The BJP does a good job during elections. It needs to replicate the effort whilst effecting change.
By Sanjeev Nayyar
Be it the corporate world or the government, effecting change is difficult. Remember Ratan Tata’s battles with Russi Mody etc when he sought to give all group companies a common identity, amongst others?
Status quo creates vested interests, and Punjab is no different. There is a political angle to these protests, if only the government was proactive. Read ‘This is about politics, not farmers rights’ (https://bit.ly/2JIY2ow).
Those who believe that the Centre should have spoken to farmers before introducing the farm bills are mistaken. This is an all-India and not a Punjab-specific Bill.
Farmers fail to see that Punjab needs a second Green Revolution. Do they know that, according to a draft report of the Central Ground Water Board (North-Western region), Punjab will be rendered a desert within 25 years if the exploitation of its underground water resources continues at the current rate? (https://bit.ly/3oLbMyf).
Next, Indian governments do not have a tradition of speaking with the people of India before effecting change. Did PV Narasimha Rao do so before introducing the 1991 reforms? Or did Sonia Gandhi speak to states before introducing the Right to Education Act? Note that in a democracy people elect leaders to take decisions in the country’s interest. If the decision is anti-people, the government is voted out.
In the UK, former Prime Minister David Cameron forgot this when he called for Brexit referendum. The public voted for exiting the European Union without knowing the pros and cons of being part of the EU. This information and intellect, an elected government is supposed to have. Having said that, it is incumbent on the management or government to convince stakeholders on the need for change and the quality of their ideas.
Here, the Centre could have done better; for example, has it told the citizens that the gap between the outstanding cash credit limit (provided by banks to state government to fund procurement) and the value of physical stocks with agencies was Rs 31,000 crore? (https://bit.ly/2JCGniB). Or that large farms in Punjab are also managed by a thekedar (contractor) who takes a theka (contract) of growing produce, with the farmer receiving net proceeds (no incentive to compete or change), or the current system allows rice/wheat from Uttar Pradesh/Bihar to be sold in Punjab/Haryana mandis and shared a report comparing quality of wheat procured in Punjab versus Madhya Pradesh?
So, how could the government have effected change?
Through numerous articles (English and Punjabi) the Centre could have built a case for change. They could also have exposed the politician-buying agent-mandi boss nexus. The problem is a strong perception that the state government wants status quo-vote bank politics. Knowing this, the Centre should have:
—Formed a crack team of communication experts and those with domain knowledge. Focus on factual data and local insights. Another team tracks comments on the social media. The team should include the minister for agriculture, spokespersons and leaders from Punjab.
—Two, before passing the ordinance, the Centre could have prepared a FAQ (frequently asked questions) on why this Bill, key provisions, proposed benefits especially additional income to farmers, farmer queries, how they would be addressed and parties who would be affected negatively and how. It must give financial impact of demands; for example, making the minimum support price a legal right.
The FAQ is also a way to double-check reasonableness of the Bills’ proposals. Thus, the FAQ provides answers to most questions. The trick is to anticipate questions. This FAQ should be bounced off with a senior editor for critical feedback.
I remember that in Hindustan Lever before every annual general body meeting, a management trainee was asked to prepare an FAQ on possible shareholder questions. This way, every answer was invariably a few seconds away.
The FAQ should be updated daily and shared with the crack team.
The communication should be in English, Hindi and Punjabi. Writers can publish articles in these languages, print and online. The FAQ should be sent to Indian High Commissions in the UK and Canada where Sikhs are a vote bank.
This process prevents misinformation, makes all speak in one voice, exposes protestors and unreasonableness of their demands. Having a good idea is great, but it has to be sold, only then will there be a buy-in by the stakeholders.
Since there is a possibility of foreign governments trying to inflame emotions, the Ministry of Home Affairs must track protests 24×7. The MHA could identify key protestors in advance and share the FAQ. Ditto with public influencers.
In short, what is required is a vigorous outreach programme. The BJP does a good job during elections. It needs to replicate the effort whilst effecting change. For how long can the BJP depend on its supporters to defend its moves?
Nevertheless, some may still protest with intent to create public unrest or for political reasons. The government must check if such protestors are Indian citizens and their income-tax returns. If they are in business, what is the legal structure? Has their company received foreign direct investment or foundation donations from abroad, plus have they incorporated business entities outside India?
This way, the government can be on top of the situation. It also prevents derailing the key issue; for example, some have converted the farmer issue into a Hindu-Sikh one.
Since India has to effect significant change, it might be useful if the government puts IAS officers and politicians through change management programmes.
The author is a chartered accountant and founder of www.esamskriti.com