New Delhi: In the first major breakthrough in the week-long standoff, the government today 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.
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.
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 today.
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.
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 that 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.”
Earlier, addressing his supporters after a gap of 40 hours, Hazare today 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.