Monday, April 28, 2014

Politics 2014-“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will"

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.

Campaign Trail

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 whether the media realizes that its format of TV Panel talk shows, is now entering the Youth psyche where each one is trying to cut each other to make a point, nobody wants to listen to consider the other persons point. I met senior journalist who at heart is a NaMo Supporter, who was trying to criticize on twitter the smear campaign launched by BJP advocate Madhu Kiswar on Rajmohan Gandhi s running a CIA training base at Panchgani. I asked him what he thinks of todays twitter judges, he said something interesting, even if he posts anything that is remotely an independently wrong thing done, even though he is NaMo Supporter, today's twitter mafia posts "at what price did you sell yourself".  His family did tell him to close the twitter account as it was too much of mental violence, he said something very profound. Social networks give a sense of anonymity, but bring the true picture of India, what it is thinking. The person sitting next to you in metro, might have a different identity as soon as he is anonymous on twitter, you get a pulse of todays thought pattern. Question in my mind is, will there be any tolerance for second opinion, do i have to give a patriotism test each time before criticizing someones or party s failures.

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.


 Mind it, 2 kms away from MG road, imagine the endless schools, where at formative age one experiences either racial or religious discrimination. There is dangerous seed planting of dislike for each others religion from all traditional political parties or to just look away when physical or mental violence occurs.  this dislike to other religion becomes visible when like minded people interact and they share instances of hatred, none take initiative to resolve them.


What makes me fear the most is the usage of social media, specially whatsapp which is being used for misleading agenda that is under the carpet.The NaMo supporter who added me to whatsapp group, allowed me to see the conditioning of hate that happens under the radar. It is appalling to see how content that on face value is considered credible is shared, from interviews of ex-raw officer, conspiracy theories of CIA funding AAP, telephone calls between political opponents, Muslim aggression stories to pictures of women raped and burnt in riots. In Aug 2012, before bulk sms got banned in India,, Bangalore was flooded with SMS rumour that North Eastern people have to vacate Bangalore as Muslims would be taking revenge for the riots that took place in Assam. The state establishment was not prepared for such type of panic, entire North East population rushed to stations and airport to escape racial hunt down. It is assumed that forwarding of inflammatory content is left to the audience.

Political parties with its cash reserves are slowly acquiring TV media channels which unlike print was away from its reach. Today whether its News9x owned by relative of Congi leader Vinod Sharma, Oswal Green Tech firm owned by Father in law of Naveen Jindal's which has 14% stake in NDTV, Keyur Patel of Fuse Media's stake in India TV, Reliance known stake in Network 18 and ETV. To understand implications, lets take the example of website or, self announced news agency is used by several NaMo supporters to share as credible news right from the most wanted Maoist joining AAP to indepth research on Ford Foundation funding  AAP etc,  There is no validation of news done, but judgement passed about Anti National etc. Without knowing the fact the company owning these platforms are companies such as Greynium Technologies whose directors are part of the social media team of BJP. (BG Mahesh, Rajesh Jain)  Amidst all these media stake all of them are bombarding us with so called news, discussions are now on what people say and react to each other than actual news reporting of people. In such a world, how will news of small political parties or even voice of local people get utterance, where will independent thinking reside. After a humongous turnout for Yogendra Yadav's rally, newspaper run headline story that Black flags waving !

Each provocation we experienced in Delhi had its own context, is it this reason why good people shy away from entering politics? its venom, its distaste, the constant judgmental society, that ridicules,that keeps calling you names for any good work one attempts to do. The day pepper spray incident happened in Lok Sabha, how many news channel showed what BJP and Congi did in Delhi Vidhan Sabha when AAP stood up to table 2 laws that it was born for. That weekend AAP had only 2 options to live with tag of Satha ka bhogi (Power Hungry) or Bhagoda (Coward who ran away from battle). If it chose the first one, it would have hurt its core supporters who voted for it. to bring these 2 laws for transparency a well orchestrated media campaign could have broken the trust that it is just another party hungry for power. But it showed it stood for its principles it came to inception. Unfortunately todays world has so much hammering of content that an independent thought is extremely difficult, I do agree the method to resign power could have been better handled. As supporter and investor in AAP it would mean compromising on the principles if it continued to be in power.

This election, as erstwhile supporter of BJP I have seen it breaking every moral value it stood for, though legally they are ok, but its a workaround, similar to how one petrochemical corporate has been successful in India, thriving on grey area of legality and ethics. 

