Narrative on volunteering experience
To ensure BJP supporters read this whole article, upfront i would like to say that its wrong to brush NaMo as not having done anything for people of Gujarat, he might have definitely done some good work. But same time don't stop his critics such as AAP etc. to highlight the gaps. It is positive criticism that helps, not to silence critics.
Why East Delhi
This was my second time field volunteering for AAP. The difference was that last time it was Delhi State elections and this time it was Central- Lok Sabha elections. Given that this was one year old party i knew it would have Minimal resources from volunteers and money to contest across the entire country, but it's indomitable will to change the landscape of politics would remain underestimated. On reaching Delhi, this was visible,volunteers and party cadre was scattered across the country, those were in Delhi last time were now involved in building party presence in their home states.
I decided to volunteer for Rajmohan Gandhi who was candidate from East Delhi, instead of working with central team. Why him- in 2002, I was 19, when my College Principal in Goa forced me to attend Youth Conference at Initiatives of Change in Panchgani. My Principal was Catholic and back that time this organization was called Moral Re-Armament, so I thought it was some Evangelist set up to do conversion. My fees were sponsored, as I mentioned to her that I did not have money to pay for fees. It was in this youth conference I realized how as young man I was hypocritical with my values, on one-side angry with corruption in country but on other side I used to never return my college fees to parents that were refunded on merit. I had quietly opened an account in cooperative bank and hid my college fees that was refunded every semester.
In my first conference, there was a debate on Godhra riots, each group had 2 speakers one for and one against. I volunteered to speak to justify the post Godhra carnage as mechanism of retaliation, a "response". I did not realize the venom my inflammatory speech had, giving examples across world and justifying responses as critical to bring order in chaos to ensure precedent is set. The constant applause by the young audience motivated me further and I went on verbal rampage. It is very easy to spread hatred and justify it with selective incidents. Discipline at this conference is at its highest level but That night my roommate who was a volunteer did not reach the room, I was waiting to be patronized by him for the applause given. When he returned he said that volunteers were very disturbed that such inflammatory speech was given at such place. He did not say any word and wished me good night and went to sleep. From that night it took me around 2 years to realize that I was being conditioned to retaliate, to believe that Ram Mandir is more Important than the living standards of the people living in Ayodhya who don't have basic amenities. I started to question everything, i started questioning every thought that was in my mind trying to find whether it was my own independent thought. It was in this youth conference, I saw life changing experiences, two brothers who never spoke with each other for several years for Ego come together, Two individuals who hated each others religion hug each other and ask for forgiveness, young people who inherited family businesses promising to run them ethically, students sharing how they copied in exams and broke their parents trust to larger issues. It was here, while meeting social workers, IAS officers, Army Generals, Politicians it beckoned these fundamental moral issues even reside in the highest of offices whether corporate or government and families.
It was this habit of introspection and listening to ones inner voice that allowed many of us to progress in social and corporate world. It is for this contribution of Rajmohanji that I decided to volunteer for his campaign, a person of his stature, knowledge and capability as statesmen deserves to be in Parliament.
On reaching East Delhi office, with one week to go, I found that most of the volunteers were completely burnt out and exhausted. Unlike last time to be based in office, I decided to be a foot soldier to campaign. Rajmohan might come across on wiki as person in his 70s, academic and professor type, but he is voracious in his campaign. He would walk for long hours, as his pursuit was to visit every place In his constituency. Given that he had contested in 1989 against Rajiv Gandhi In Amethi, he definitely had an edge to handle hostile opposition as well as perseverance.
But I must say, that compared to Delhi state elections, those candidates were micro managers of everything and very aggressive on planning their schedule and ensuring each activity is completed and improved. perhaps that was not the working style of Rajmohan as he had phenomenal trust and belief in the capability of the key people who were the campaign manager, volunteer engagement lead, financial lead,etc.
I don't want to get into details of this entire campaign, the strategy etc. after seeing others attempting similar Initiatives In Delhi. So will share an overall perspective.
