EXCLUSIVE: Team Anna sets terms to end impasse
Anna Hazare's team would end the confrontation if the government agrees to 'modify substantially' its stance on several clauses of the Lokpal bill. Sheela Bhatt reports from New Delhi
On the third day of his fast on Thursday, Anna Hazare's his team is preparing conditions for a peaceful end to the confrontation with the government. The action will move to the Ramleela grounds on Friday, where Hazare will continue his fast.
According to the exclusive information available to rediff.com, Anna Hazare's team would end the confrontation if the government agrees to 'modify substantially' its stance on the issue of having prime minister under the ambit of the Lokpal bill. Sources in Anna's team says that even if the PM is NOT brought under the ambit of Lokpal bill they want the Lokpal to have a full access to files from the Prime Minister's Office.
On the other contentious issue of having the judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal, the Anna team may seek a stringent Judicial Accountability Bill. The Anna team thinks that the proposed JAB drafted by the government is too weak and is unlikely to act as deterrent against corruption in the judiciary because it does not talk of bribery by the judges and only talks of 'misbehaviour'.
Image: Anna Hazare supporters outside Tihar jail
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
It's also clear now that Anna's team has the upper hand
According to information available with rediff.com if the government plays it's cards well now, there is a possibility of creating 'middle ground' where Team Anna and representatives of government can meet and reach a mutually agreeable final settlement that can be termed as the 'victory of the people'.
It is obvious that the street demonstrations and more importantly, Anna's fast cannot go on beyond a week or so. It's also clear now that Anna's team has the upper hand. In the coming negotiations, team Anna will be talking to the government from a position of strength in view of the massive outpouring of support on the streets all over India.
Anna's team, particularly Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan, has shown clearly that they have the staying power and necessary wherewithal to use the media and social networking sites to raise people's response in their favour.
Image: Anna Hazare's supporters throng Ramleela ground on Thursday
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/Rediff.com
Team Anna not as rigid as the government
It should be noted that the team Anna is not as rigid as the government and the Congress party is branding them. The signal of flexibility and reasonableness on part of the Anna team was seen in Prashant Bhushan's interview to rediff.com on August 17.
When asked to list the core issues that he is willing to discuss with the government, Bhushan has clearly said: "The issues such as the inclusion of the prime minister or the judiciary could be discussed in the standing committee (of Parliament) but at least the inclusion of lokayuktas of the states and all government servants should be there in the bill."
When asked again to clarify what he said, Bhushan responded, "We are pushing for it fully (to have PM under the Lokpal) but let us see what the government does."
Image: Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar with Anna Hazare in Tihar Jail
The important question is how Anna he end his fast
The situation has changed much more in favour of the Anna team since August 16. Since Anna Hazare has won the current round completely, the government will have to give in to something more on the issue of the Lokpal bill. Team Anna is being helped by the explosion of people's emotions against corruption on the streets. Anna Hazare already has two major successes to his credit in the last three days.
He has asserted his legal right to protest as the government blundered. And, he has got massive support all over the country after the government showed no guts, no political response nor any credible face to counter Anna's politics of drawing people to his cause.
Now, the most important question is how will he end his fast and on what condition?
"Now, the issues behind the fast will come to centre-stage as Annaji moves to Ramleela," says a member of team Anna.
Image: Supporters of Anna Hazare in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abedi/Reuters
Conditions set by Anna's team
According to the source in the Anna team, a final solution to end the historic demonstrations against corruption on the streets all over India will come only if the government led by Manmohan Singh agrees to the following main conditions amongst other issues.
1. Let Lokpal bill, which is before standing committee of Parliament, have clauses that allows the office of the Lokpal to get access to files from the PMO. It may be acceptable to the Anna team that the PM comes under the ambit of the Lokpal bill only after he retires and he may not be called for interrogation while in office by the Lokpal.
2. Anna's team is unlikely to settle for any agreement with the government on the CBI's anti-corruption wing not being included under the Lokpal. They want a 'completely independent CBI'. In fact, many experts think, the freeing of the CBI from the clutches of government is more crucial than the issue of prime minister and judiciary coming under the Lokpal bill.
The prime minister is covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The members of the India Against Corruption argue that, "Under that law, any allegation of corruption against a prime minister can be investigated. No exception has been made for either the prime minister or any of his activities (like external affairs, defence etc). Every activity of the prime minister can be investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, as of today the CBI is directly under the control of the prime minister. Therefore, the CBI cannot conduct an honest investigation against its own boss."
Even if Anna Hazare's team gets only this condition approved from the government it will be a great move forward. Anna's team says, "The only change that we are proposing in the present system is that rather than being investigated by an agency directly under his control, let the PM be investigated by an agency which is independent, like the Lokpal. We are not proposing any other change."
3. On issue of the judiciary, Anna's team wants a stringent JAB. They want a National Oversight Committee with the powers to investigate.
4. Team Anna will certainly bargain for all the government officers to come under Lokpal bill and not just joint secretaries and above as the government wants.
5. Team Anna will not agree for any compromise in its stand over the appointment and removal of the Lokpal. It has to be free from the influence of government.
The ball is in the government's court
6. It will ask that the final version of the Lokpal bill must include setting up of lokayuktas in the states.
7. Team Anna may agree to NOT have Members of Parliament under the ambit of Lokpal because that's Parliament's prerogative under the Constitution. But, they will demand that MPs conduct outside Parliament come under the purview of the Lokpal. A member of the Anna team claims that corruption of the executive branch of government is much more than the legislature.
8. The government's bill has some clauses that punish whistle blowers. The Anna team will demand that with the help of the law, the government must not harass the whistle blowers within the system. The Lokpal draft of the government must change the relevant clauses.
9. Team Anna wants 11 members of the Lokpal in a supervisory capacity, who will not investigate. The Lokpal chairperson or members will not directly receive complaints. The institution, at various levels, will receive complaints and investigate them as it is done today by Central Board of Direct Taxes and the CBI. The Lokpal would have quasi judicial powers in some high-profile cases which members may like to monitor personally, but largely, it will supervise a comprehensive anti-corruption system.
The ball is in government's court now. It has to come forward and discuss with team Anna and try to end the impasse that is playing out 24/7 on the media. The sooner it ends the better it is for the UPA government and the Congress party.
Image: Supporters of Anna Hazare outside Tihar Jail
Photographs: Sahil Salvi