Government, Team Anna meet, Anna fasts on (Second Intro Roundup)

August 24th, 2011 - 1:09 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 23 (IANS) Team Anna and the government met for the first time Tuesday night on the eighth day of Anna Hazare’s fast for a sweeping anti-corruption law after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced “deep concern” over his deteriorating health and urged the activist to end his protest.

But after two hours of intense negotiations between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Hazare confidants Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, both sides indicated that differences still persisted.

Even as it showed it was reaching out to Hazare, the government made it clear that it would not bypass parliament and the political process.

And at the Ramlila ground, the epicentre of an anti-corruption campaign that has galvanized tens of thousands across India, the 74-year-old Hazare refused to let doctors put him on saline drips and said that he would not mind dying for the cause.

“It doesn’t matter if I die,” a feeble looking Hazare told a roaring crowd at the sprawling ground, asking them to foil any attempt by the government to forcibly shift him to a hospital.

But he advised people to remain peaceful at all costs.

Speaking outside his North Block office, Mukherjee said there would be further discussions Wednesday when a meeting of all political parties has been convened. “I am hopeful we will be able to work out a solution.”

But while Kejriwal did not sound that optimistic, he said differences between the government and the civil society version of a tougher anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill had narrowed and that the government was no more averse to including the prime minister in the ombudsman’s radar.

The major sticky points, he said, were the government’s reluctance to include the mass of junior government officials in the Lokpal bill’s ambit, setting up Lokayuktas in states, and framing Citizen Charters by all government departments.

Kejriwal, a long-time Right to Information activist, said they had suggested to Mukherjee to take back the government-backed Lokpal bill from the Parliamentary Standing Committee or let it lapse.

Kejriwal said the civil society was also ready for minor modifications in their own Jan Lokpal Bill.

Otherwise Hazare was unlikely to end his fast, Mukherjee was told.

Immediately after the meeting, Mukherjee, the most senior minister in the government, called on the prime minister, who then convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs to somehow break the logjam on Lokpal bill.

The meeting between Mukherjee and Team Anna followed an earlier, shorter meeting between Kejriwal and Law Minister Salman Khurshid after intense backstage negotiations involving spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

As the Congress, which has taken a political beating amid nationwide protests in support of Hazare, called for “flexibility and restraint” from all stakeholders, Manmohan Singh wrote a 500-word letter to Hazare.

He said his government was ready to request Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Standing Committee.

“I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality,” he said.

Manmohan Singh’s intervention came just before doctors warned that Hazare’s health was slipping and that he had lost more than 5 kg since he started his fast Aug 16 after he was detained by Delhi Police.

Ramlila ground continued to be thronged by huge crowds Tuesday.

The numbers went up amid speculation about a possible breakthrough in negotiations and as news of Hazare’s deteriorating health spread all over the city.

But there was no trouble, police said.

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