Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ground 01

AAP’s impressive debut tells that people aren't willing to take ‘you get what you are’ any more. 
They demand better leaders.

Today, at the Central Delhi office of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Hanuman Road, the atmosphere was electrifying. Swarm of people, armed with brooms (the election symbol of AAP) and donning the trademark ‘aam-aadmi-cap’ were celebrating boisterously on the beats of dhol. Some were even smeared in pink and yellow gulal (colors) and some were burning firecrackers; celebrating Holi and Diwali on the same day.

But who are these people who were celebrating like there is no tomorrow? Zooming in on their faces, i realized that they were pretty ordinary faces, as they say - aam-aadmi. Sans their caps, brooms and location, they could have very well been a BJP or congress or ‘any-other-party’ supporter. As a matter of fact, before the inception of AAP on 26th Nov 2012, most of them were indeed voters & hence supporters of some or the other party.

So what happened in just one year that AAP swayed people away from their traditionally trusted parties in such a large number that it has now emerged as the 2nd largest party in Delhi winning 28 out of 70 seats. It boasts of a formidable vote share of 30%, which means around 37 Lakh people have voted for a greenhorn party based on a promise of offering an honest, and corruption free governance. Riding on this wave, Arvind Kejriwal, defeated Sheila Dikshit - Chief Minister of Delhi for the past 15 years - in her own constituency of 'New Delhi' by a margin of 25,864 votes.

The beauty of democracy is that a Leader emerges from amongst the people. Therefore when the people raise questions against his/her credentials, it is argued they are actually questioning themselves. As they say, “you get a leader as good (or bad) as you are.” The assumption here is if a politician is corrupt, it only reflects that majority of people are also corrupt and hence they shouldn't complain because they deserve the kind of man they have chosen.

In fact one of the biggest criticisms of the India Against Corruption (IAC) Movement - the progenitor of AAP – was this perceived hypocrisy. Critics said, and it’s a fair point, that these people who are thronging Jantar mantar or Ramlila Maidan shouting “sab-neta-chor-hain” and demanding Janlokpal bill are the same people who bribe officials to get their file cleared quickly or buy a railway ticket illegally via agents when can’t book it in time.

To clarify, I have not gone through the character certificates of any of the AAP candidates or the people who were celebrating in front of AAP's office. However, to believe that all these people were earlier corrupt and now have suddenly transformed would be too naive. They were as aspiring and vying for an honest government during the last elections as well as they are now. At the same time, they are as likely to engage in the aforesaid types of 'classic-corruption' activities even today as they were prone to during the last elections. The bottom-line is, they are still the same people.

And I have reasons to believe so. Just 50 meters away from the party office, there was a park where AAP volunteers were resting and soaking sun after months of tireless campaigning. However, as there were no public toilets anywhere on the road, some people were relieving themselves near the boundary wall of the park. One can argue, being a voter or at least supporter of AAP, doesn't one de facto signs a contract of being a responsible citizen?
Then how do you explain this behavior of the people? It’s simple. They just didn’t have any option. When it’s inevitable, they latched on to whatever is available.

Of course there would be some people who would take the trouble of going all the way to the nearest sulabh-toilet complex (after frantically searching for it) just as there would be people who would choose to travel 2nd class or go by bus or plane or not travel at all if they can’t get a confirmed train ticket. But such people will always be in extreme minority. Most human beings work on incentives and there are just not enough incentives to go that extra mile to earn a badge of honesty when you have an easy way out. 

But I am sure of one thing - most people will try to look out for options around them and if they do find a decent toilet, I have no doubt in my mind that they will prefer to be use it instead of wetting the wall of a park.

And those who do go the extra mile are indeed the leaders; they inspire. People want them to come forward and when they do, vote for them whole-heartedly. For people in general, a leader is not as good as they are, he ought to be better. At least that’s what they have tried to convey in this Delhi elections by voting en masse for AAP.

The role of a responsible government therefore is to not only govern honestly but also proactively create such systems which facilitate people to be honest, if they want to. Once it sets those systems in place, it also earns far more credibility and authority to be stern with the flouters.

While I am not exonerating the aam aadmi (no pun intended) from being dishonest, the responsibility to break this vicious cycle of corruption lies with the politicians. They have to lead the way; they have to be far more honest, pragmatic and visionary. They must set the precedence of high standards of conduct for the people to emulate rather than hiding behind the excuse – a leader is as good as the people.

Apple Inc. is famous for coming up with products before people even feel their need. Though its hard to copy Apple, our leaders should also aspire for something similar, ‘give people the kind of governance before they even feel its need’ rather than falling down to such an abyss that people start wondering why they gave him their vote in the first place or even worse, revolt.

And when people revolt, they come up with the defense, “hey! You are the one who chose me. I am as good as you.”
“Nope. That’s not why we chose you.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When AAP made History...

This day - 4th December - will go down in the history of Indian Democracy.

Witnessing how an year old party could unfurl the latent desire for change among Delhiites, compelling them to vote in swathes was a sheer delight. It's historic irrespective of the fact whether Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) 'sweeps' these elections or not. That, in any case, we'll come to know on 8th Dec.

I can recall what Ravish Kumar, of NDTV India, said few days back when he was covering one of the rallies of Arvind Kejriwal, "इतिहास बना देने और इतिहास बन जाने में सिर्फ एक मात्रा का फर्क होता है।" (there is a difference of only one syllable in creating history and becoming history)

Kejriwal did both; he created history and in the process, made this day historical. Never before Delhi had voted so hysterically as they did today; voting went on till as late as 9:30-10 PM. Never before youngsters participated so enthusiastically in a banal event like assembly elections; it appeared more like a Delhi University's Youth Nexus this time. Never before the posh and hence aloof islands, in an otherwise middle-class sea of Delhi, participated in this mainstream democratic ritual putting aside their ego and cynicism.

Glad I was, I updated 4-5 election related statuses on Facebook which got me 60-70 'likes' and the day went by in this merriment. But deep down inside I knew, it was just an attempt to fill a gaping void, a cover-up to a yearning which has been there in my heart for almost an year now but irked me the most today.

Or probably it was a safety-valve to the steam of frustration in my mind of being a mere SPECTATOR from being one of the founding-volunteers of a movement which subsequently wrote today's history. Of course, I did contribute with some ink (quite literally!) in writing this epic by casting my vote this morning, but there was so much more I wanted to do.

"Why wasn't I among those 'maverick-Davids' who took on, not just one but two, 'mighty-Goliaths' with effectively nil financial muscle, banking almost entirely on their agenda, refreshing ideas, strategy and celestial self-belief!"

It's ironic that a career choice - Journalism - which I largely owe to my involvement as a volunteer in the IAC or India Against Corruption Movement (which is the progenitor of AAP) would de-facto prohibit me from participating more actively in this battle.

Afterall, a journo is expected to maintain his objectivity which one may jeopardize, at least seemingly, with closeness to any one political party. And for a journo, losing objectivity is as good (or bad) as corruption.
A 'Catch 22' situation for me indeed.

Though awe-inspiring and unprecedented, what AAP fought today was only a battle; war is yet to be fought and won. Let's see how the things unfold in the future and where I find myself at that time - in the stands or in the field, kicking a**! Amen.