New Delhi: The ninth day of Anna Hazare's fast will end in a few hours and the 74-year-old Gandhian is still fasting. But there has been the hint of compromise in the air through the day as the government now makes nimble moves to try and build consensus and end the impasse today.
The government is in huddle after huddle working out the contours of an acceptable compromise, trying to address key sticking points - some of which still remain.
At the Ramlila Maidan, where Team Anna has set up camp, there has been a softening of stand too. What started out as two different draft Bills after members of a joint committee failed to agree, may yet be put together in a new Bill more acceptable to both sides. A new draft, in fact, is in circulation, sources say, after two rounds of talks today between the Government and Team Anna.
The story so far: Anna Hazare was on hunger strike for four days in April this year, before the government invited him and his team to join a committee set up to draft an anti-corruption law - the Lokpal Bill. There were an equal number of government representatives and civil society members on the panel. After several meetings and many disagreements, both sides drafted different versions of the Bill.
The government introduced its version in Parliament this month. Anna Hazare and his fellow anti-corruption activists were livid - they demanded that Parliament discuss and approve provisions of their draft Bill, the Jan Lokpal Bill. On August 16, as planned, Anna Hazare was ready to begin his indefinite fast and mass protest when the Delhi Police swooped down on him, detained, and later arrested him and sent him to jail. There has been a public and political outcry since, Anna has become a global icon and the government is in damage-control mode.
Central to any compromise will be the contours of the Bill that Parliament will debate and approve. The government is ready may make major changes to its draft Lokpal Bill to include some provisions from Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. The key differences between the two and the stands of different parties on these are:
To include the Prime Minister under the Lokpal or not:
This is perhaps the most emotive issue amongst Anna's supporters. Primarily because it's simple, it's symbolic and easy to comprehend. The Opposition BJP and the Left want the PM included too with some exclusion clauses to ensure national security is not compromised.
The government discussed this at the all-party meeting held today: Team Anna wants this included. The BJP and the Left have favoured including the PM within the purview of the Lokpal, but with safeguards. The Congress too is ok with this, with safeguards.
Lower bureaucracy to be investigated by the Lokpal:
The government wants only major corruption to fall under the Lokpal - so it says only Class 1 government servants should be included, not junior officers. The argument is that if every one of the 30 lakh central government servants is included, the Lokpal will need 20,000 investigators. Team Anna has argued that the common man faces day-to-day corruption from the lower-level government officials, so these must be included. The Left parties say only Class 1 and above should be included.
This remains one of the major sticking points. The government says let us come up with another arrangement.
To include the Judiciary:
If there is one thing that the government, the BJP and the Left parties agree on, it is that the judiciary should not be under the Lokpal. The argument is that the Lokpal will send corruption cases to courts for trial and sentencing. If judges are under the scrutiny of the Lokpal, how will they be independent enough to go against it in these cases? Moreover, this goes against a key tenet of the Constitution: The independence of the judiciary. Anna's team argues that there is rampant corruption in the judiciary and it must be policed by the Lokpal.
All major political parties - the Congress, BJP and the Left oppose this so Team Anna may have to compromise here. It has indicated that a good judicial accountability Bill, separate from the Lokpal but brought around the same time, could be acceptable.
Should MPs' actions inside Parliament be included under the Lokpal:
According to the Constitution any corrupt behaviour by MPs inside the House is currently exempt from scrutiny. Even the Supreme Court has held that MPs' actions inside Parliament cannot be questioned. Anna and his team say the Constitution should be amended to include MPs' corruption inside the House.
The Congress, BJP, Left and other political parties are against this. Team Anna wants MPs' actions in Parlaiment to be under the Lokpal. A compromise could be some form of accountability, but a change in the Constitution seems unlikely.
Overseeing corruption in the Lokpal:
Who will ensure that up to 20,000 officers in the Lokpal are not corrupt? Anna's draft has some oversight provisions - most parties feel the provision in the Anna draft is very weak. In a compromise, Team Anna may climb down on this and agree to a separate body to oversee the functioning of the Lokpal and for grievance redressal.
Method of appointing of the Lokpal:
The Anna draft has suggested complicated methods of appointing the Lokpal, which have been widely criticised as impractical. In a compromise, Team Anna is expected to agree to simplify this. So long as the appointment is not made by the Executive.
Common Bill for All:
Team Anna wants one common Lokpal Bill for both the Centre and the states. The government wants states to come up with their own Bills.
This remains a sticking point.
Including CBI and CVC:
Both sides agree that Parliament should decide whether or not India's foremost investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission should be under the purview of the Lokpal.