Desperate PM asks Anna to end fast, talks open (Roundup)

August 23rd, 2011 - 9:21 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 23 (IANS) Under mounting pressure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday urged 74-year-old Anna Hazare to end his eight day old fast in support of a radical anti-corruption legislation, setting the stage for an end to a nationwide campaign that has galvanized tens of thousands.

In a dramatic development that followed intense backstage negotiations, Manmohan Singh wrote to Hazare that the Jan Lokpal Bill framed by him will also be taken to the Parliamentary Standing Committee along with the government’s Lokpal Bill and a third version by social activist Aruna Roy.

Simultaneously, Hazare confidants Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi opened talks with Congress veteran and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the government’s most experienced member.

The Manmohan Singh offer came as Kiran Bedi said that Hazare was getting progressively weaker and Kejriwal warned of serious consequences if anything happened to the soldier-turned-activist.

Hazare has lost 5.5 kg since Aug 16. According to doctors, ketone particles (created by the body during starvation) were in his blood but in safe limit.

Seated and frequently lying down on a giant stage in Ramlila ground, Hazare did look a lot weaker Tuesday.

In his 500-word communication to Hazare, the prime minister expressed “deep concern” over his health and urged him to “consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality”.

Manmohan Singh said his Congress-led government would request Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to refer the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by the Hazare-led civil society to the Standing Committee.

“Despite the differences between the government and your team, I do not think that anybody is or should be in any doubt about the deep and abiding concern which I and our government share about your health.”

The announcement of the government’s decision to reach out to Hazare was first announced by Kejriwal at the Ramlila ground, triggering frenzied clapping and slogan shouting by thousands.

It also came shortly after the Congress appealed for “flexibility and restraint” from all stakeholders on the Lokpal bill, ahead of an all-party meeting Wednesday.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the Standing Committee to which various versions of the Lokpal bill will be referred to and of which he is the chairman may “surprise all critics”.

It was the nearest to any admission that the Congress, which has taken a beating over the Hazare fast, was willing to embrace a social activist who has won several battles in the past by resorting to hunger strikes.

“The objective of the government, political parties and the civil society is the same — to finish the demon of corruption,” Singhvi said.

After parliament adjourned yet another day over the Lokpal logjam, the opposition Tuesday asked the government to dump its bill which has already been introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader S.S. Ahluwalia:: “The Lokpal bill, in its present form, is ineffective and lacks teeth. The government should withdraw it forthwith and introduce an effective bill instead.”

He asked the government to talk to Hazare in view of his health.

Nine other political parties, including the Communists, Telugu Desam Party and AIADMK, also demanded a strong and effective Lokpal bill.

Hazare’s fast, which began Aug 16 shortly after he was detained by police, sparked off widespread solidarity protests, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in numerous towns and cities across India.

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