New Delhi: With Gandhian Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death entered the third day, Government on Thursday began talks with anti-corruption campaigners and agreed to form a joint committee to draft an effective Lokpal Bill. The proposed panel will have five members each from government and civil society.

The decision to open a negotiation channel with activists came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's discussions with some Cabinet colleagues on Wednesday night. It was immediately followed by Union Minister Kapil Sibal's meeting with the activists.

However, the deadlock continued over the demand for making Hazare the chairman of the drafting panel of Lokpal Bill and its notification, though the government agreed to bring the legislation during Monsoon session of Parliament.

The 71-year-old anti-corruption crusader rejected government's offer of an informal committee and vowed not to end his protest till the demands are met.

"I will fight till death," he said addressing hundreds of supporters gathered near Jantar Mantar here after word spread that the talks between government and anti-corruption activists were deadlocked.

Expressing discontent over the government's reluctance to come out with a notification to constitute the committee, he said his fast will continue.

Earlier in the day, Hazare, who has lost 1.5 kg in the past three days, said there was no need for anyone to worry about his health as he can go with the fast for another seven days. He is in good shape though there has been a rise in his blood pressure and he is feeling weak.

Sibal holds talks with activists

Union Minister Kapil Sibal, who is in the Group of Ministers on corruption and deputed by Prime Minister, held two rounds of talks on Thursday with activists Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal on their demand for a joint committee with members of civil society and government  representatives in equal measure for drafting an effective Lokpal Bill.

"We had two rounds of discussions. We have agreed on almost all issues but there is no agreement on two issues, that is issuing an official notification to form the committee
and making Hazare the chairman of the committee," Sibal told reporters after the second round of talks at his residence.

He said the government has agreed to form the committee now and not after May 13 as it had suggested in the first round of talks and will definitely be introducing the Bill in the Monsoon session of Parliament.

"The government has agreed to our demands. But our two demands are yet to be met. We will convey this to Hazare," Agnivesh said.

Hazare rejects to head panel

Hazare, whose admirers and followers have been demanding to head the committee, reacted saying he would not like to head the committee.

"If you want I can be a member or adviser, but not the chairperson," he said.

Earlier, Kejriwal said Hazare was of the view that a retired judge should be the Chairman of the committee as the government suggested that Pranab Mukherjee would head the panel.

Anna rejects BJP, RSS links

Addressing a gathering of his followers and school students at the Jantar Mantar dharna site here, Hazare rejected allegations that he was aligned with BJP and RSS and said he has nothing to do with them.

"I have been working for the society for long time. For the past 35 years, I have not gone home. I have three brothers and I don't know the names of their children. I don't have any bank balance. I ask people to put Rs five or Rs ten in our carry bag.

Hazare apologises to Uma

Regretting the action of some of his supporters, Anna Hazare apologised to Hindutva leader Uma Bharati who was heckled by his followers at the dharna site and described Uma as his
sister.

"I apologise to her. Some people shooed her away. I am sad at this. Some people have done some wrong things," Hazare said addressing a huge gathering of his followers and students at Jantar Mantar.

Bharati, who was heckled by a group of people when she went to meet Hazare on Wednesday, had shot off a letter to the fasting social activist questioning the "communal" behaviour of his supporters.

Ajit Singh backs Hazare

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh expressed support to the anti-corruption campaign launched by Hazare.

Singh and his party also expressed their solidarity with the fight against corruption, his office said in a statement.

Meanwhile, RLD leader and MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh in Chandigarh described the shouting out of O P Chautala and Uma Bharati by Hazare's men, as "inappropriate".

"The shouting out of Chautala and Uma was not appropriate in democracy...they went to lend their support to Hazare...by doing such acts the country cannot progress," Prasad told
reporters here.

Gadkari sympathises Hazare


Describing fasting social activist Anna Hazare's demand for a strong Lokpal Bill as "reasonably correct," the BJP in Chennai expressed its "sympathy" with him, saying that the Congress-led UPA has to understand the unrest against corruption.

"His fast-unto-death is a reaction to the strong reaction against corruption. The UPA has to understand the unrest against corruption in the country," BJP president Nitin Gadkari told reporters here.

"Our sympathy is there (with him). It is time we need a Lokpal and Lokayukta," Gadkari said, adding "Our mission is an India free of corruption."

Lok Satta supports Anna

Lok Satta Party President N Jayaprakash Narayan, in Hyderabad extended his support to social activist Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption.

The bureaucrat-turned-politician, however, appealed to Hazare to call off his indefinite fast, undertaken in Delhi demanding adoption of a People's Lok Pal Bill, and wanted the government to give a categorical assurance that it would consult all stakeholders before it finalised the Bill.

He pointed out that the proposed Lok Pal Bill was flawed in many respects.

JPN/Agencies

 

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