New Delhi: As Anna Hazare refuses to end his hunger strike, the government is writhing under the pressure of his frail health and the exacting negotiations that Anna's associates are levying upon senior ministers.
Team Anna wants the government to withdraw its draft of the Lokpal Bill which was sent for review to a Parliamentary committee last week, and their version of the Lokpal Bill be cleared by Parliament before the current session ends on September 8
Any exit route for the government from the Anna crisis will need considerable support from the Opposition, who has repeatedly said that till the Anna crisis peaked, the government had made no effort to include it in the talks for the creation of a Lokpal or independent agency in charge of handling corruption among public servants.
In the Rajya Sabha today, BJP leader Arun Jaitley's statement indicated the conundrum that all parties face - how to balance Anna, the ostentatious and ceaseless support for him from across the country, and the need to protect Parliament's exclusive right to legislate.
"While we are in this delicate situation, and we are discussing issue of corruption, I believe that this opportunity presents a historic challenge to us. Parliament is the ultimate law-making authority...movements outside Parliament are all intended to convey public opinion and the intensity of public opinion to us," Mr Jaitley said. "That message coming to all of us could not be louder and clearer. That the country is expecting Parliament to perform its obligation and duty and take effective steps so we are able to substantially tackle the problem of corruption."
Mr Jaitley added, "We must also have the honesty of purpose to analyze where we have gone wrong. There is erosion of credibility as far as governance is concerned. People are losing faith that normal mechanisms will be adequate to tackle the prob. So it is extremely important that we introspect honestly. We must truthfully accept the situation on the ground. We should raise the bar for accountability."
Mr Jaitley also derided the government's version of the Lokpal Bill as being so flawed that it was not "politically marketable." For example, Mr Jaitley said, the government had given itself so great a say in deciding who would be elected to the Lokpal that it was likely to turn into "a sarkari Lokpal." He also said that the government's insistence on exempting the Prime Minister from the Lokpal's review till he or she exits office is baffling. "Should the world's largest democracy suffer a corrupt PM?" Mr Jaitley asked sarcastically. "He must be stopped there and then."
The BJP leader also said that most of the provisions in Anna's version of the Lokpal Bill "are workable or can at least be brought within the dialogue domain." By enacting a tough Lokpal Act, he said, Parliament has to prove that the "principal responsibility should be how to eradicate corruption, not cover up corruption."
As it tries to woo both Team Anna and the Opposition, the government has said that its first priority is not to pass the Lokpal Bill but to get Anna to eat and accept medical assistance. A fresh round of talks between Anna's aides and Law Minister Salman Khursheed were held this morning. Both sides have ceded considerable ground on the powers and jurisdiction of the new Lokpal or ombudsman committee. The government has agreed that the Lokpal Act will cover the Prime Minister's office, for example. There are two sticking points currently: Team Anna says the Lokpal must cover junior bureaucrats so that corruption is tackled "in every village and every city." Anna's aides also want the same Lokpal Act to apply to the Centre and all states; the government wants states to draft their own Lokpal Act.