Anna Hazare is back in Delhi for a new agitation at Jantar Mantar. This time he has called upon farmers to protest against some provisions of the Land Acquisition Ordinance, which he believes to be anti-farmer.
Last time too, in 2011, it was around the same time of the year amid celebrations of Cricket World Cup victories, when he launched the Jan Lokpal agitation that launched the political careers of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi and crashed the image of the UPA government.
It sounds like history is repeating itself. And if it repeats in exactly the same way, it will be disastrous for the image and future of Modi government. But the new government can learn from the mistakes of the old government and make sure that history doesn’t repeat.
Here are three things that Modi government must not do when dealing with Anna Hazare’s agitation:
1. Arrogance: This is what drowned Congress. Everyone remembers how Manish Tewari had gone for a brazen attack without showing any humility or respect for Anna Hazare. Indian electorates are known to punish people who have only arrogance to offer as a quality. The new government must avoid an arrogant tone and language while dealing with Anna.
2. Personal Attacks: Congress had accused Anna of being corrupt based on some irregularities related to his NGO’s account books. That didn’t impress people, and it was seen as cheap personal attack on a poor old man. Now some BJP supporters too are raising similar issues on social media. If the party takes it up officially, it will prove to be counterproductive and disastrous.
3. Engagement: Surprise! Yes, it will be a mistake to “officially” engage with Anna Hazare. Congress erred by sending senior Cabinet Ministers to work closely with Anna and the issue of Jan Lokpal. This gave legitimacy to Team Anna and put them on the same pedestal as the Union Cabinet. Modi government must not do it. They may send someone like Kiran Bedi, who is not part of the government, to unofficially engage with Anna, but not officially engage with him or his new team.
One may suggest Modi government to altogether ignore the agitation as Anna may not be able to garner the same kind of public support this year, but an outright rejection of Anna will also not help. Apart from that, the media will definitely help Anna, which could build up public support. So ignoring or rejecting him will not help.
It should be noted that Modi government is already thinking about modifying some parts of the ordinance as some RSS affiliated organizations – like Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, and Swadeshi Jagran Manch – have expressed reservations about them and want some changes in the ordinance to protect interests of farmers.
The government could finalize a list of modifications based on such demands and their internal calculations, and then show it as if Anna’s demands have also been met. That will keep Anna happy and stop history from repeating.