Anna issue: Cong fears losing the battle for minds
The team that is forming the strategy to take on Anna Hazare is so confused and incoherent that in spite of Team Anna's few missteps, the UPA government is unable to counter them. Says a senior minister and a leader with political sense, "We are worried about losing the battle for minds." Sheela Bhatt reports.
As Anna Hazare and his team's movement for the Jan Lokpal bill to curb corruption enters a crucial stage, the United Progressive Alliance government is increasingly losing the battle for minds.
The government's only hope now lies in seeing that the regional parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party keep away from the movement, covertly and overtly. The government will be watching the moves of the political parties in the coming week.
But today, when thousands of supporters of Anna came on to the streets in New Delhi and Mumbai, the UPA government and Congress party have been reduced to being a mute spectator.
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Image: Anna Hazare during his indefinite fast at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi
Photographs: Parivartan Shrama/Reuters
Senior Congress leaders blame Chidambaram for the mess
The Congress party's politically savvy ministers and leaders, who are aware of the ground realities, are stunned by the fall in the government's credibility. They are now more worried about the party's credibility.
Senior party leaders blame Home Minister P Chidambaram for the mess. As it happened in the case of the Maoist movement and Telangana issue, Chidambaram's lack of "political sense" is hurting the party, alleges a senior Congress leader while talking to rediff.com.
He said, "Sonia Gandhi's absence is being felt within the party. She had correct political instinct, she helped the party in times like these. I have ideas on Anna's movement and experience of such agitations, but where do I go?"
"Rahul doesn't want to assert," he added.
Anna Hazare belongs to Maharashtra but the experience of state leaders in New Delhi, like former chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde, in dealing with Anna in the past was not even taken into account.
The senior leader said curtly, "Chidambaram is politics-proof. I would have folded my hands and told Annaji, you are bigger than Gandhiji. But sorry, I don't agree with your views."
'The opposition party's move is very crucial now'
Three senior Congress leaders, while sharing their views off the record, said there was no need to take a confrontationalist position with Anna and his team.
Chidambaram's bungling in handling Anna has led the government to a point where it is left with very few bargaining points.
The senior leader said now the government can only hope that the BJP and regional parties will not support Anna's movement. He said, "The opposition party's move is very crucial now."
As Anna shows no signs of physical fatigue in spite of not having eaten food since six days, his team has been able to attract the stunning crowds to support its cause at India Gate in New Delhi and at Bandra in Mumbai.
Today the government is looking increasingly idealess and leaderless. Party leaders know that no government can afford to do anything that would project to the people at large that it is weak and stumbling, but the lack of action is not helping either.
The government faces tremendous limitations in handling Anna since people's emotions are also involved. A senior party leader said, "Anna is known for his physical capacity to fast for 15 days. He has got the middle class's support. India's middle class is the ruling class. I don't see Dalits or the underprivileged with Anna's team. The beauty of the middle class is that their anger and attraction, both are temporary, always."
However, he agreed that those who voted for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 have deserted him.
Image: Hazare's supporters protest in Mumbai on Sunday
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
Party is upset over failure of leadership
The immediate challenge before the government is, how do you "give" Anna Hazare on the issue of Lokpal without looking weak? Especially since the government is in no position to compromise on bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal and on other contentious issues -- like Anna's latest demand to withdraw the government's Lokpal bill. That's what, so far, senior party leaders are claiming.
Some party members think that it's essential the government move in such a way that all other political parties too are compelled to spell out their stand on Anna's Lokpal bill. That's a politically complex task since the situation is out of the government's control and the Opposition parties would not give it an inch of breathing space.
The team that is forming the strategy to take on Anna Hazare is so confused and incoherent that in spite of Team Anna's few mistakes -- like speaking in a language unbecoming of satyagrahis and thereby creating a perception of being unreasonable -- the UPA government is unable to counter them. A senior minister and a leader with political sense told rediff.com, "We are worried about losing the battle for minds."
Also, many Congress ministers and leaders are livid over the leadership failure -- meaning Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A senior Congress leader told rediff.com in an off-the-record conversation that in times like these, the leader (meaning Dr Singh) should have selected his team carefully so they can help the government in resolving the crisis.
Blame-games won't help the government
The senior leader of the party pointed out that the PM's statement on Anna's arrest in Parliament was clearly drafted or influenced by Chidambaram. In it, unnecessary details about the police action on Hazare was given instead of spelling out the government's political stance and a robust presentation of facts to expose Anna's bill.
He asked, "Why should Dr Singh allow the home minister to present his defence for action against Hazare through the PM's speech?"
He is not alone. Many Congress leaders and ministers are hinting at Dr Singh's dependence on Chidambaram on the issue.
Another Congress minister told rediff.com, "The problem with Chidambaram is that once he forms a view he sticks to it. He never has tentative views. He has the habit of taking a view and then musters supports for it." What he meant is that in a situation like this, where people are coming out on the streets and where an old man is on a fast, it's necessary to be flexible, and not be rigid and stick to one's views.
The situation is so volatile that blaming Chidambaram would not help the government or the party. A member of Team Anna says, "Anna Hazare has channelised the country's anger against corruption into a set of demands. We think the Congress party should demand that their government accept defeat in the short term to win the bigger war against corruption."
Image: Thousands of Anna supporters thronged Ramlila Ground and India Gate in New Delhi on Sunday