New Delhi: In the first major breakthrough in the week-long standoff, the government on Tuesday appointed Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its negotiator for talks with Team Anna Hazare over their demand for a strong Lokpal. Announcing the government's initiative, Hazare's close aide Arvind Kejriwal said the Gandhian will decide as to who will represent his team in the talks with Mukherjee. (JPN/Agencies)
The ice-breaking development came during the first direct contact between the two sides at the residence of Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit when Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Kejriwal and discussed how to go about the issue.
"Just now Salman Khurshid has invited us for discussions. He has said that Pranab Mukherjee has been appointed by the government to talk to us.
"Anna is sleeping now. Once he gets up, he will decide as to who all will represent our team," Kejriwal told Hazare's supporters at Ramlila Maidan, where Hazare is fasting. He also asked the crowd whether "we should go ahead with talks" and it responded with cheers.
Akhil Gogoi, rights activist who attended the meeting with Khurshid along with Kejriwal, said the Minister told them that the Prime Minister wants to find a solution through talks and they talked about the process for the discussion with Mukherjee.
Gogoi said that Kejriwal and lawyer Prashant Bhushan may be nominated by Hazare to hold talks with the government and a final call will be taken by Hazare.
After their meeting, both Kejriwal and Khurshid declined to go into the specifics of the discussions they had. Both said just a beginning has been made.
The Minister said there was no discussion on issues, but only an attempt was made to understand what was happening and why they were so much agitated. Khurshid said that all efforts and contacts should be made at every level as "time is running out."
PM appeals Anna to end fast
The Prime Minister, who held discussions with Mukherjee and senior ministers A K Antony and P Chidambaram, also wrote a letter to Hazare informing him of the initiative and appealed to him to end his fast, which entered the second week on Tuesday.
He also told him that the government was concerned about his health.
In his letter, the Prime Minister told Hazare that government will ask Lok Sabha Speaker if his version of Lokpal bill can be sent to the Standing Committee, which is already examining the government's Bill.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi had a meeting with Singh at his residence and discussed the strategy.
Anna sticks to August 30 deadline
Earlier in the day, addressing his supporters after a gap of 40 hours, Hazare stuck to his August 30 deadline for passage of Jan Lokpal Bill and asked his supporters to intensify the protest by gheraoing the houses of Parliamentarians if government failed to do so.
Hazare accused government of betraying all along the Civil Society on the issue of a strong Lokpal Bill.
He said protesters in thousands should protest outside the residences of MPs if the government fails to get Jan Lokpal Bill passed by August 30.
"Now, 25-30 people are sitting on dharnas in front of MPs' residences. If the government does not pass the bill by August 30, we have to intensify the protest. Protesters in thousands should gherao the residences of MPs then," he said.
Alleging that a few people in the government were "betraying" them, he said, "They betrayed us during the meetings of Joint Committee (on Lokpal bill).
"I feel there are only 5-6 people in the government who are running the country and if such people, who do not have a social or national perspective, run the nation, then what will happen to this country...This is something to worry about," Hazare said.
"Even if Lokpal comes and if such traitors run the country, what will happen. This is the question which is bothering me," the 73-year-old Gandhian said.
He said he was watching for the past four months after the government set up the Joint Committee for drafting Lokpal bill. "Even there some people in the government were traitors, they tried to betray us," he said.
Nine opposition parties demand strong Lokpal
Demanding a strong Lokpal bill against corruption, nine 'non-NDA' opposition parties including the Left, TDP and Rashtriya Lok Dal on Tuesday staged a protest at the main gate of Parliament.
"Nine parties have launched a country-wide agitation. We want the government to come forward with a strong Lokpal bill," CPI leader D Raja told reporters here.
Holding placards, leaders of the four Left parties along with leaders of RLD, TDP, JD (Secular), AIADMK and BJD including former Prime Minister H D Devegowda, Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Ajit Singh (RLD) and Nama Nageshwar Rao (TDP) raised slogans in support of their demand here.
On the statements made by the Prime Minister on the Lokpal issue, Sitaram Yechury said, "The Prime Minister is making all sorts of statements outside. The session is on and things should not be said outside. I think this is undermining the supremacy of Parliament and that can't be allowed."
Meanwhile, Om Prakash Yadav, an independent MP from Siwan, sat on a dharna near Mahatma Gandhi's statue inside Parliament House complex in support of Hazare's Jan Lokpal bill.
The protest by JD-S and CPI in Bangalore however, did not strike a chord with Hazare's supporters. While JD-S did not elaborate on Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill, the Left rejected it.
CPI(M) leader V G K Nair said his party rejects inclusion of Prime Minister and judiciary under Jan Lokpal. "The offices of judiciary and Prime Minister can be brought under the ambit of Judicial Accountability Bill and independent CBI," he said.
State JD-S working president P G R Sindhia suggested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA government hold talks with Hazare to bring in a strong Lokpal Bill. "UPA should understand pulse of the people's movement and act accordingly," he said.
Former Law Minister M C Nanaiah claimed JD-S has played a stellar role in giving a push to Hazare's crusade, launching many agitations against the 'corrupt' BJP government in Karnataka.
He urged the state government to act on former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde's report and punish those guilty of corruption and to give protection to Lokayukta officials investigating cases against political leaders and officials.
Former minister Basavaraj Horatti said BJP does not have the right to join Hazare's movement as A B Vajpayee had failed to pass Lokpal Bill during NDA rule at the Centre.
New Delhi: In the first major breakthrough in the week-long standoff, the government on Tuesday appointed Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its negotiator for talks with Team Anna Hazare over their demand for a strong Lokpal.
Announcing the government's initiative, Hazare's close aide Arvind Kejriwal said the Gandhian will decide as to who will represent his team in the talks with Mukherjee.