Indian Decade

UPA, Anna Hazare Sheath Swords

Activist Anna Hazare responds to a government olive branch during his latest fast. Can a compromise be reached?

Team Anna and the government appear to be sheathing their swords. On Day Six of Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast, as the Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance government extended an olive branch, the 74-year-old Gandhian told a 28,000-strong crowd at Ramlila Maidan that he’s still open to talks.

‘We have not closed the door of dialogue. We have kept it open. Only through dialogue the issues can be resolved,’ Hazare said in his address at the fast venue.

The Congress and UPA took a step toward easing the standoff with Hazare and his associates as the Congress MP from Bareilly, Praveen Singh Aaron, submitted civil society’s Jan Lokpal Bill to the parliamentary Standing Committee for consideration. Indications are that the committee chairman, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, will soon decide whether to take up the bill for deliberation. Singhvi said the committee was also concerned about corruption, and so would look at the Lokpal Bill with an open mind.

‘Give the standing committee a chance. Allow us to do our work. We may collectively surprise all those who are sceptical or cynical,’ Singhvi said.

Meanwhile, the back channel parleys between Team Anna and the government have resumed since August 20 with two important actors: Maharashtra’s Additional Chief Secretary Umesh Chandra Sarangi, and Team Anna member and former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. Sarangi, who is reputed to have had a good rapport with Hazare for years, has already held two rounds of discussions with the Gandhian to try to find some common ground. The details of these talks are being kept under wraps by both sides. Hegde is believed to be trying to convince Hazare that the prime minister and the higher judiciary should be kept out of the Lokpal ambit, but there has apparently been no breakthrough as yet.

With Aaron’s move, the Congress party and the government have done two things. One, they have brought the Jan Lokpal Bill into the parliamentary process and thus sent out an important message to Team Anna that they are keen to address civil society’s concerns. Two, they have stolen the thunder from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, whose Lok Sabha MP Varun Gandhi had been set to take the Private Members’ Bill route to get Jan Lokpal Bill into the parliamentary process.

A group of 40 Hazare supporters squatted near the prime minister’s official residence this weekend as their march from India Gate to the prime minister’s residence was aborted when flower carrying, slogan- shouting activists were ordered to stop 200 metres away. This followed an appeal yesterday from Team Anna to Hazare’s supporters across the country to hold peaceful protests outside the residences of their MPs.