On the day of voting, live telecast of speeches taking place in other constituencies, 2-3 pages of advertisement on the day of voting in every newspaper, free food & drinks (after calling ECI, they did cease this) humongous hoardings kept across the entire city inspite of moral code not to campaign,. The money spent, has set a precedent, which will make ordinary individuals difficult to contest, without corporate or black money support, this money comes with its own conditions. This marketing blitz that has been outsourced has never been seen before. this makes my belief in AAP more stronger, as its core is that it encourages voters turn into volunteers who bring in their own money and raise for candidate who is ready to fight crony capitalism, communalism and rampant corruption.  A political party that takes financial help from corporates, lobbies  to pay for its volunteers will find it impossible to walk away without doing favors for them, it becomes the system it wanted to fight.  NaMo then just becomes packaging change for the same system in different colors.

My biggest failure was not be able to help in campaigning in my home state Goa, as the dates for Voting in Goa was preponed and I reached just the night before.  While I walked to polling booth in Goa to cast my vote, wearing plain white Topi with no party symbol, saw Goa CM walk past by amidst journalists. His entourage some of whom are family friends were shocked to see us wearing the white topis, we had gone to cast vote for a candidate who will represent us in Lok Sabha, who is non-corrupt, takes our issues and works relentlessly for the people of Goa. While casting vote, we were troubled like in Delhi for wearing white topis by ECI officials. on telling that there is ECI notification that plain white topis are allowed, we casted our vote. On the EVM below AAP was party named Rashtriya Samajwadi Party its symbol a torch with rays coming out- similar to AAP s symbol. ECI gave them permission for Torch, but when it got printed in EVM machine, conveniently rays coming outside the torch were added. As I walked out of polling booth saw CM still interacting with media, made me wonder that wearing plain white topi is an issue but front page advertisement of NaMo with Goa CM  and personal request to vote by 2 BJP candidates in Goa dailies on Polling Day is not an issue. 

Its been 2 years since BJP is in power in Goa, a decade of corruption done by Congress, still everyone walking scotfree with their plush imported cars as we wonder what will change. In Goa, I met one of B-School batchmates a loyal BJP supporter, he gave an interesting perspective. He said belief of God is as strong as the belief of devotees in it and same applies to its political parties and its volunteers. He said that he was karsevak he who would spend nights in temples, ringing bells to express the devotion to build a Ram Temple, even during Ataljis s visit to Goa, he was among the few volunteers who worked in the rain to ensure all logistics was set up. Today he said Goa has IIT CM who has core values of nation building and for 2 years he has not been able to stop the package offering of drug, gambling and flesh trade. Situation in Goa is such that if any newspaper national or state level reports about this cheap tourism, we locals just brush aside as negative publicity. people are not ready to accept this grim reality. Its human instinct. And cause  of Ram Temple, my friend stood for is now on the last page of BJP manifesto. For many in Goa, they supported BJP because it was the only option against the corrupt and nepotism Congress, now AAP is the hope, for its core values and candidates it has given tickets. 

  What we must wait to see is if BJP took 5 years to move from 2 seats in Lok Sabha to 84, amidst Bofor Scam controversy, How AAP scales up at national level. More than BJP and Congress, AAP is a threat to the regional parties, who have started their own shops of money making offering solace from voters who dont believe in BJP or Congi. If AAP gets 11 seats from 3 different states OR gets 6% of votes in four States and in addition it wins 4 Lok Sabha seats, it will be national party-a title to accomplish in shortest time. This election will help AAP to build its party base across the nation to bring the decentralization laws in the next 5 to 10 years.

Those who hate AAP, will start benefiting when other parties start implementing their practices such as transparent funding, online donations, tickets to anti-corruption crusaders,, volunteers who work for free. When AAP govt will share its weekly status reports submitted by its MLAs on governance metrics, it will disrupt the model of accountability that is practiced every 5 years only in the form of voting. it will make the same haters wonder why the political parties they supported never implemented this. It is only when they try bringing these changes in the parties they support, they would realise traditional political parties have become the system.

After all, like any other election, this one is also about selecting Member of parliament, but the successful perception management has created an entire urban swing that believes in PM candidate whose "Vikas pill" will make India developed country, "why dont you give him a chance", but sir this election is about choosing the right representative, isnt it a representative elections and not presidential election. Let us assume for one minute, NaMo is greatest administrator in mankind, but the hardliners who are victims of furnace of hate might take his victory as victory of their ideology. Even a greatest administrator will take 24 hours to respond to riots that takes place in Dhanbad or  Hubli, and like always in these riots only the poor who think of religion on a full stomach will perish, which is collateral damage for politics.

Back in Chicago, while driving to office in jet lag state, I looked at the sunrise on Michigan river and the scenic drive along the lake and wondered on the depth of the word "Time-Zone".

