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Govt roped in Maharashtra top babus for talks two weeks back

* Also prepared a Marathi version of its Lokpal Bill for Hazare.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
August 23, 2011 2:49:26 am

As back-channel negotiations gathered pace at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi to resolve the impasse over the Lokpal Bill,it has emerged that two senior bureaucrats from Maharashtra were sent to meet Anna Hazare as early as two weeks ago,at the suggestion of Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar.

The Maratha strongman recommended to the Prime Minister’s Office that Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad and Additional Chief Secretary (Home) U C Sarangi,who have both built a rapport of sorts with Hazare,be considered as government emissaries for talks with Team Anna,long before he began his fast.

Subsequently,Gaikwad and Sarangi visited New Delhi over two weeks ago,sources in Mumbai said. “Establishing a Marathi-speaking person as a conduit would have been useful in gaining Anna’s trust and also in cutting out the non-Marathi speaking coterie that has a stranglehold over him now,” said the source from the Maharashtra Congress.

“Hazare is himself a reasonable person with a proven track record in getting key laws passed,” the Congressman said,indicating it is the Arvind Kejriwal-Kiran Bedi duo,now under attack from some quarters for not permitting access to Hazare to close aides also,which is proving difficult to crack.

Even a translation of the government’s 40-page draft bill into Marathi,the language Hazare reads and writes most easily,was prepared overnight only after the Maharashtra bureaucrats visited New Delhi.

Sources also said the decision to send spiritual leader Bhaiyyu Maharaj to speak to Team Anna was prompted by a Congress union minister from Maharashtra.

While Sarangi,who played a key role in convincing Hazare to withdraw his 10-day fast in 2004 for the Right to Information law,was summoned once again late last week and is now camping in Delhi,it is clear he and others can achieve little in terms of serious negotiations regarding the draft of the Lokpal Bill,the sources said.

Even as Hazare himself demanded on Monday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should send his representatives for negotiations,sources said there would be no alternative now but to appoint a senior leader,such as Pranab Mukherjee,to play chief negotiator. “Any negotiator should be empowered by the government,he should know what the bottomline is,what cannot be compromised upon,” said a Maharashtra Congress leader.

A possible line of negotiation would be the promise of a strong judicial accountability law in place of allowing the judiciary to be placed within the ambit of the Lokpal.

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