NEW DELHI, Aug 23 � In a breakthrough in the week- long standoff, the government today appointed Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its negotiator for talks on Lokpal bill even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to Anna Hazare to end his fast.
The appointment of government�s veteran trouble-shooter came on a day of hectic consultations in the government to resolve the standoff over Lokpal issue as the 74-year-old Gandhian�s fast entered second week.
Close on the heels of the decision, Singh wrote a letter to Hazare appealing to him to end his fast, saying his health was a matter of �abiding concern� for the government.
He also promised Hazare that his version of Lokpal Bill could be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for which the government would request the Speaker.
The ice-breaking development came during the first direct contact between the two sides at the residence of Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit when Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Hazare close aide Arvind Kejriwal and discussed how to go about the issue.
�Just now Salman Khurshid has invited us for discussions. He has said that Pranab Mukherjee has been appointed by the government to talk to us.
Kejriwal and other key Team Anna members- Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi- were appointed by Hazare to negotiate with the government.
Before writing the letter to Hazare, the Prime Minister held discussions with Mukherjee and senior ministers A K Antony and P Chidambaram.
Rahul Gandhi also held a prolonged meeting with Singh as the government decided to hold wider consultations to find a way out by convening an all party meeting tomorrow.
Party sources said that the deteriorating health of Anna Hazare necessitated the urgent steps as the leadership was concerned the way the agitation was panning out.
Top level Congress sources said that they expected some forward movement after tomorrow�s all party meeting and hoped for a resolution of the issue by week end expressing concern at Hazare�s health condition.
Abhishek Singhvi, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal, said the committee was not ruling out considering any suggestion including those from Hazare�s Jan Lokpal Bill.
Akhil Gogoi, rights activist who attended the meeting with Khurshid along with Kejriwal, said the Minister told them that the Prime Minister wants to find a solution through talks and they talked about the process for the discussion with Mukherjee.
After their meeting, both Kejriwal and Khurshid declined to go into the specifics of the discussions they had. Both said just a beginning has been made.
The Minister said there was no discussion on issues but only an attempt was made to understand what was happening and why the activists were so much agitated.
Khurshid said all efforts and contacts should be made at every level as �time is running out.�
Earlier, addressing his supporters after a gap of 40 hours, Hazare today stuck to his August 30 deadline for passage of Jan Lokpal Bill and asked his supporters to intensify the protest by gheraoing the houses of Parliamentarians if government failed to do so.
Hazare accused the government of betraying all along the civil society on the issue of a strong Lokpal Bill.
He said people in thousands should protest outside the residences of MPs if the government fails to get Jan Lokpal Bill passed by August 30.
�Now, 25-30 people are sitting on dharnas in front of MPs� residences. If the government does not pass the bill by August 30, we have to intensify the protest. Protesters in thousands should gherao the residences of MPs then,� he said.
Alleging that a few people in the government were �betraying� them, he said �they betrayed us during the meetings of Joint Drafting Committee (on Lokpal bill)�. � PTI