India is indeed in a different time zone, the crab mindset of pulling each other by constantly looking at faults is entering youth mind-space at unprecedented manner, making this generation insensitive. Everyone is fueling it from all political parties, media, society, families, soap operas etc. Question remains whose responsibility it is to bring people of different opinions together, so that they can respect each other. 

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will"

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Aam Aadmi Party- "Nothing can stop an Idea whose Time has come"

Narrative on volunteering experience
Love at First Sight:
My connect with IAC was during the coincidental presence at Ram Leela Maidan when Anna Hazare broke his fast on assurance of Indian Parliament’s resolution to pass Jan Lokpal. I  was deeply touched with euphoria of being there and witnessing it. Back in corporate race, months passed and I was back in Chicago realizing that all that was played in Parliament right from tearing the bill in the floor of the house, was just a wakeup call to our generation that we need to fix our house in order. Though I quietly followed the Aam Aadmi Party movement online, I saw on facebook the first meeting in Chicago in February 2013. We met at Chaitra’s apartment, I was amazed to listen to several volunteers who came to see how they participated in the same IAC movement inspite of being in Chicago. Chaitra is a working mother of 2 kids, inspite of doing 2 jobs as mother and employee for corporate she was volunteer who anchored Chicago Chapter.

 We were given the focus set out for the NRI population in fundraising and creating support in India as top 2 priorities. As group we decided to host the first NRI Convention of AAP in Chicago in May 2013. With just handful of volunteers we decided to pursue this as it would mark AAP go on international scale to get volunteers across the group. In pursuit of this Conference our team understood each other better and built our understanding of the values this party stood for. As build up we had several personal interactions with leaders such as Prof. Anand Kumar whose own personal struggle as student during Emergency and being one of the JPs selected disciples had to face wrath of then PM’s office. 

Over 200 NRIs across USA travelled for it. Prof Yogendra Yadav and Dr. Kumar Vishwas were in person and Arvind Kejriwal was on the Video Conference.

 This was followed by volunteer workshop who signed up during the Convention. The momentum of volunteerism went to a new high over dinner as soon as we announced that we had made a loss of $2700 as paid out of pocket by few Chicago volunteers, and 27 NRIs stood up to share the burden by paying $100 each.  One of the participants Rashmi from Dallas, was requested by Chicago team as host on the podium, Raghava from Houston was managing a booth on awareness of NRI voting rights. The shy Rashmi gracefully conducted her first ever stage session and months later she sent an email to all saying she has decided to quit her job and move to Delhi to help the party. Raghava also quit his job and moved to Delhi to help in the last 6 months of struggle. Everytime we rejected donation from Indians (PIOs) who had US Passport, they would feel very helpless and tell us that this is first time they came across a political party that did not accept money from them. They would then choose to volunteer by inspiring Indians with Indian Passport to join AAP and sign for up donation program.

This Convention snowballed the whole NRI movement into a different orbit, where several city chapters were founded and each identified areas of focus to help build the party. The beauty of this momentum, was that inspite of any handholding of senior leader, ordinary people came together and built their own way of contribution thru skills and competency mapping.

Volunteers such as Srikanth took the idea of Reverse BPO-where NRIs or PIOs living abroad who have access to cheap ISD phone would make calls to India to pitch new voters and mobilize existing volunteers. With help of few critical hands-a website was built, phone numbers were collected by ground volunteers in Delhi and calls started flowing. Since we did not collect any money from PIOs they could contribute through phone programs.  Volunteers then came up with ideas of adopting a constituency for fund raising and campaign management. Chicago chapter adopted Delhi Cantonment our candidate was Capt Surinder who had fought in 26/11 operation as NSG Commando now taking on the corrupt system and contesting against 3 time winner. We channelized our fund raising for this Constituency and one of our volunteers Sujatha conducted regular Sunday Skype calls to help in the campaign management-right from arranging computers to focused call in program. Akshay who was pursuing his PhD came up with idea to walk from Washington to New York, he was joined with Madhu and Jayesh in awareness movement named Swarajyatra in 17 days they walked 200 miles, each day meeting and staying with Indian diaspora. 

Across several countries, volunteers wore the Topis and did awareness campaigns at every Indian event, festivals to bring in more volunteers.

