New crisis? No Lokpal Bill debate till Anna Hazare agrees to end fast

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New crisis? No Lokpal Bill debate till Anna Hazare agrees to end fast
New Delhi:  The negotiations to end Anna Hazare's fast are now drenched in tension.   The government has agreed that the 74-year-old's anti-corruption bill, named the Jan Lokpal Bill, will be debated in parliament.  But Anna must promise that he will end his hunger strike once that discussion begins.

Anna and his associates, however, have a different demand.  They want  a commitment that three points, listed as non-negotiable by Anna, will be approved by parliament.  So the government and Anna's aides are privately working on the text of the resolution that will launch the debate in parliament.

While those negotiations continue, Anna and his bill are very much the focus in parliament.  Rahul Gandhi finally participated in the debate on corruption, the Lokpal Bill and Anna.  "I thank Annaji for articulating the people's sentiment," said the Congress General Secretary, accepting that corruption is an issue that people all over the country have raised with him.  However, Mr Gandhi was also aggressive about the need to respect parliamentary procedures.  "I doubt that just Lokpal law will tackle corruption," he said, suggesting that "let us fortify the Lokpal Bill by making it a constitutional body like the Election Commission."

Mr Gandhi also stressed, "We must not weaken the democratic process which is lengthy and elaborate, but is inclusive and fair...a process that is divorced from democracy sets a dangerous precedent."

As parliament gets ready to debate Anna's bill, once again, it's union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who is serving as the go-between for the government and Anna.  His two terms as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, which is Anna's home state, have allowed Mr Deshmukh an easy rapport with the Gandhian.

After agreeing to most of Anna's demands, the government believes it's time for Team Anna to deliver their side of the bargain.   So Anna's camp has been told that he must end his hunger strike, and continue with his protest, if he desires.    Anna has been based at Delhi's sprawling Ramlila Maidan, where supporters are always at high-tide.

Named for the anti-corruption, independent agency it grants, the Lokpal Bill exists in different versions.  Anna's associates refer to their draft as the Jan Lokpal Bill or People's Lokpal Bill; the government's version, described as weak and self-serving by the Opposition and activists; a third version has come from Aruna Roy's group of activists; a fourth has been delivered by Jaiprakash Narayan and his NGO Jansatta.   The Lokpal sanctions a committee of nine members to serve as an ombudsman.

The three features that Anna wants included in the final version of the Lokpal Bill  include the replication of the Lokpal model in all states;  a citizen's charter for all government departments that clearly lists penalties for under-performance; and the inclusion of junior bureaucrats for review by the Lokpal.  Anna has said repeatedly that without these three factors, any Lokpal will not be able to help people fight corruption.   Government servants  "from the villages to every ministry" must be covered he says by the Lokpal.

A debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill was offered yesterday by the Prime Minister in an attempt to persuade Anna to end his hunger strike.  Anna responded to the offer by asking that the debate begin immediately.  The message was sent by him through Mr Deshmukh, with who he shares a good rapport.   

The government has made it clear that while Anna's bill will dominate the debate, the other versions of the Lokpal Bill will also be discussed.  The government has also refused to withdraw its own draft, despite requests from the Opposition and activists.

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