Parties ask Hazare to end fast, standoff persists

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New Delhi: An all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged Anna Hazare to end his nine day fast for a strong anti-corruption law, but the 74-year-old activist refused amid persisting differences between his side and the government.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left asked the government to dump its own Lokpal bill that Hazare aides say is toothless, some other parties disagreed, indicating the crisis might drag on.

Team Anna has declared that Hazare would end his protest only after the government withdraws its Lokpal bill and instead presents their Jan Lokpal Bill to parliament for approval.

The Jan Lokpal Bill advocates the inclusion of the prime minister, the judiciary and the mass of lower bureaucracy in its ambit.

“Present the Jan Lokpal Bill in parliament tomorrow and Anna will end his fast,” his confidant Arvind Kejriwal thundered from the stage where Hazare is fasting, watched by tens of thousands at the Ramlila ground and across the country on television.

“If anything happens to Annaji, the government will be responsible,” he added ominously.

Hazare, who has adamantly declined to be shifted to hospital despite his deteriorating health, declared Wednesday that he was ready to continue the fast for another nine days.

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.

Manmohan Singh 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.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the government needed to take back its Lokpal bill, which critics say is weak, and present a more effective bill in parliament for its approval.

Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said the government had taken to “prepare a final draft”. “We want the bill should be passed in this session itself,” he added.

The government and Team Anna leaders held a second round of negotiations with the government Wednesday afternoon, but the talks deadlocked on three “sticking issues”. The meeting lasted for an hour.

Another round started Wednesday night.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan of Team Anna said the major differences included the inclusion of lower bureaucracy in the ambit of Lokpal, having a Lokayukta in each state and a citizen’s charter for each government wings.

Kiran Bedi, Bhushan and Kejriwal had met Mukherjee Tuesday night — the first meeting between the two sides since Hazare launched his fast Aug 16 after his detention by Delhi Police.

Amid mounting worries over his health, a frail looking but defiant Hazare accused the government of insincerity vis-a-vis corruption.

Hazare told cheering crowds at Ramlila Maidan, ground zero of the anti-corruption campaign, that the government was corrupt and did not have the heart to pass a comprehensive bill to battle graft.

“If the demands are not met, I will fight till my last breath,” he said. “Even if I die, I don’t care.”