Its painful many times to hear judgmental statements, that AAP is funded by Khaas Aadmis abroad. Many don’t know the struggles even we take to provide this money. I have seen volunteers doing small to big sacrifices to save money and donate. Whether it’s a working people choosing to walk in bitter cold to save that $15 cab ride every day to cancelling vacation trips to India.  Majority of Indians who come here for work have still an ongoing regular struggle of liabilities and mortgage in India or US (agreed no inflation).  Sukanya, one of our volunteers from Chicago took over the baton of being Chicago Chapter SPOC, and she rallied volunteers, with specific goals and our scale of contribution moved to different level. Kakoli led our Telephone program with Chicago and was assisted with Upendra, leading by example they used to spend long hours calling people and volunteers in India and mobilizing them further. On the last day of campaign (late night US time), Kakoli’s house was virtual call center and she would ensure every volunteer has coffee and food.

Call to Nation
After committing and donating my savings to Aam Aadmi Party, I moved my free time every night to do calling programs. Every call I did I could feel the ground reality and pain of Delhi, and how they are craving for change. I was grappling in my mind on whether to travel to Delhi or save that money to donate to the party. Suddenly I saw Aam Aadmi Party being attacked from multiple flanks to deflect the core issue to speculation and falsehood stories around it being B Team of 2 national parties, fund raising by American Funds, appeasement of Minorities etc. I realized that best way to channelize my disgust to this muck campaign was to put all my talent and skills to the field in Delhi. I boarded the Air India flight from Chicago with AAM AADMI Topi and was amazed to see the response at Chicago & Delhi airport.

                                                           GROUND ZERO           
Day zero I reached AAP Connaught Place office and signed up volunteer form. This two floor office was same office that was donated by  Harjeet Singh (supporter) for rent for Rs 1 per month. In media, it was reported this was sprawling “swanky” bungalow with lot of amenities, reality was different thing all together.
I was then assigned to Buzz team which was being led by Prithvi and Shalini. That day the meeting had 5 people. Problem statement given was that we had to capture the hearts and minds of voters who thought their vote will be wasted as AAP might not make huge impact, we had to create a wave of AAP where the wind blows with feelings of victory.

After chaotic brainstorming we finalized  2 themes to choose Ek mauka aap ko vs Es Baar chalegi jhaadu which would direct the future course. The samples once printed it was decided unanimously that its going to be is IS Baar Chalegi Jhaadu. Now the constraints for this program was clearly stated a) we cannot mention anywhere candidate name as the money was borne by party and not candidate b) we need to follow every rule set by ECI. c) Cannot disturb the candidates or their set of volunteers as they were assigned specific tasks.

At CP office I was amazed to see the commitment of extremely talented people who have come across the world. One Team was the Legal team-battery of lawyers with helpline to oversee compliance of all activities from ECI point of view and who would help volunteers beaten by police. Booth Management Team that would scramble every day to make candidates take booth management activities on their priority list. Online team that would manage multiple channels of social media, website etc, many of these people quit their fancy jobs in the plush IT companies to work crazy hours. Volunteer registration team that worked non-stop in mapping new volunteers to new activities. There was one family who managed the entire food for all volunteers, both wife and husband worked selflessly making tea, lunches, dinners etc everyday with same amount of joy and love. Inspite of regularly telling them to keep some food for themselves, they would smile and say that volunteers need this more than us as they have to go out and work. Play4Change was motivated group of volunteers that traveled across Delhi with its music and songs that would inspire people to come out to vote in big numbers.

                                                      AAP BUZZ Campaign
AAP BUZZ Campaign started to get momentum each hour. Idea to storm Delhi was executed through 47 locations and by 10 feeder metro stations. We decided to have a small crew in CP office and every other feet in the field. New campaign inventory started flowing and we operationalized our work in 6 key teams.
a)      Staffing Registered Volunteers who were assigned to Buzz and training them about campaign
b)      Inventory Management and Refilling locations
c)      BUZZ Traffic Controller-oversee all 47 locations and prioritize volunteers and inventory refills
d)      Helpline- Manage all new volunteers who want to join this campaign
e)      47 Area Coordinators- who would build smaller teams and do campaign
f)       Training Volunteers- briefing them on all ECI norms, giving them do’s and don’t’s, legal helpline numbers, ECI permission letters to distribute Topis etc.

As its said nothing can stop an Idea whose time has come.  Volunteers seamlessly got staffed into these teams, we never got time to know each other qualifications, call to fame etc. It was just non-stop work followed by late night conference calls. Many volunteers were new to this concept of Conference calls, so when kept on long holds-it did not stop the meeting, the show was still on.  The spirit of volunteerism was inspiring each day in run to up elections. One volunteer Bhushan was stopped by Police for giving topis, police first tore the letter, start beating him and then arrested him. Another volunteer called our legal helpline and in few hours we were able to bring him back. As he got down from the car, his face pale and as he was escorted inside our office, volunteers looked on.  Such moments only strengthen the conviction of volunteers, volunteers decided to walk more, speak more, sing louder, sleep less and campaign harder.

