Anna Hazare and the United Progressive Alliance government took their first but significant steps toward breaking the impasse over the activist’s latest fast, which has entered its eighth day. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to the Gandhian and appealed to him to break his fast in a bid to ease the deadlock over the Lokpal Bill issue, saying ‘we are together in this fight against corruption.’
Meanwhile, Team Anna and the UPA government started direct talks today, and the government has appointed its top trouble shooter and most senior minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to mediate with the Hazare camp. Mukherjee’s first round of talks was expected to begin later today, and Singh gave his personal guarantee that ‘all issues’ raised by Team Anna will be looked into and resolved at the earliest.
The UPA government has also convened an all-party meeting for tomorrow afternoon to try to find a way out of the impasse. Heir apparent and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi was reportedly closeted with the prime minister today, with the talks focusing mainly on Hazare’s fast and the condition of his health.
Although no breakthrough has come so far today, the Hazare camp was relatively upbeat following the appointment of Mukherjee as mediator as they know he wields considerable authority and is widely seen as essentially de facto deputy prime minister.
Still, Hazare kept the pressure up, warning the government today that if a strong Lokpal bill isn’t passed by parliament by August 30, that he and his supporters will no longer sit at Ramlila Maidan, but will instead stage a sit-in outside Parliament.
‘Thousands of people are staging sit-ins outside the houses of MPs,’ Hazare said. ‘I request the people of my country to continue this revolution. This revolution should continue even if I am not there. This is the second freedom struggle. It is important to eradicate corruption for the development of our country. I would consider myself lucky if I die for my society and the people of my country. Those who live for themselves die, those who die for the society live.’
The main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, demonstrated that it isn’t just the Congress party that has become frustrated with Team Anna. Outspoken BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia said: ‘We don’t agree with the deadline given by Team Anna.’ Lest this should be mistaken as support for the government, Ahluwalia added that the government should withdraw its bill from parliament and replace it with a more effective bill.