Parliament will today hold a special sitting to take up the Lokpal issue in a bid to end the dragging fast by Anna Hazare even as the 74-year-old anti-corruption campaigner hardened his stand on his key three demands.
The decision to hold a special sitting of Parliament to break the logjam over the Lokpal issue came even as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said that a Lokpal Bill could not alone end corruption and suggested the setting up of an autonomous Lokpal mandated by the Constitution like the Election Commission.
Hazare looked far weaker on day-11 of his hunger strike, that has galvanized tens of thousands across the country and sparked a war in parliament between the Congress and the opposition.
Concern continued to mount over the failing health of Hazare, who looked pale as he spent Friday mostly lying down. For 11 days, he has survived on water and has lost seven kg since the fast began.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Friday renewed appeal to Hazare to end his fast while making it clear that the government is not going to withdraw its Lokpal Bill, but was willing to amend it.
There were, however, signs of dissonance within the Anna Hazare camp over the continuance of his fast with former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde joining another Anna associate, Swami Agnivesh, in saying that the hunger strike should be called off now.
Mukherjee, the government's chief interlocutor with Team Anna and also also Leader of the House, will make a suo motu statement on the Lokpal issue in the Lok Sabha 11 am on Saturday immediately after the house assembles for the day's sitting.
Late night, Mukherjee chaired a strategy meeting with senior Congress leaders to discuss the statement he is to make in Lok Sabha that will set the stage for discussions on the Jan Lokpal bill.
"There should be a discussion in both houses. I will have to make a statement in the beginning," Mukherjee told reporters here late night. "On that basis of that statement, discussions will take place," he said.
He was speaking after the meeting of the Congress strategy group that was attended by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister Salman Khurshid, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and V Narayanasamy, minister of state in the prime minister's office.
"We are repeatedly appealing to Anna Hazare to end his fast. I am repeating that appeal," Mukherjee said.
"There is no rule for such a debate and it will be on the statement of the minister," Bansal said, indicating that there will not be voting.
Discussion will take place under rule 342 that does not require voting. The BJP has given a notice for a discussion under rule 184 in Lok Sabha and rule 167 in Rajya Sabha that entail voting.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held consultations with Mukherjee and Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, a former chief minister of Maharashtra, who are negotiating with Hazare and his associates.
The discussions took place after Team Anna wrote a letter to the prime minister making it clear that a mere discussion on the Lokpal issue in parliament will not help and it has to pass a resolution agreeing in principle to set up Lokayuktas in states, frame Citizen's Charters for all government departments and include lower bureaucracy in the ambit of Lokpal.
Hazare said he would end his fast if these three issues are reflected in the parliamentary resolution and in the final version of the anti-corruption legislation.
In an impassioned speech, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said that a Lokpal Bill could not alone end corruption and suggested an autonomous Lokpal on the lines of the Election Commission, prompting Team Anna to hit back.
Calling his suggestion "a game-changer", Gandhi said: "Witnessing the events of the last few days it would appear that the enactment of a single bill will usher in a corruption free society. I have serious doubts about this belief.
"An effective Lokpal law is only one element in the legal framework to combat corruption. The Lokpal institution alone cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive anti-corruption code."
Gandhi's speech triggered an uproar, with some of Anna supporters protesting outside his house. Around 400 protesters, according to Anna camp, were taken to police station in Parliament Street.
The activist's aides insist that their Jan Lokpal bill should be passed.
Saying he too favoured constitutional status for the ombudsman, Hazare aide Shanti Bhushan said: "First, let us at least have a legal (statutory) authority as demanded by Anna Hazare."
Mukherjee, however, said that some proposals of the Jan Lokpal Bill, if accepted, would be difficult to implement, indicating that the government was trying its best to hammer out a compromise.
"The parliamentary standing committee will have to take into account all views. The legislation will be amended. The whole house will have to decide whether to accept these amendments," Mukherjee told CNN-IBN in an interview with Karan Thapar.
Responding to the demand of Team Anna to bring the lower bureaucracy in the ambit of the Lokpal bill, Mukherjee said if the legislation were to bring cabinet secretary to a railway gangman in the purview of the same legislation, it would be difficult to manage.
Reacting to the demand for state Lok Ayukta, Mukherjee said the amended Lokpal bill can at best provide for a model legislation that can be used by the state governments to enact their own Lok Ayukta.