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Fasting Anna ready for talks, but on his Lokpal

By The Assam Tribune

New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS): With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ready for a "give and take" on Lokpal Bill, fasting activist Anna Hazare on Sunday said he was open for a dialogue but refused to end his protest till parliament passed an anti-graft bill framed by his team.

"The path of negotiations is not closed for us. It is still open. Only through dialogue can issues be resolved," the 74-year-old told cheering crowds at the spacious Ramlila ground here on the sixth day of his hunger strike in support of an effective anti-corruption legislation.

By Sunday evening, crowds at the ground had swelled to several thousands.

Similar protests, the crowds ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand, were reported from many cities and towns.

Hazare's comments came a day after the prime minister sought a "give and take" on the Lokpal Bill, indicating his willingness to end the stand-off with Hazare. Singh spoke to select media outlets including IANS.

At the same time, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government desired "a new chapter of talks with the civil society" and added that the constitution "can accommodate all views".

"Hold talks how much ever you want to. But we will not budge from the Jan Lokpal," Hazare asserted, drawing huge applause from the crowds.

His reference is to the civil society version of Lokpal Bill that he says is a better option than the government-sponsored bill that keeps the prime minister, the judiciary and most government employees out of its ambit.

Hazare's response came amid criticism from other sections of the civil society of his adamant stand, and after a Congresss MP submitted the Anna-sponsored Lokpal Bill to a standing committee in parliament.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi favoured a parliamentary panel as the "ideal platform" to discuss all aspects of the draft legislation.

Singhvi's contention followed Hazare aide Arvind Kejriwal's accusation that the government was using the parliamentary committee as a shield to keep away the Jan Lokpal Bill from discussion.

The Lokpal Bill, introduced in Lok Sabha Aug 4, is with the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice headed by Singhvi.

Hazare was his usual energetic self Sunday despite six days of fasting. Although he rested most of the day, he thundered at one time to say people should picket residences of their MPs to press them to pass the Jan Lokpal bill.

Even as Team Anna pushes for its version of the anti-graft bill, Congress MP Praveen Singh Aron moved the Jan Lokpal Bill before the Singhvi-led parliamentary panel for consideration to "add more strength" to the Lokpal Bill.

"The Congress is keen on having a strong Lokpal Bill. Therefore, if Jan Lokpal bill is discussed along with the official Lokpal Bill by the standing committee, the final product is bound to be more meaningful and strong," the Congress member of the Lok Sabha from Bareilly told IANS.

Singhvi said the parliamentary panel will study various representations from civil society, political parties and the government and give its recommendations in public interest.

Having presented another version of the Lokpal Bill to the parliamentary committee, social activist Aruna Roy insisted that parliament was where the issue needed to be resolved.

Writer-activist Arundhati Roy accused the Hazare team of focussing only on government corruption while leaving out the NGOs and corporate sector.

Meanwhile, Hazare aide Swami Agnivesh denied the government had sent a mediator to meet them.

"The chief secretary of Maharashtra came last night as a personal friend of Hazare," Agnivesh said. "He was given both versions of the Lokpal Bill and he went away."

Hazare began his indefinite fast Aug 16 soon after his detention while he was proceeding to the J.P. Park. The same day he was taken to Tihar Jail, where he remained until Friday when he shifted to the Ramlila ground.

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