Rather than being based out of head office, this campaign took me to a different India that made me realize that Urban India is very large country in itself, each area having its complex web of issues, if you try to solve one issue, it has impact on others. The majority, that is lower middle class and middle class lives in endless society buildings where each building is attached to other, with narrow roads, crumbling infrastructure, poor healthcare and govt schools, a system that separates the rich and poor right from the beginning and continues to ensure the gap widens. The voices of how these people live in such places is horrific, todays couch potato generation should try walking on these roads, which is a stream of sewage, garbage along with Kirana shops, open toilets, poultry shops, barbers, temples, mosques. everything is there in these narrow lanes, and many readers would have assumed that these are all illegal. They are illegal, because it is convenient to assume this and watch the news on British Royal couples visit to Australia. But sadly many of these places are legal residences and the system benefits by keeping the same conditions as people are ready to pay bribes to get their things done, it is the cash cow.
The Kashmiri Pundits and Sikhs living in these societies and Muslims living in the Ghettos, are both vote banks for traditional parties whom they have been voting for last 3 decades but nothing has changed for them, they are still scrambling for basic things, very basic indeed, memories of these visits send shivers down my spine. People have to realize that there is no pill that will make you wakeup saying its developed country, there is no one person who can solve all these issues, its not Golf competition its a team work, perhaps it might take a generation of 1% population working towards making it a developed country, not just in GDP but making life livable for these people so they dont have to migrate in first place. Current set up makes everyone pass the buck, when was the last time you heard that elected MP, elected MLA, elected Councillor, lets assume all 3 from same party work for the area relentlessly as much as you work in your organization to service your client.
The problems are vast like an ocean which requires to be boiled to make change. Whereas the current govt machinery and system is like a candle.Delhi just like all other cities has 2 parts to it- the facade of development and other side which is inhuman living conditions.
While campaigning, Rajmohan frequently asked what was their local problems, how is school, where do you go for hospital etc. one of the citizens was very vocal and asked him to solve their local issues. The answer given by Rajmohan made me realize that for all these years campaign for Lok Sabha has been such fake one. He explained him in very simple manner the role difference between MP. MLA, Municipal, and how he has to work along with them to solve each problem and how it was responsibility of the voter to ensure that AAP forms government in Delhi State and MCD. Unlike giving the typical false hopes and promises, here he was trying to educate the realities of the system above all he ended it explaining him how he will address each one of his problems, It was great learning to see such grass root campaigning.
There were few instances of decency between party supporters of BJP & Congi whom we met. the elderly were much decent compared to the young when it came to interactions. In one of the parks while campaigning, there was this group of young boys playing cricket wearing Modi Tshirts, few of them did come and wished willingly Rajmohan, Immediately the Modi chant started, Rajmohan just waved at them and smiled. The T Shirt I must say was hi-resolution just like the billboards in the metros and entire Delhi.
In another park we had a group of men who would chant each time they passed us while we campaigned, In the same park as we were reaching parking area, a senior local MLA candidate of BJP who had contested in 2009 came and wished Rajmohan, he told him that his children had heard him speak in the society and were having great admiration. I wished today's generation saw this discussion, the sabhyata, the respect to have a conversation inspite of being from 2 different parties, compared to those who just want to chant instead of true political discussion on actual issues.
On the day of polling, our team was visiting to see if all polling booths are having any issues etc. At one such booth we met Rajmohan, as he got down from the car, a group of BJP senior party-workers came and wished him. One of them was very vocal and upset that one of the partyworker from BJP has joined AAP and has very poor ethical credibility. As he was taking the details, the same man started becoming more vocal about other issues. I slowly went between this group, to ensure we can handle the situation, Rajmohan put his hand on this man's shoulder and told him who ever wins either your group or ours, the winner is representative of this constituency he has to work with those who voted and did not, but he is a representative of this "samaj". The temper of this man just evaporated.
