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REVEALED: How govt FINALLY reached out to Hazare

Last updated on: August 24, 2011 12:16 IST

Image: Arvind Kejriwal

Politicians, legislators and bureaucrats from Maharashtra played a major role in facilitating talks between Team Anna and the government, reports Toral Varia

It was on the fifth day of activist Anna Hazare's indefinite fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill that efforts for back-channel talks started gaining momentum. The strategy was to try and establish a direct connection with the 74-year-old, sans his close aides Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi or Prashant Bhushan.

"If you look at the body language of key members of Team Anna, you will realise that the whole movement is strategised and stage-managed by Arvind Kejriwal mainly. Anna is a symbol and the face of this movement," said one of the observers of this mass movement against corruption. Buzz in Delhi's power corridors indicate that the  government considers Team Anna, particularly Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, to be a stumbling block in its negotiations with the activist.

According to Kumar Ketkar, senior journalist and political observer from Maharashtra, "Firstly, Anna is a very stubborn man and now he has been joined by others who are equally difficult to deal with."

How govt FINALLY reached out to Hazare

Image: Vilasrao Deshmukh

The United Progressive Alliance, which was already being criticised for keeping its leaders from Maharashtra out of the loop on the issue, now decided to use these very politicians to break the ice with Hazare.

The government considered the names of several prominent politicians or leaders from Maharashtra including Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Prithviraj Chavan. Both Deshmukh and Shinde have dealt with Anna and his satyagrahi ways during their tenure as chief ministers of Maharashtra. 

"While Anna does not have a problem with Pawar's vision, he has a problem with his methods. And as far as Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde are considered, if the government sends them as mediators, then this move might boomerang as their names have surfaced in connection with the Adarsh Scam," said a highly-placed source in the government.

After some serious deliberations, it was finally decided to use Deshmukh's contact base in Maharashtra to establish a connection to Hazare.

How govt FINALLY reached out to Hazare

Deshmukh is then learnt to have mobilised some key figures from Maharashtra. The first step was to bring in Bhayyuji Maharaj, the spiritual guru of both Hazare and Deshmukh, into the picture. Maharaj paid a visit to Hazare at Ramlila Maidan with a proposal from the government. Though Hazare holds Maharaj in high regard, the stalemate between the activist and the government continued as reportedly there were other members of Anna's Team in the room during their talks. 

On Vilasrao Deshmukh's suggestion, senior Maharashtra bureaucrat Umesh Chandra Sarangi was then flown to Delhi to pacify Hazare.

Sarangi has known Anna for almost a decade and the duo share a rapport. On earlier occasions, back in Maharashtra, Sarangi had played a crucial role in negotiating with Hazare when the Gandhian had gone on a series of hunger strikes to tackle issues of corruption and the Right to Information Act.

In 2006, Hazare had launched an agitation to prevent politically-motivated transfers of upright bureaucrats. Sarangi had then closely worked with Hazare to draw up guidelines for a bill that later became the Preventions of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2006.

How govt FINALLY reached out to Hazare

Image: Kapil Patil

However, talks with Sarangi did not yield any result as the bureaucrat could not move beyond the official mandate. Besides, this meeting too took place in the presence of key members of Team Anna.

Again, the government accepted Deshmukh's suggestion of sending Kapil Patil, a legislator from the state who is a former aide of Hazare.

"Kapil has even worked with Anna; he spoke to Anna in his language," said a Rajya Sabha member on condition of anonymity.

Kapil Patil told, "When I met Hazare, he told me that he is open to talks with the government. He is positive that the Jan Lokpal Bill will be passed, but he is even happier that the nation is now united in the fight against corruption."

Patil communicated Hazare's willingness to talk to the government to Congress leaders V Narayanswamy, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Rajya Sabha member Narendra Jadhav. While the former two met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and conveyed Hazare's sentiments, Jadhav, a good friend of the PM, advised Dr Singh to send a letter to the activist.

How govt FINALLY reached out to Hazare

Image: Anna Hazare with Nikhil Wagle

Incidentally, Hazare also met senior journalist and editor of IBN Lokmat channel Nikhil Wagle in private. Hazare has been kept under watch and not been allowed to meet anyone. But Wagle's association with him dates back to the late 1980s.

Last Monday, Wagle met Hazare in presence of the activist's personal secretary Dada Pathare.

"That's when I asked him what he really wants. He knew he was talking to a journalist and he very categorically said that he was willing to talk to either the prime minister himself or someone senior from the Prime Minister's Office or some senior minister from the government. But he ruled out any talks with Home Minister P Chidambaram and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal," Wagale said. 

Reportedly, Anna did not have a problem with talking to Maharashra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan either. On his part, Chavan was trying to talk to Hazare's associates in Maharashtra. Taking a cue from Hazare's direct communication to a local channel head, the government proposed that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee initiate talks with Team Anna to break the deadlock.

"Anna is not new to politics. He has rural wisdom. In the past, through a series of 11 fasts, he has had as many as six laws formulated successfully. He wanted a senior figure from the government to come and talk to him. Mukherjee is the right choice for this, I think," opined Wagle.