NEW DELHI: On the eighth day of Anna Hazare’s agitation, a concerned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today directly reached out to him with an appeal for ending fast and a promise that his Jan Lokpal Bill could be considered by Parliament along with the government draft.
In a letter to Hazare, Singh said the government would request Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to refer the Team Hazare bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which would then be formally asked to "fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible".
Singh said his government’s objective with regard to tackling corruption was "identical" to that of Hazare and was ready to talk to anybody to enact a "constitutionally-valid and the best possible Lokpal" while keeping in mind the Parliamentary supremacy and Constitutional obligations.
"Over the last few days, I have watched with increasing concern the state of your health," he wrote to the civil activist who is fasting at Ramlila Ground for a strong Lokpal.
"Despite the differences between the Government and your team, I do not think that anybody is or should be in any doubt about the deep and abiding concern which I and our Government share about your health, arising from your continuing fast," the Prime Minister said.
The letter is actuated by the "twin considerations of deep and genuine concern about your health and the emergence of a strong and effective Lok Pal Act in accordance with established constitutional precept and practice," Singh said.
"I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality," he wrote.
About the issues for which Hazare is fasting, Singh said, "I have maintained that your and our object is identical viz.
to reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the scourge of corruption from this country.
"At worst, our paths and methodologies may differ, though I do believe that even those differences have been exaggerated."
The Prime Minister underlined the government’s commitment to passing a "constitutionally valid and the best possible Lok Pal legislation with inputs from Civil Society with the broadest possible consensus" for which "we are ready to talk to anybody."
However, "we will have to keep in mind Parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation. As a Government we respect and are responsible to the will of the Indian people as represented by Parliament," he said.
Noting that the Lok Pal bill is now before Parliamentary Standing Committee, Singh said, "I have made it clear earlier and would like to restate that all options are open before the Standing Committee."
Undoubtedly, the Committee would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, "subject to their discretion, not only the Bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Ms. Aruna Roy", the Prime Minister wrote to Hazare.
"Equally, I do maintain that they (Committee) are fully entitled to make any changes to the Bill introduced by the government and referred to them," he said, adding "In that view of the matter, the formal non-introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill version by the government is irrelevant and would largely boil down to a semantic debate."
"Nevertheless, in view of the concern repeatedly expressed by your team that the Jan Lokpal Bill version should be before Parliament, but more particularly and more importantly, in view of my deep and abiding concern for your health, our government is prepared to request the Speaker, Lok Sabha to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill also to the Standing Committee for their holistic consideration alongwith everything else," Singh wrote to Hazare.
"If you have any anxieties about time and speed, the Government can formally request the Standing Committee to try, subject to its discretion and the necessity to reflect deeply and spend adequate time on an important Bill, and fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible," the Prime Minister said.
Singh told the Gandhian that "we need your views and actions in the service of the nation, from a robust physical condition and not in the context of frail or failing health."
The Prime Minister’s letter came at a time when an informal channel of communication was opened between the government and the Hazare team to end the impasse caused by the civil activist’s hunger strike for a strong Lokpal Bill.
Rahul Gandhi meets PM
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi met the Prime Minister Tuesday amid talks between the government and Team Anna to find common ground on the contentious Lokpal bill.
Congress sources said Gandhi met the prime minister in parliament. Associates of Hazare, whose fast for a strong Lokpal bill entered day eight Tuesday, had said Monday that he was willing to engage with the government at the top political level to find a solution.
Pranab Mukherjee to negotiate with Team Anna
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been appointed to hold talks with Team Anna on the Lokpal bill, activist Arvind Kejriwal said Tuesday.
"We were called for discussions by (Law Minister) Salman Khurshid. He informed me that Pranab Mukherjee will hold talks with us," Kejriwal told the crowds at Ramlila Maidan, where Anna Hazare’s fast to demand a stringent Lokpal bill entered its eighth day.
He said Hazare will appoint a team to speak with Mukherjee.
Earlier the Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Arwind Kejriwal Tuesday. Both said there was no progress yet.
"We met for the first time today (Tuesday). Discussions were held on the key issues," Kejriwal told Star News after the meeting.
"There has not been any progress. I am going to Anna Hazare and will comment only after discussing it with him," he said.
The government called Team Anna for talks as 74-year-old Hazare’s entered the eighth day.
"I met Kejriwal and held formal discussions to understand the problem. There is problem and it should be solved. I wish there is a breakthrough. All of us want things to move and we don’t want the stalemate to continue," said Khurshid.
"If something meaningful comes out then we will send it to the senior leadership," he said, adding that something positive should come out of the talks.
The law minister said the government had been hurt by some of the slogans and speeches made by Team Anna. This, he said, should not happen; all are fighting for democracy and a corruption free country.(IANS)