 BUZZ campaign was overnight hit, volunteers in huge numbers got connected and we would have to order Topis and Flyers every night. The 5pm deadline was approaching so in the last push, volunteers that day worked crazy covering great distances on foot, forgetting about the breakfast and lunches that day as each minute was crucial to the party.  At 2 pm, we had realized that we have no inventory left, everything was in the field, and we started getting calls for refills. Our message was simple “Now you are Arvind, we don’t have any refills”, helpless we vacated the office to campaign ourselves.

In the evening, Yogendra Yadav predicted how the voting day will unfold, right from all Media polls will be proven wrong to how the entire political fraternity will not be able to comprehend what happened, all because of the spirit of honesty and intention of this party and hardwork of volunteers who worked not for money but for country.

As the night approached, AAP watchdog teams were deployed in areas where free alcohol and cash are distributed by political parties. They installed 2000 spy cameras and connected them to internet, teams across the globe volunteered and were assigned cameras to keep a vigil.  Delhi ECI seized 26.68 crore cash and 42,000 litres of liquor that was being distributed by political parties to woo voters.

                                                         Day of Voting
Early morning, I was outside Jorbaugh Polling Booth assisting a team that was helping voters know if their name is on the voter list at that polling station. There were 3 tables- Congress, BJP and AAP at the stipulated distance. Most of the voters came to AAP and BJP tables, there was negligible amount of people who wanted to walk upto Congress. Every third person who came to our table had valid voter card but no name on the list. We instructed each one to go to Polling Booth officer hoping he kept a record of number of such voters who were denied voting rights for not being on the list. Meals arrived for the 2 national parties in fancy tiffin boxes, BJP volunteers decided to move their table under shade and soon Congresss followed, the heat was on. They did forget to remove their garbage, so we cleaned up their garbage as they kept watching. Jorbaugh seemed like very affluent constituency, I asked one veteran voter why the turnout was so poor in such affluent society, she told this was the highest so far. Volunteer next to me told me very politely there is Delhi that cares only about the fruits of the tree and not what happens to the tree or the land.

At 3 pm I decided to move to Chandni Chowk, I wanted to see the other India for whom everyday is struggle.  In the small bylanes of Old Delhi, I could feel the true dance of Democracy, oneside the huge queues of voters and others side battery of seasoned party workers who would have phones plugged in their ears, hands filled with voter list calling out their colleagues to comb out voters who haven’t come out to vote. There were only 2 names here Haathi and Haath. I was amazed at the way they were organized; volunteers of AAP outside these polling booths were like trophies kept in war-room unable to comprehend how to battle out the muscle-men. These seasoned party workers knew the game too well; they had stop-clock on their mobile as before 5pm they had to get everybody in the line. It reminded me of bus conductors in private buses of Goa, who would pull people to board the bus as if it was the last bus for their journey. The heavy police presence right infront of all this just another element of orchestra as they looked on. At 4.59 police got into action and at 5pm they pushed away every voter who wanted to get in the line saying 5pm everything is closed. I wondered what happens to Daily wage worker to whom the holiday doesn’t apply, how would he cast a vote.  

Another experience was elderly BJP party worker threatening AAP Volunteer Madhusudhan outside the polling booth that they would buy every candidate one by one even if they win.  
After closure of the doors of polling booth, it reckoned that I have not had any meal all day. After getting a table at Karim’s outside Jamma Masjid,  shared my table with Belgian student. After conversations around my stay in Leuven, Belgium. He asked me why I was involved in a political party; on hungry stomach  told him that “responsibility is on educated people like us to take on the system” not sure what it was but he kept staring and said “I wish the youth in my country thought the same”.

Days of Anxiety-waiting for results
Days of anxiety- Media flooded the news with Poll Results-some saying AAP will get 4 seats, Media labels such as Vote Katvas, B-Party were back. Volunteers were like soldiers back from battlefield, our physical body was battered, amidst all the fatigue and sleep deprivation stories all of were full of smiles and feeling of content that we did make a difference whatever the result may be.

Next day, we had meeting of all volunteers in BUZZ campaign to know each other as we just worked and never got time to know each other. Most of the volunteers had left Delhi and gone back to their cities  and residents back to their jobs and struggle of life. With swollen feet and feeble voices we met at  South Indian restaurant- we had an entire diaspora-there was 2 management consultants from the Big 5, an organizational change expert, Pilot who also ran training School, Young Agra graduate looking for job who answered helpline, Company Secretary who quit from Oman, young Kashmiri Pundit who took leave from his new job, 87 year old Technocrat who patented File Transfer Protocol,  etc. What amazed me was that this team itself had some Khaas Aadmi who decided to prioritize and share burden of this large movement for no self-benefit, nobody threw any title or credentials while do any kind of work, whether lifting those gunny bags of topis, cleaning the floor, campaigning with strangers, , counting thousands of inventory, or even while getting beaten & threatened by our opponents.