There is a different Delhi that lives in different pockets of Delhi, some near to large flyovers of Delhi and many of them as we go away from Central Delhi. In high speed driving of Delhi, many of us dont see these areas, or just lookaway. ,It is in these areas that AAP volunteers are welcomed with lot of love, joy and admiration, many telling Rajmohan that in 49 days of government they never had to pay bribe for any of their work from getting ration, birth/ death certificate, hafta by police, minimal basic free drinking water for them, cheaper electricity. One man thanked me for volunteering saying because of AAP government he did not have to pay 30k bribe. But for the media this part of grass root transformation will be brushed aside as 49 days of circus, the whole objectivity moves to the method rather than the substance.
Like always the engine of AAP runs on volunteers, who campaign hard. One such group I met on polling day, they were volunteering near polling booth, the heat was on, they were there since 4am, no food and water. on inquiring with volunteer Incharge he said it's coming, this same "aa raaha hai" syndrome in India, after 30 mins I intervened to get them water and breakfast. One has to remember that each such activity needs money, with a small budget it's only committed volunteers who work in hot sun on empty stomach because they believe In this cause, they are tired of the same song sung every election time.
There was another IofC friend, Vipul who had returned from Harvard last year and was volunteering as well. In one of the door to door campaign, Vipul was giving flyers and telling them about Rajmohan. In few mins, we saw him picked by police, this young thin boy was sitting between two oversized cops on bike. The bike was immediately stopped by our senior volunteer, and who asked them on what charges was he being arrested? They said he did not have permission to campaign. We asked him what permission is required for less than 5 volunteers to do distribute flyers door to door.
Imagine if we had not seen the cops taking him, where would we trace him, which police station would he have been taken to?
Senior volunteer asked the cop, what areas he is aware that we have permission to campaign for today, he checked a scribbled paper. The cop kept looking in the paper, senior volunteer asked him "Does this place where we are, show up in that list". The cops was unsure what to respond and then left. This senior volunteer is successful businessman in the Lutyens, I don't know whether the cop would have reacted in same way if it was young college volunteer. In 2011 during IAC days, met a person in Mumbai who was contemplating to get constable job by paying 18 lakh bribe, wonder will such person react differently to AAP volunteer who represents fighting grass root corruption.
Dark Side of Politics
This time experience was very dark in a way. last time the political adversary was Congi, and such direct conflict with BJP cadre was nominal as our entire campaign was Anti-Congress and frankly there was very little motivation in Congi camp, add to that the NaMo marketing contract was not yet awarded so its campaign had not yet fully peaked so whatever problems volunteers faced was largely from the system.
I would like to highlight 2 provocative experiences out of many. On the last day of campaigning, two of us were campaigning near Laxmi Nagar station. Two young men working at NIC stopped by, they start saying "we are not supporting any party but country".They start regular FAQs on Minority appeasement, Kashmir Referendum, There is this usual question bank NaMO supporters have, even if they have answered before, they will be asked. As I begin to answer these questions, 2 other young people joined. One of them was victim of Muslim aggression in UP, he started sharing his experiences of Muslim aggression in his village, mentioning that how 20% Hindus cannot live in Muslim dominant area, but vice versa is possible. Sharing graphic experiences of riots, He then caught my wrist which had Hindu holy threads and started saying 'you are Hindu why are you supporting AAP'. this verbal onslaught continues for 15 mins, in-spite of my attempts to respond to each one of them. now topic switch at rapid pace from why India map on AAP website has misrepresented Kashmir(it was taken from wiki),Prashant Bhushan's individual comment on Kashmir, etc. still no chance to respond, like anywhere in India, more people started joining this alteration. Meanwhile I interrupted and said that after he finishes i would be allowed to speak. Then this discussion becomes very heated, as I am still waiting for my chance to speak. Few Autowalas stop their autos, and enter the group. It is then the NAMO chanting begins and group leaves. The initial two young people are still standing there one of them adds me to his whatsapp group. more about this whatsapp later. I realized that I broke my own role of 1 minute 1 vote, by wasting crucial time in the last day of campaigning. In such situations an AAP volunteer has to remain calm and ensure that there is another volunteer aware of the situation, above all one might get 30 seconds to speak few words, so choose carefully as a wrong word, will make you be judged as Pseudo Secular, Anti Hindu, Blind Supporter of AAP, and yeah ANTI NATIONAL !
