New Delhi: The stalemate over the campaign for an effective Lokpal Bill deepended on Friday with the government rejecting Anna Hazare’s two crucial demands on the joint committee while the Gandhian announced a ‘fill the jail’ protest from 13 April across the country.
As the 71-year-old anti-corruption crusader’s fast entered the fourth day on Friday, both sides talked tough. Union minister Kapil Sibal, who has been negotiating with Hazare’s emissaries, declared that it would not be possible to accept the demand for making Hazare the chairman of the committee or to officially notify it.
Hazare reacted sharply saying time has come for a ‘jail bharo’ agitation throughout the country.
His campaign also made it clear that they were not jockeying for posts and that they would write to the Prime Minister suggesting that former CJI J. S. Verma or retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde be made chairman of the joint committee to draft the Bill.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had on Friday appealed to Hazare to end the fast, on Friday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the stalemate between the two sides. Senior ministers Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal and Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel were also present.
After the meeting, sources said that the government was ready to negotiate while Mukherjee appealed to Hazare to end his fast and join the committee for drafting the Bill.
After waiting for Hazare’s emissaries who did not turn up, Sibal told reporters “our position remains the same. It is not possible for official notification on the constitution of the joint committee, but we said we are willing to issue an official letter through law ministry and a press note.”
He said it was not possible for the government to accept their demand for making a member of the civil society as chairman of the drafting committee.
“If you insist that a nominee of your side is the chairman of the joint committee, in that event the committee will not consist of ministers from our end but officials of Government of India.
“In that eventuality, you can have your nominee as chairman of the joint committee,” Sibal told reporters after waiting with another cabinet colleague Salman Khurshid for meeting with Hazare’s emissaries Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal.
Speaking to his supporters, Hazare said “today when Sibal and these people are saying this, I feel that a jail bharo agitation should take place in the entire country.
“But you should participate in the agitation keeping in mind Mahatma Gandhi. There should be no violence anywhere,” he said to a thunderous applause from the gathering that included film actor Anupam Kher and noted journalist Pritish Nandy.
Sibal and the two emissaries were to meet on Friday in the morning but it did not take place with both sides saying that they were waiting for a call from the other. They are expected to meet at 6 pm on Friday.
Agnivesh, who shared the dais with Hazare, however, sounded optimistic about a resolution.
“I do not want to colour it with something confrontationist. No, not at all. He (Sibal) has been very conciliatory and he has spoken to me on phone and he wants to resolve it as early as possible as possible, hopefully by this evening,” he said.
Addressing the protestors, Kejriwal dismissed media reports of any crack in the movement, saying all those taking part in it were united.
Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, whose absence on Thursday at the protest site triggered reports of crack in the movement, also said she was very much with the movement and will continue with the fight.
She said she could not be present on Thursday as she was suffering from severe throat problem and was advised rest.
Addressing the gathering, Hazare asked people to stick to non-violence during the agitation. After first announcing 12 April as the date for the agitation, he later changed it 13 April citing holiday on account of Ramnavami.
He recalled that he had organized similar ‘jail bharo’ movements in Maharashtra in the past and urged the unemployed youths to join the agitation, saying they will get the morning breakfast and two meals in the jail.
Maintaining that his agitation is for decentralization of power in people’s hands and the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill will be a step forward in that regard, Hazare made it clear that he was not interested in becoming a party to any committee.
Hazare said that corruption in the country could be checked if the agencies involved in fighting the menace were brought under the Lokpal instead of the government.
“All agencies supposed to check corruption like CBI, vigilance committees, and various committees are under the government. Because they are functioning under the government, there is no stopping of corruption.
“CBI has investigated many big cases before and after Bofors. But did any minister or IAS-IPS officer go to jail so far? This is because even if somebody wants to take tough action, the government will stop him,” Hazare said.
“If the agencies responsible for controlling corruption, which are under the government, are brought under the Lokpal, then the corrupt will go to jail. That’s why we are demanding this kind of Lokpal,” he said.
Hazare also cited the example of Right to Information Act saying that the RTI changed the ball game and now the government has to follow rules and people will have control instead of people following the rules and the government having control which the Britishers proposed.
“Today there are two reasons for corruption that has risen in the country. The laws are weak so the corrupt have no fear. Secondly, lot of people running the government are taking along these corrupt people.
“There is also a third reason that there has not been a decentralization of power. Corruption rose as power was centralized in the government. Lokpal Bill is for decentralization and our agitation is precisely for that,” Hazare said.
Meanwhile, four persons who were also fasting at Jantar Mantar, have been hospitalized following a setback in their health.