Contribution of NRIs- Article on NYT

Results On Anniversary of Operation Python 1971
On Sunday, atmosphere outside CP office was that of new India, waiting to see history written each minute. As Kumar Vishwas announced each result from the first floor of the building, thousands of supporters danced in frenzy, while the crowds chanted Vande Mataram, he jokingly mentioned though this is heard at every BJP rally, but we are more passionate. Arvind was exhausted recovering from the grueling campaigning in which he defeated Sheila Dixit by 25,864 votes. Yogendra Yadav shared with volunteers how the party was now changing gears for 2014 elections to launch themselves as National Party in selected states and that we must challenge ourselves by silencing our critics by winning in Rural India.  People were singing and dancing in happiness, some of them were asking the same media reporters whether they regretted for putting the media ban on AAP and running campaigns of Vote Katva etc. Another interesting sight was the same police that dragged Arvind on the streets of Delhi on Oct 22 while protesting against corruption in the schemes for Physically Challenged, same police that leashed water cannons on volunteers protesting against shameful rape in Dec 2012 was now providing security outside the CP office.

After all celebration outside the party office and Arvind’s first public address highlighting how common man can defeat the political big wigs if one fights with honesty and intention to serve people, volunteers walked back to respective homes singing Gandhiji’s bhajans.

In spite of both BJP and Congress copy pasting the ideas of AAP during the election campaigns-Rickshaws, Human Billboards, Targeted Social Media, running muck-campaigns of fabricated sting operations,  lies around being funded by Ford Foundation / CIA, fielding independent candidates with similar election symbol as AAP etc. This 1 year old anti-corruption movement was 8 seats short of forming government with complete majority. In few days, the largest party in Delhi, BJP which was running short of forming government by 4 seats and mentioned they did not want to form the government. In staged game of chess, both Congress and BJP said that AAP made tall promises that it couldn't deliver and should have the courage to form a government, followed by spreading rumors that they will support AAP on common program . AAP office was filled with overwhelming response of citizens that AAP should accept the challenge and form government even if it lasted few days, but ensure that it solves the burning issues of people. The Governor of Delhi invited AAP team, saying the largest party has denied to form government, and asked if AAP being second largest wanted to claim to form minority government. AAP wrote letters to both BJP and Congress Presidents mentioning their response on 18 points as per their manifesto, whether  they would support AAP, only Congress responded and gave letter to Governor not AAP that they will support AAP government unconditionally. AAP had fought against the corrupt Congress which was incumbent, given the dilemma it was decided to conduct 290 public meetings (Mohalla Sabhas), Website, SMS and Helpline voting to know from people what to do. Across all mediums of survey, people of Delhi voted in favour of forming Government. 

In B-School Case studies we learn about new companies that change the business model and rules of business. Whether its that changed retailer model in US,  Apple & Samsung that shook market leaders Nokia & Motorolas , Gmail that made large email boxes free.  What AAP did achieve are few things that have never been done in political history before, a) it stopped all forms of donation after it reached Rs. 20 crore mark and put up list of all people who gave money online. b) They induced competition that forced BJP to change its CM candidate to relatively less-corrupt. c) Transparency in candidate selection with google hangouts d) Each constituency having its own manifesto with prioritization of issues and their resolution – this forced even BJP to attempt this in several constituencies.e) Same BJP that used all tricks of the game to form governments in past when short of numbers (Jharkhand, Karnataka, UP, Mumbai BMC, Uttarakhand etc) retracted from its instinct and took a stand not to do horse trading. 

Not just politicians but even the third pillar Media has lost connect with the common man. I always gave importance to News coverage and followed news anchors as they were my messiahs who knew the pulse of India. Sadly the real India is struggling each day and is in commute during the primetime of news channels. Perhaps it’s the minority people like me who have the luxury to watch television and buy newspaper to have opinions. Actual India doesn’t care even if Media runs the stories about AAP without validating their facts.  Common people who are giving their own hard earned money, will keep giving their own money even if every media channel runs Dr Swamy and Digvijay’s fictional stories as perceived facts.  Though critics will even discredit what I am about to share next, I still want to say it. That I did meet several hundreds of Physically Disabled men and women, many of them blind waiting outside Gurudwara Bangla Saheb in Delhi to join Arvind’s yatra. To see their commitment and belief made me wonder, how small my struggle was to be there. The joy in their faces when Arvind walked out of his jeep to hug these people, just made me realize that time has come that common man has lost his fear to ask questions, he is awakened now to clean his house. No news channel will cover this spirit, as their perception of high TRP is difference between Anna & AAP.  Politicians will continue to discredit the effort of common people putting in this struggle being surrounded by sycophants, not realizing that Kejriwal is manifestation of this anti-corruption energy. There are no hidden agenda, but pure selfless cause of volunteers.  