Like every supporter of any party, there is question bank we carry in our minds. Following are the ones I used, that worked effectively.
- In 34 years of BJP, where it was power in center or state, how many politicians or IAS officers it has ensured that got conviction on charges of corruption, and how many of them were from Congi, is that your commitment to Cong mukth bharat.
- Assume there is NAMO wave, why in its history it has given for the first time highest amount of criminal background candidates ticket for Election. East Delhi had the top performer of BJP with Mahesh Girri with 4 criminal charges in his declared affidavit.
- Why party with difference is not ready to declare to public its donation given in sum of 20k and below.
- If there is no linkage, what is Vice President of Reliance (son of Gujarati soil) doing in Rajya Sabha from BJP base in Jharkhand
- Why did NaMo write to PM asking for rise in gas pricing for Reliance and not worry about the differential pricing that ONGC had for several years, why heart bleeds only for 1 private company and not even state run GSPC.
On the same day Vipul and me were going back by metro, like always we were wearing AAP topis. One elderly man approaches in the train and standing next to us, starts provocation again, this time screaming loudly-'BJP bhrasht hai'- mocking how AAP supporters say. He then starts spitting on his hand and just going berserk. Meanwhile i am waiting for my turn to speak. i tried to calm him down to have discussion but nothing helped, other passengers said dont pay attention, If i had looked away, it would mean i did not face his point, so i waited for my turn and that never came.
i understand that extreme supporters are there in every party, even AK had to visit the person who had slapped him to apologize for the beating he received from AAP volunteers. I recollect that 10 years ago, even i would brush aside these incidents of violence saying its small in number and one of cases, you cannot control. But now having understood the implications of hate,i wonder....
I wonder about that NaMO supporter who as victim of Muslim aggression in his village is getting used by the same framework, there is no healing given to his wounds, he carries that hatred, infact it is fueled more within this current setup. And his actions will be brushed aside as one of incidents. This framework has different intensities-on one side Ram Sena, Bajrang Dal, VHP on other side of wavelength is RSS, BJP, each one having its own agenda and methods. but whether physical or mental violence by anyone, it is always brushed aside as one of instance, a response. Nobody cares to heal hate, as everyone benefits from it, as in Mein Kempf, its all about identifying common enemy to unite people. Yesterday it was a Temple tomorrow it could be Chinese Threat !
I wonder when all political parties come on one platform before this hatred being fueled takes lives of each other. Whose responsibility is it to heal this hate we have for each other, the politicians, the media, the college, the parents, society, NGO, whose ?
In 2006, I took transfer from Chennai to Bangalore. In weekend medical camps we were conducting 2 kms from MG road, Bangalore, the epitome of Development, there is a school compound in Jogpalya. 3 schools in one compound- Kannada Medium, Tamil Medium, Urdu medium. It was lunch time I saw that students from Kannada and Tamil medium got food from ISKCON temple, but Urdu medium school had different mid day meal of watery rasam and Rice. So I inquired with Principal, she told me that ISKCON informed her that they cannot delivery food to them since Friday is holiday for Urdu Medium school and food for that day will go waste. I found this completely absurd. On closer look, my friend Ashwini showed that roof is broken, we see the compound wall behind this school is demolished by illegal construction next door, They are now putting the construction material inside this compound, there is darkness in these classrooms. I convinced Ashwini so we meet the local MLA since I was BJP supporter back then, saying such discrimination for this school was wrong and we should make the system fix this issue. The local MLA S. Raghu kept dodging us, we wrote a letter, tried to hunt him down, on knowing the issue, he conveniently escaped from another gate of his house, and do note that this MLA's house is walking distance from the same school. Finally few of our B School alumni adopted this school to do the entire reconstruction and then Rotary pitched in as well.