Bring the bill or go: Anna

Bring the bill or go: Anna

Later, in a hardening of his stance on the sixth day of his fast, anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare read the riot act to the Congress-led UPA government saying, “Bring the Jan Lokpal bill or go.”

With huge crowds thronging the Ramlila Maidan and India Gate in Delhi as well as elsewhere across the country, signaling a surge in public support for the Team Anna’s demand for a strong Lokpal Bill, the veteran Gandhian on Sunday upped the ante and called for ‘changes’ in the country.

Even as speculation was rife about back-channel talks between the government and Team Anna to end the impasse over the 74-year-old’s fast, Hazare in the evening called upon his supporters to prepare for wider struggle. His close aides later said that the government had informally sent to them a compromise formula, but they rejected it as it contained nothing new.

“We have received a proposal from the government which is nothing but the government's Lokpal Bill. None of our demands have been included. There is no agreement between civil society and government,” said Arvind Kejriwal, a close associate of the Gandhian.

Earlier, a top Maharashtra bureaucrat Additional Chief Secretary Umesh Chandra Sarangi, who knows Hazare well, met him twice on Sunday. Another intermediary was said to be Indore-based spiritual leader Baiyujji Maharaj, who met Hazare and Union Minister Kapil Sibal. A proposal, of which no details were made public, was conveyed to Hazare which his group has rejected.

A frail-looking Hazare later addressed a huge crowd that had marched from India Gate to Ramlila Maidan and declared, “If the government does not get the Lokpal Bill passed by August 30, there would be an unprecedented revolution in the country by the people....The government will have to either get the Bill passed (in Parliament) or go,” said Hazare.

He made the remark a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the government was open to dialogue on Lokpal Bill and there was a lot of scope for give and take.

Both Hazare and Kejriwal asked their supporters to hold dharnas in front of houses of MPs in their constituencies and demand written commitments in support of Jan Lokpal Bill. “The dharna should also cover Ministers and leaders of various political parties,” they said.

The government had fielded Sarangi, reportedly at the instance of Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, in an attempt to break ice with the civil society group.
Hazare’s close aides, however, said that Hazare’s meetings with Sarangi and Baiyujji Maharaj were personal and not intended to discuss any compromise formula. The core committee of Team Anna had a meeting on Sunday to chalk out the strategy for the future course of the agitation in view of the prime minister’s readiness for discussions. Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Right To Information activist Arvind Kejriwal and former Karnataka Lokayukta justice Santosh Hegde attended the meeting.  According to sources, he suggested flexibility on the issues like inclusion of the prime minister and higher judiciary in the purview of the proposed institution of ombudsman that the much-debated Lokpal Bill intended to set up to inquire allegations of corruption by public functionaries. He, however, suggested that such flexibility could be adopted only if the government was ready to remove other infirmities in the Bill that was introduced in Lok Sabha and is now being studied by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Though Kejriwal, who is known to be a hardliner, understood to have opposed any climb-down or dilution of the Jan Lokpal Bill, Team Anna apparently decided that it would insist on withdrawal of the Bill now before the Parliamentary Standing Committee before agreeing for talks with the government.

Prashant Bhushan however maintained that prime minister should be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal. Bhushan also said the Team Anna was ready to talk to the Government, but would not compromise on its core issues.

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