When Arvind Kejriwal fasted to expose corruption in Utility bills@ Sunder Nagri in April, his condition was critical and no news channel was covering it. In desperate efforts I had asked a Senior Editor how many days does an activist need to be on fast to be considered as news item worth reporting versus Bollywood n cricket. With all wisdom he responded that volunteers who chase media let Arvind down, political revolutions are not measured by media channel, but instead do your grounds work and then will media will chase you.

I am too small to give advice to anyone, but one request to all those who keep criticizing AAPs and its style of working- I decided to stop being spectator of political experiment that as per sceptics had no future and decided to contribute by volunteering rather than see it fail or succeed from outside. If AAP doesn’t inspire you, choose any of the political parties and volunteer for them, rather than just passing judgmental verdicts based on media that has political & corporate investments. All political parties need clean people, more the merry. From a passive supporter of BJP in Goa, I couldn’t rationalize my conscience why I had to be part of party that did not banish likes of corrupts Yedurrapa, JMM & Madhu Khoda, Nitin Gadkari and now an out of control hardline volunteers.  In spite of an over whelming mandate given to BJP in Goa,  for first time where even traditional Catholics voted for BJP for its honesty and so far none of the corrupt have been put in jail nor have Lokayukta initiated cases against corruption.

Wearing the Topi at the Delhi Airport, while boarding the flight to Chicago.  Right upto to the time I took my seat –only words that I heard were “Thank you Sir, for the great work, Thank you..” I wish they know there have been thousands of volunteers who have sacrificed a lot, much much more than one can imagine to make Aam Aadmi Party an idea a reality.  Though everyone will celebrate the success of this new party, one has to remember how Jayaprakash Narayan  led movement against corruption in 1977 brought a new Government, that was defeated by enemies within government, by putting individual ego before country. The same Jai Narain who defeated Indira Gandhi then partnered with her son to bring down Moraji Desai’s government in which he was Health Minister, along with support of several other insiders some of whom today are revered as top BJP leaders worked with Indira Gandhi to topple the government. As citizen of India or Person of India origin, we have 2 options either wait and watch another movement self-destruct or join it and ensure it doesn’t lose its principles. 

On 28 December 2013, Arvind Kejriwal rode on Metro to same Ram Leela Maidan where the whole anti-corruption movement started, the same Ram Leela Maidan that witnessed the speeches of Freedom Struggle, Emergency protests and big political rallies, at this Venue he and his team of young elected member took their oath. Coincidentally, 28 December is the day, when AO Hume formed Indian National Congress to fight against British through political discourse and same day when Dhirubhai Ambani & Ratan Tata were born against whose empires AAP team publicized corruption charges, which costed a media ban on AAP.
Life does come a full circle. Jai Hind !

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bollywood an example of Nehru-Gandhi's India

After watching the movie My Name is Khan, in the Big Cinema theater here, I was thinking of Bollywood, how its movies, brings talent and creativity of various artists irrespective of their caste or creed, an living phenomenon that shows a united and true democracy of our country, the same foundation and concept our Country was built on for, it would be unique where all are treated equally irrespective of their background,

to quench my thoughts, I came across this speech of Nehru Delivered in Allahabad court in 1921-22,
some of the excerpts:

Nehru-in Allahabad court-

"Less than ten years ago, I returned from England after a lengthy stay there, I had passed through the usual course of public school and university. I had imbibed most of the prejudices of Harrow and Cambridge, and in my likes and dislikes I was perhaps more an Englishman than an Indian. I looked upon the world almost from an Englishman's standpoint. And so I returned to India as much prejudiced in favour of England and the English as it was possible for an Indian to be."........

"To-day, ten years later, I stand here in the dock charged with two offences and with a third hovering in the background-an ex-convict who has been to jail once already for a political offence, and a rebel against the present system of government in India. That is the change which the years have wrought in me. It is not necessary for me to recite the reasons for this change. Every Indian knows them; every Indian has felt them and has hung his head in shame for them. And if he has retained a spark of the old fire in him, he has taken a solemn pledge to strive unceasingly for India's freedom, so that his countrymen may never again be subjected to the miseries and humiliations that are the lot of a subject people.

