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Manmohan Singh, Anna Hazare reach halfway house

It took a 74-year-old from Ralegan Siddhi to go hungry for 10 days to make the government accept his three demands, albeit with some changes.

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It took a 74-year-old from Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra to go hungry for 10 days to make the UPA II government accept his three demands, albeit with some changes, on Thursday.

The rising anger — political and non-political — forced the government, especially the Congress, to field former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to negotiate with Anna Hazare on Thursday morning. Deshmukh is the only politician to have successfully convinced Anna to call off his fast twice in the past.

After speaking with prime minister Manmohan Singh, Deshmukh reached Ramlila Maidan in the afternoon and approached Hazare for a quick discussion. It was a tactical victory for the government and the Congress because Deshmukh managed to isolate Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi as he stole a few key minutes alone with Hazare and thrashed out a compromise.

A top government source told DNA that Deshmukh spoke to Hazare in Marathi and made an emotional appeal to him to withdraw the fast. “He called him the tallest leader from the state to achieve such national prominence,” the source said. “He also told Hazare that he would personally ensure his demands were met if he would break the fast.”

Within minutes, Hazare indicated he was ready to break his fast if the government would ensure to table a strong resolution in Parliament on Friday. The resolution, said the source, would ensure that most of the demands of Team Anna on the Lokpal Bill would be agreed upon.

“I have sent a message to the PM… If you want to pass the Jan Lokpal bill then start the discussion tomorrow morning,” Hazare told the crowd after meeting Deshmukh. “I have three demands. If there is support [for them], then I can consider ending the fast.”

His three demands were: include the entire bureaucracy, have Lok Ayuktas in all states with Lokpal powers, and post citizens charter in all government departments dealing with the public.

Hazare, however, said the agitation for a strong Lokpal would continue till government passed the bill.

After talking to Hazare, Deshmukh went back to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office in the North Block and started drafting a letter that would be given to Hazare on behalf of the government.

The source said the government decided to keep the PM within the Lokpal’s ambit with some safeguards. The issue of Lokayuktas would be left to a committee of legal experts. The higher and lower bureaucracy too would be kept under the Lokpal.

The source said the breakthrough was the result of a series of phone calls between Team Anna and the government throughout Wednesday night, following a war of words between Kejriwal and Mukherjee.

The Delhi CM’s political secretary, Pawan Kheda, received a call after midnight from Team Anna asking for further negotiations. He immediately called in Salman Khurshid and East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit who had established a series of secret meetings three days ago.

As talks continued over the phone, the government managed to get Team Anna to agree to another meeting on Thursday afternoon. During the talks, Team Anna agreed to allow a committee of experts to examine the Jan Lokpal Bill. But it got stuck when Prashant Bhushan insisted that his father Shanti Bhushan be made a member of the committee.

NAC member Aruna Roy told government officials that Hazare had even expressed his willingness to resolve the issue. The source said he wanted to “take a decision independent of Kejriwal who had become very stubborn during the discussions”.

It took almost 14 meetings between government representatives and Team Anna to reach this far. For a while, the Congress had thought of taking a tough stand. But the party changed its strategy following the PM’s speech in Parliament. It was decided that the government would directly deal with Hazare and keep Kejriwal and others out of the loop.

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