New Delhi: Anna Hazare's fast is in its eighth day now, he is weak, and the government is pulling out all stops to find a solution to the Lokpal impasse. Tuesday has been a day of meetings and confabulation, of talking permutations and combinations. The latest in a series of closed-door discussions on the Lokpal Bill brings the hint of compromise. Arvind Kejriwal, a key member of Team Anna met Law Minister Salman Khursheed - the first such meeting between the two sides. (Read: Team Anna representative meets Salman Khursheed)
This meeting was described by Mr Khursheed as a exploratory one - "to know what is in their minds." The minister said with time running out fast, a solution had to be found and discussion was the only way to do that. Team Anna has been asking to hold talks with an official mediator. Both men carried what they discussed back to their respective groups.
After the meeting, Mr Kejriwal told reporters that the government has indicated Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will lead the negotiations with the activists.
At 3.30 pm tomorrow, the government has called an all-party meeting to discuss the Lok Pal Bill. And, sources say, it is considering reworking the Lokpal Bill to add key provisions from Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. This might include the key demand that the PM be brought under the purview of the Lokpal, sources say. (Read: Team Anna vs Govt - Areas of dispute, negotiation)
On Tuesday morning, the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee examining the Lok Pal Bill, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Manu Abhishek Singhvi, held a long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and, sources say, he has formulated a draft bringing together points from both versions of the Lok Pal Bill - the government's and the one drafted by Team Anna. This would now have to be approved by the PM. (Read: Lokpal bill can be amended 80 per cent, says Singhvi)
The Standing Committee has copies of both versions of the Bill. The government's draft was tabled in the Lok Sabha and sent to the committee on August 8 this month. On August 18, the Congress MP from Bareilly, Praveen Aron, submitted a copy of Anna's Bill to the committee.
At the Ramlila Maidan, Anna Hazare's base camp, his team too showed signs of a softening of stand. Sources say that from the no-Bill-but-our-Bill stance till yesterday, Team Anna may now be willing to accept the government bringing in other laws that "achieve all aims." So, it may consider "a good judicial accountability Bill if it comes at the same time as Lokpal" and a "good grievance redressal Bill if comes in at the same time," separate from the Lokpal Bill, sources say.(Read: Who is Anna Hazare? | What is Jan Lokpal Bill?)
Among key differences between the Bill drafted by the government and that by Team Anna is the inclusion of the Prime Minister, judiciary, MPs in Parliament and lower bureaucracy under the purview of the Lokpal. Sources say Team Anna has made it clear that including the PM under the Lokpal is non-negotiable.
The Prime Minister has been closeted in a series of meetings since yesterday on the Lokpal issue. He met senior colleagues late last evening to evaluate the government's options. After the meeting with Mr Singhvi today, he is now meeting senior Cabinet colleagues P Chidambaram and AK Antony.
Sources said the option that key elements from Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill draft be introduced as addendums or additions to the Lokpal Bill has been weighed out. But now, they say, the government's Bill is likely to be completely overhauled. Mr Singhvi had said earlier that his panel could alter the draft it has received by as much as 80 per cent.
The BJP, the Left parties and the Congress' own ally, the DMK, have supported bringing the PM under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. The government knows that the Opposition will back it on the non-inclusion of the judiciary and MPs in the Bill. In Parliament today, the Opposition forced adjournments of both Houses - the BJP dismissed the government's Lokpal Bill as "worthless."
The Congress-led UPA -- bruised by the events of the last 10 days and having been caught off-guard by the scale of public support that Anna Hazare has managed to garner - is acutely aware that in this delicate political phase it needs the Opposition's support. The BJP has been bitter that the Opposition had been excluded from the process to draft what is intended to be a historic piece of legislation.
Enter spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has put in frequent guest appearances on Anna's stage. The spiritual leader is reportedly in touch with the activists, the government and the BJP and is helping in narrowing down the differences between the three sides.
At the Ramlila Ground, Team Anna has said - "Appoint a mediator. Talk to us." It has also said that the government has made no proposal to break the impasse yet.(Read: Camp Anna packed, Govt hunts for truce)
Buoyed by the massive mobilisation of public support over the extended weekend at the venue of Anna's fast, activist Arvind Kejriwal spelt out what his side expects: "We want a discussion. The govt should send responsible people...There has to be one government draft, there can't be two drafts (of the Lokpal Bill). If there is an amendment to their draft, then there's no problem."
Sources also say that the Congress party was reportedly putting pressure on Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to make a personal intervention in breaking the deadlock over Anna's fast. Yesterday, Anna's associates had said they wanted the PM, Rahul Gandhi or a senior minister to take the lead in any negotiations with them, though today Arvind Kejriwal denied that saying, "Anna did not say PM or Rahul Gandhi, he said he wants to talk to responsible people."
From the Anna camp also came the claim that a government proposal sent late in the night yesterday, but did not reach Mr Hazare as he was asleep. Manish Sisodia, a close associate of Mr Hazare said this morning, "Some Bhaiyyuji Maharaj disciples had come carrying a government proposal around 10:30 pm, but had to return because Anna was sleeping. They insisted that they would only talk to Anna." But Team Anna has made clear that Bhaiyyuji Maharaj as a mediator will just not do.
On Monday, Anna said he would not end his fast till his version of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill was cleared by Parliament. The government spent the day stressing that it was open to discussions with him and his advisors. Speaking at IIM Calcutta, the Prime Minister said he was open to "a reasoned debate" on the Lokpal Bill. However, he stressed "The creation of the Lokpal as an institution will help. But it will not solve the problem... speedy trials and timely judgments will do a great deal to discourage corruption." (Full text of PM's speech in IIM Kolkata)