To-day sedition against the present government in India has become the creed of the Indian people, preach and practise disaffection against the evil which it represents has become their chief occupationI have said many hard things about the British Government. For one thing, however, I must offer it my grateful thanks. It has given us a chance of fighting in this most glorious of struggles. Surely few peoples have had such an opportunity given them. And the greater our suffereing, the more difficult the tests we have to pass, the more splendid will be the future of India. India has not survived through thousandes of years to go down now. India has not sent her noblest and best twenty five thousands of her sons, to the jail to give up the struggle. India's future is assured. Some of us, men and women of little faith, doubt and hesitate occasionally, but those who have vision can almost see the glory that will be India's. I marvel at my good fortune.

To serve India in the battle of freedom is honour enough. To serve her under a leader like Mahatma Gandhi is doubly fortune. But to suffer for the dear country! What greater good fortune could befall an Indian, unless it is death or the full realisation of our gloious dream?"

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Tehelka Coverpage on the eve of 62nd Indian Independence Day

Raise High the Roof Beams

An adivasi woman takes on India’s largest steel plant. A doctor leads thousands of farmers in their fight for a river. A young urbanite is jailed as she tries to secure rights for forest communities. As India turns 62, TEHELKA profiles those who are fighting to keep its democra

cy alive

EVEN THE most cynical of generations wonder: why did giants once roam the world, when dwarves now surround us? How is it that those who built our nation found time for more than the task of waking millions, for more than the intricate clockwork of statecraft? When did they sit down long enough to forge new ways of compassion, of courage, of living? To write enormous tracts, translate the ancients? What were they, to use the easy parlance of hallucinogens, on?

It has been 62 years after the giants won us a country and built the political scaffolding to make it kinder, more just. But greed and cruelty are still part of our public lives. When people stand teetering on the edge, we carelessly push. When the path of least resistance runs over the homes, fields and forests of others, we charge on. It would seem like the gods have departed, leaving behind only the vulnerable and the revelers.

But the giants still live on in odd corners. When novelist and sociologist Susan Visvanathan visited the fishworkers of Kerala, a fisherman asked her, “Thakazhy Sivasankara Pillai made millions out of his novel [Chemeen] on the life of fisherpeople. Are you also going to do the same? I wake up at two in the morning and I get nothing.”

Magline and Peter Thayil, two leaders of the fishworkers’ movement are just as resistant to mythologising. Regardless of their Biblical names, the Jesus-invoking sea, the romance of it all, they are people who wake up at two in the morning and get on with their lives’ work. They protect the livelihoods of lakhs of people by ensuring that we and our trawlers don’t eat the oceans out of fish, that no one buys and sells the sea in the fine mesh of arcane contracts.

Elsewhere, others are jailed and assaulted for protecting what ought to belong to the commons, not shredded into toothpicks. A young doctor in Karnataka joins thousands of farmers and the urban poor in a decade-long political struggle. A woman in Assam becomes the first in her village to go to college but cannot forget the fear caused by the soldiers who roam her lands with impunity. A young man in Orissa realises that the dozens of struggles across the state need to come together and he is the one to do it. A young adivasi woman in Jharkhand comes to the same realisation. She once ran a tea-shop and is now a journalist, but like the Bhakti poet Akka Mahadevi, she must wander from village to village awakening her people to the approaching fangs of a steel empire. Another empire poisons a whole city, thousands die, and decades later a man, battles the false memories and absurd lies that seek to hide the stillseeping poison.

The fate that awaits these strange, sleepless beings is not — unlike in the case of the giants who built India — the crowns and sceptres of a grateful nation. We are instead more likely to be enraged. If they must be misguided, we argue, let them do it without discomfiting us, depriving us of the soft light and canned music we are used to. Inevitably we call them traitors for warring against the nation.

Even when we are sympathetic to their tireless work, their ambitions seem against the natural order of things — because the natural order of things are made for us — in the same way that Indians claiming the right to independence must have seemed preposterous to the British.

We have hard work ahead, warned Nehru in the midnight hour. Sure, most of us responded, and went off whistling and thinking of lunch. But luckily, in the place of the giants who are gone, others have sprung, prepared to sleep on railway platforms and footpaths, to have their young bodies broken from lathis, their voices hoarse from shouting — all to preserve democracy, to protect us from ourselves.

This week TEHELKA meets some of these giants from across the nation. They — like Richard Wilbur’s prophet — are “madeyed from stating the obvious” but refuse to blink. And someday in the future someone will ask: did they really exist? Were they as tall as they seem? And we can answer, yes.