Deshmukh plays key role in ending fast

MUMBAI: Former chief minister and Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh played a decisive role in convincing anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare to end his fast, but there’s a feeling he should have been approached earlier to deal with the crisis.

A top bureaucrat told TOI that had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh roped in Deshmukh a day after Hazare’s fast began on August 16, the government would not have faced the embarrassment that followed.

“Unfortunately, the PMO involved Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram in the process. They are good administrators, but have absolutely no experience in dealing with Hazare. On the other hand, Deshmukh has been negotiating with Hazare for over two decades,” he said.

“The Centre lost four precious days in the process. In fact, the Centre woke up almost five days after Hazare started the fast,” the bureaucrat added.

The authorities soon realized that Hazare was unlikely to talk to the government unless some bureaucrat or politician from Maharashtra was involved in the negotiations. A Congress minister said the Centre then roped in senior IAS officer U C Sarangi to break the ice, but when Hazare did not respond, it was decided to involve Deshmukh in the process.

Accordingly, Deshmukh held his first meeting with the PM and later with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on August 23. However, at no stage was he given the authority to deal directly with Hazare. On August 25, a section of villagers from Ralegan Siddhi and Pune-based journalist Abhinandan Thorat called on Deshmukh to explain the exact situation and Hazare’s specific demands to him. “We told Deshmukh that if Hazare’s three demands were accepted, he was prepared to end the fast,” Thorat said.

After Deshmukh assured them that he would personally take up the matter with the PMO, Thorat got a letter signed by Hazare-addressed to the PM-and handed it over to the former Maharashtra CM. “Hazare’s letter with some specific demands was submitted to the PMO. That was the turning point. Deshmukh then held a marathon meeting with the PM and Mukherjee,” he said.

A Union minister said Deshmukh told the PMO that if he was given a free hand, he would ensure that Hazare ended his fast once a resolution was passed in Parliament. “Over the last three days, Deshmukh successfully emerged as the link between Hazare and the PMO. Deshmukh convinced the PM that even if Hazare’ plea was accepted, there was no question of undermining the authority of Parliament or the Constitution. Deshmukh’s argument was accepted and the process to pacify Hazare began on August 26 in right earnest,” he said.

Significantly, once he was given the responsibility, Deshmukh ensured that members of Team Anna, particularly Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejariwal were out of negotiations or discussion and at the same time, he successfully obtained the views of Justice Santosh Hegde and Swami Agniwesh, who spoke against a section of the members of team Anna.

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