PM ready for ‘give and take’ as Hazare continues fast

As activist Anna Hazare’s fast continued for the fifth day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday indicated his willingness to end the stand-off, saying he was ready for “give and take” to strengthen the anti-corruption legislation. Meanwhile, the parliamentary panel examining the draft Lokpal Bill has invited suggestions from the public.

However, the government virtually rejected the Aug 30 deadline set by Hazare and his team for passing the civil society’s Jan Lokpal Bill, saying the legislative process could take longer than that. The development came as the parliamentary standing committee came out with newspaper advertisements seeking people’s opinions on the legislation.

Team Anna trashed the advertisement as an attention-diverting tactic and dubbed the government’s draft bill as “Promotion of Corruption Bill”.

As Hazare’s fast continued for the fifth day, his key comrades in the anti-corruption crusade sought to up the ante by reiterating their call for a referendum on the issue and dared the government to find out which version of the Lokpal bill people want.

“The government is in favour of a strong and effective Lokpal Bill. There is a lot of scope of give and take,” Manmohan Singh told reporters after a full meeting of the Planning Commission here.

“There is a dynamics in the legislative process and it takes time for a bill to be passed. We must all work together to push forward the case of a strong and effective Lokpal,” said Manmohan Singh.

“Our hope is that we can list the cooperation of all thinking segments of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is a strong and effective Lokpal, which all sections of our community want today,” he said.

The government and social activists differ over inclusion of the prime minister and judiciary in the Lokpal bill.

Hazare, who has lost weight since he began the fast Tuesday for an omnibus anti-graft bill but was declared fit after medical check-up in the evening, said he would continue protesting till the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by his group, is passed by parliament.

“I have lost 3.5 kg over the past four days… but there is nothing to worry… I will not give up… we will keep fighting till we get the Jan Lokpal bill passed,” Hazare told his supporters at the Ramlila Ground.

Hazare also forcefully rejected insinuations by some Congress leaders that the movement was being driven by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamasevak Sangh. “People like them should be sent to mental hospital. They are linking us with BJP, RSS and even America. Tomorrow, they will say Pakistan is behind it,” said a caustic Hazare.

A defensive government, meanwhile, mounted a public relations exercise to contain the criticism over its tackling of the agitation.

Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances and law and justice that is looking into the Lokpal Bill, conveyed the panel’s intention to consider all suggestions. “Consultations related to Lokpal are open… It is a serious exercise. We will go clause by clause,” Singhvi said.

He, however, made it clear that the consultative process will take a long time, much beyond the Aug 30 deadline set up by Team Anna. Singhvi said that if the whole process of giving a detailed report and recommendations is done by Aug 30, “you will laugh at us and accuse the committee of not applying its mind”.

In a press conference addressed by Team Anna in the evening, Kiran Bedi, a key activist of Team Anna, sought to debunk the government’s sincerity saying it was closely monitoring the crowds to see how long popular support will sustain the agitation.

“The masses are here to express they will not tolerate corruption. If we were forcing our view, you would not have seen this crowd that has gathered,” Hazare’s associate Arvind Kejriwal said at Ramlila ground.

He also urged the parliamentary standing committee to reject the government’s bill, saying it will only waste time over it.

He said if the government were to go for a referendum on the bill, the government draft will be totally trashed by the people.

On the plan of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Varun Gandhi to introduce the Jan Lokpal bill as a private member’s bill, Kejriwal said a private member’s bill is “more symbolic in nature”.

Hazare had Friday said that if the bill is not passed in parliament by Aug 30, people should begin a “jail bharo (fill the jails)” movement.

In another development, Aruna Roy, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, hit out at the ongoing protest by Team Anna and said no one should be allowed to hijack democratic institutions.

Addressing media persons at the Press Club here, Roy said Hazare’s indefinite fast was “ill advised and it is wrong to undermine democratic institutions”.

Roy also said a version of the Lokpal bill drafted by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) of which she is a member, would be presented to the parliamentary standing committee. (IANS)

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