will be able to work out a solution,” Mukherjee said addressing reporters after the meeting.
“The talks were constructive and held in a good atmosphere,” Khurshid said.
Hazare’s key aide Kejriwal said that the government has promised to them that it will come back with its response by Wednesday morning.
After today’s talks, three sticking points remained between the two sides. These include inclusion of lower bureaucracy in ambit of Lokpal, institution of Lokayukta and citizens` charter for every government department.
Kejriwal said the citizens` charter should specify responsibility of government officials along with period of delivery of service and penalise them with deduction of salary in case the work is not done in the stipulated period.
He also said the government had agreed to show to the civil society members the bill aimed at checking corruption in judiciary.
"There is no major objection on other issues. It is a major achievement," Kejriwal said.
Team Anna said they made it clear to the government that the official Lokpal Bill should either be withdrawn or allowed to lapse and the Jan Lokpal Bill should be introduced and passed in the current session of Parliament by extending it, if necessary.
Also, reports say the government has also softened its stand on bringing Prime Minister and MPs in the ambit of Lokpal.
Prashant Bhushan said anti-corruption investigations will be conducted by the Lokpal and not the CBI.
Kejriwal said the government has also requested Anna to call off his fast, which entered into its eighth day on Tuesday, in view of his deteriorating health condition.
“It is difficult to get Anna to break his fast unless something concrete comes out. We want written commitment from the government on the issue,” said another member of Team Anna, Prashant Bhusan.
In the meeting Team Anna rejected referring the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Standing Committee of Parliament, an offer made by Singh in his letter to Hazare.
In his letter, Prime Minister Singh had written that the government would ask Lok Sabha Speaker and if rules permit, the Jan Lokpal Bill would be referred to the Standing Committee.
Soon after Mukherjee`s discussions with the Team Anna, the Prime Minister held a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
Earlier in the day, Law Minister Khurshid had met Kejriwal and discussed how to go about the breaking the deadlock.
“The time is running out. The government wants a solution to the problem. Different contact points are being explored,” Khurshid said.
“They are fighting for democracy. There are fighting for transparent governance. But we are trying to understand what they want,” he stated.
“The government wants things to move forward. Stalemate on the issue can’t go on for long. We hope there will be a breakthrough soon,” the Union minister added.
Amid talks between the government and Team Anna to find a common ground, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi also met Prime Minister Singh.
The Prime Minister had also held discussions with Mukherjee and senior ministers A K Antony and P Chidambaram during the day.
Mukherjee also held parallel talks with senior ministers, including Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh, both of whom are from Maharashtra, a state from where Hazare hails.
An all-party meeting on Lokpal issue has been called by the government on Wednesday.