Fasting Hazare open to talks, but with riders

August 23rd, 2011 - 12:44 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 22 (IANS) On the seventh day of Anna Hazare’s fast Monday, signs of thaw in the stand-off over a strong Lokpal bill appeared with the social activist indicating his willingness to talk to the government, but with riders.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government was open for debate on the Lokpal bill to set up an independent and powerful anti-graft watchdog, the fasting Hazare said he would negotiate only with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) or Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The fasting activist who looked weak and pale Monday, speaking with IBN Lokmat Marathi news channel, said he would not negotiate with any other mediator, including Home Minister P. Chidambaram or Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal.

According to the channel, the 74-year-old anti-corruption campaigner added in an interview to IBN Lokmat editor Nikhil Wagle that negotiations could not take place with non-government mediators.

“Hazare said that Lokpal bill negotiations cannot happen with non-government mediators and added that he can talk with the Prime Minister’s Office or Rahul. He also added that he was ready to talk with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,” according to the CNN-IBN channel.

In a related development, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who also heads the parliamentary panel looking into the Lokpal Bill, said everything cannot be decided on the basis of deadlines.

In an apparent reference to the ultimatum of Hazare that their version of the bill should be passed by parliament by Aug 30, Singhvi, who heads the standing committee on personnel, public grievances and law and justice, said there is need for restraint and discipline from all sides.

“Everything cannot be decided on the basis of deadlines. It is vital that every side shows restraint and discipline. It is important to show flexibility by moving away from timelines,” Singhvi said.

He also said that the standing committee is not likely to seek extension to finalise its recommendation on the bill and will try to give its report “within three months” before the winter session of parliament.

Hazare’s close aide Kiran Bedi said the activist wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send his representative to hold talks on the Jan Lokpal bill, the civil society’s version of the anti-graft bill.

“Anna is saying let the government come forward to discuss the Jan Lokpal bill. Let the PM send his representatives. Any negotiations are rumours,” Bedi tweeted on the microblogging site Twitter.

The prime minister in his address in Kolkata said the government was ready for debate on the Lokpal bill but corruption could be tackled only by action on multiple fronts and not by enacting a single piece of law.

“There is no single solution. We need to act on multiple fronts,” Manmohan Singh said as crowds continued to gather at New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan to support Hazare.

Hazare has been on fast since Aug 16.

The anti-corruption campaigner also told the Marathi news channel that no official mediator has approached him “till now”.

“He also said he would not speak to anyone without the presence of his advisers,” according to the news channel.

He reiterated his demand that the Lokpal bill introduced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in parliament should be withdrawn immediately “as it was weak and cannot fight the corruption menace”.

Hazare also hinted at some flexibility on the issue of excluding judiciary under the ombudsman and said this demand could be discussed during the proposed talks.

He, however, added that a proposed Judicial Accountability Bill must be strengthened if judiciary has to be kept out of the Lokpal’s jurisdiction.

He ruled out the possibility of negotiating with non-political mediators like spiritual guru Bhayyuji Maharaj and senior bureaucrat from Maharashtra U.C. Sarangi.

The two were said to be involved in back-channel talks with Hazare, but he has denied it.

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