Anna ready to talk but with riders (Roundup)

August 21st, 2011 - 11:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) On the sixth day of his hunger strike, social activist Anna Hazare Sunday said the door for talks with the government was open but he vowed to continue his protest to maintain pressure for an anti-graft legislation drafted by his team.

“The path of negotiations is not closed for us. It is still open. Only through dialogue can issues be resolved,” the 74-year-old told cheering crowds at the spacious Ramlila Ground here.

Hazare’s seemingly softened stand comes a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government was ready for a “give and take” on the bill that sets up an independent and powerful anti-graft watchdog called the Lokpal.

The prime minister indicated his willingness to end the stand-off with Hazare as he spoke to select media outlets, including IANS.

By Sunday evening, the crowds at the ground swelled to several thousands even as huge protests in many cities and towns of the country gained momentum on a weekend.

Hazare, in his address to the crowd, also launched a sharp attack on the government, saying its intentions were “not good”.

He asked his supporters to be ready for a bigger revolution if the government failed to pass his version of the Lokpal bill.

“The flame of revolution should continue to burn whether I live or not… If the government doesn’t pass the bill, there will be a movement in the country never seen before,” he thundered.

Amid a huge applause, he asked the government to quit “if you cannot get in the bill”.

There was speculation that the government was trying to engage Hazare in back channel talks and was looking to have interlocutors from his home state Maharashtra, including Umesh Chandra Sarangi, an additional chief secretary to the state government.

Spiritual guru Bhayyu Maharaj is another choice for a negotiator with Hazare, according to informed sources in the government.

Sarangi met Hazare twice since Friday night. But Hazare’s close aide Swami Agnivesh denied that he had met as a government mediator.

“(He) came last night as a personal friend of Hazare,” Agnivesh said. “He was given both versions of the Lokpal Bill and he went away.”

The possibility of talks was also discussed in a meeting between Hazare and his team members following which Agnivesh said the government needed to create an atmosphere of trust by withdrawing its bill from parliament.

“We are open for talks. We will not budge. This is the least they can do to earn our trust and introduce Jan Lokpal bill,” Agnivesh told IANS.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also said the government desired “a new chapter of talks with the civil society” and added that the constitution “can accommodate all views”.

Hazare was his usual energetic self Sunday despite six days of fasting. Although he rested most of the day, he thundered at one time to say people should picket residences of their MPs to press them to pass the Jan Lokpal bill.

Hazare began his indefinite fast Aug 16 soon after his detention while he was proceeding to the J.P. Park. The same day he was taken to Tihar Jail, where he remained until Friday when he shifted to the Ramlila Ground.

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