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.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Goan Political Tragicomedy

Source: Peter Alexander- 3 Aug Herald

It is time for the people to draw the curtain on the tragicomedy our politicians have made of governance, says PETER FERNANDES

Most Goans are crazy about tiatr. Goans have enjoyed good shows for over a century, some tragic, many others depicting social evils combined with religious insight to bring change in society, and a few others purely comic. From the first-ever tiatr in history – ‘Italian Bhurgo’ by Lucasinho Ribeiro, staged in Mumbai on 17 April 1892 – until today, this form of theatre, with several acts entwined with songs backed by a live band, continues to enthrall and enlighten Goan society. Over this period, renowned artists walked the stage and made their mark in Goa and elsewhere in the world through their notable efforts to entertain our hearts and minds. We salute them with pride and gratitude. They have left us a rich legacy to emulate in order to enrich our society with good values, and to reach higher goals of sublime living. Our tiatr reflects the social, political and religious life of society; and, very often, it is a protest against the wrong in society, which is projected through the songs, comedy and drama. Contemporary artists continue the heritage today, with enthusiasm and pride, receiving little or no support from our government.

Incredibly, we see our politicians nowadays enacting such living drama for all to view with disdain and disgust. These public servants conduct their lives in a deplorable manner. Nonetheless, this melodrama encompasses the nature of tragicomedy. Dayanand Narvekar did not realise that the camera was on when he delivered with great audacity his unscripted discourse on corruption. This subject “Corruption” is the creation of our leaders, and, as good actors and teachers, they want to marinate our society completely. I hope Narvekar is never afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Our memories are still fresh about his unbecoming behavior, as he faced allegations of sexual harassment, cheating, forgery, corruption and misappropriation of funds. Nevertheless, we have to commend Narvekar for loudly crying out his displeasure over the treatment he received from government bureaucrats, through which he exposed the level of corruption and the plight of the common man. The present government takes pride in being a government for aam admi. This is a tragicomedy, for in reality they have woven a massive web of corruption to strangle citizens to death.

Before Narvekar lost his cabinet berth as Minister of Finance, he seemed to have been portraying a similar drama with MLAs and other ministers. Mickky Pacheo was bent on stripping Narvekar of the finance portfolio not long ago, for having treated him with similar contempt, which Narvekar abhors at the present juncture. This explains the dynamic of our government, and the reason why every MLA is vying for a ministerial berth in the ruling administration. Every minister looks out for his own interest, and the other MLAs keep constant watch to see if something might fall from the minister’s plate.
The people of Goa should keep in mind that our government has no vision for our Goa. Our leaders are like weathercocks – they easily change their direction according to the weather. Churchill Alemao wants to have three bridges in his constituency, since he holds the PWD portfolio. As long as he is the PWD Minister, the rest of Goa must watch and pay taxes to fulfill his selfish dreams for Navelim. How did Goa fall into the hands of such corrupt leaders? For how long will this drama unfold? And, when will Goans say, “Enough”?

On the floor of the Assembly, Narvekar challenged the PWD minister for granting permits for construction along the NH17, where use of the land was frozen for the express purpose of expanding the highway. Narvekar is determined to fight over this matter, even in the courts. Churchill first denied the violation and then tried to justify it by citing the state of Kerala, which has done like projects under similar circumstances. How can the Chief Minister tolerate such action from his ministers?

But I am amused and entertained by the whole business. I just want to recall, for the sake of the audience, the opening scene of this drama. Speaking at Alemao’s birthday celebrations, Narvekar told Churchill, “I may be older than you as far as experience is concerned, but I am looking at you. This is the time when the state is going down the drain. Someone has to stand up. You have the capacity, the urge and the interest to serve the people and save the state. People like me will be with you in this mission.” He further pointed out that Churchill is not just the leader of South Goa, but he is being worshipped even in the North. “Go ahead with your political ambitions, we are with you. You are like my family member,” he said. Saying that the people of Goa want Churchill to play a long innings in politics, Narvekar said that health should not be a problem for the PWD Minister, stating, “People of Goa want you, not just your knee; all your parts can be replaced for the sake of Goans.”

Luizinho Faleiro, who dominated Goan politics for almost three decades, now sits on a huge booty, and is the highest taxpayer in the state of Goa. It is a mystery, and yet a tragicomedy for Goans to contemplate. How could an elected leader, with a meagre salary, amass such a huge amount of wealth? Leaders are put in office to empower the people, and to improve the lives of the citizens. On the contrary, our politicians have secured better lives for themselves alone, and have disenfranchised gullible people. This process continues, and has reached to such an extent that even MLAs cannot breathe easily now. Whatever may be Narvekar’s past, his statement in the Assembly came as a breath of fresh air. No MLA or minister in the past dared to make such a subversive statement that would shake the house to its very foundations.
Corruption is a structural sin which systematically destroys society. It creates a situation where people cannot do otherwise but sin. When people cry, their tears reach heaven. Our Father hears the cry of the oppressed! Without doubt, history has taught us many valuable lessons on this subject. The natural reaction of those in such a situation is to subvert the structure. People of Goa, do not brush aside or disregard the consequences of this drama played out by our politicos.

Before entering the election booth, reflect wisely on the detrimental results this tragicomedy has given us. Recognise, and own up to the reality, that by our foolishness over many years, Goan society has been violated with transgressions beyond number. To you, my countrymen, I say that we can counteract this widespread crime of corruption, for we know its face, and we hear its voice. No sadder lesson would there be in our history than this: that by our weakness, inaction and indifference we allowed our power as citizens to remain in the hands of public officials who would breach their positions of trust by their depravity and dishonesty. Our opposition to them is our obligation to all generations!

Unfortunately, we have lived under this sinful structure of corruption because we let the enemy come through the gates. No more! The power of the people shall rise up, and bring the curtain down on the tragicomedy that plays out before us. We will drive the self-serving imposters off the stage, show them the exit, and close the gates. This show must end!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Against Corruption: Story of Hope with Bangalore Police

Following is an email recieved by me, it shows that when a citizen wants to fight against a corrupt system, there will be always good civil servants who would support them.....

Mail thread:

Dear Friends,

When I narrated the incident below to a close friend over lunch earlier this
week, he suggested that I should pen this down in an email and circulate it to as many friends in Bangalore as possible. So here goes an interesting
experience of interacting with an IPS officer, who made me see a Glimmer of Hope, amidst the corruption that encompasses, so many of our public services ( it is about 7 - 9 mins reading time...).

It was Friday 5th June, at about 3 pm I drove my Ford Ikon car into 80 feet road at Indira Nagar in Bangalore, wanting to reach on time for my 3.30 pm meeting with a client. As I entered the wide road I saw a posse of Traffic Constables who stopped my car on the side and asked me to produce my car documents to the Traffic Sub Inspector(SI) who was standing on the footpath. I walked upto the SI and displayed my Driving Licence, to which he told me to bring my Car Insurance certificate and also my Emission Certificate for the car. I walked back to my car and realised that I had not carried either of the documents in my car and was cursing myself for such a slip. I came back to the SI and told him that I did not have my document and what was to be done. The SI had a half smile & told me that the fine for not carrying both these documents was Rs 600/- however I could pay him Rs 300/-. I removed my wallet and told the SI that I would pay the amount and want a receipt for the same, to which he suddenly grew stern and told me that in which case the fine was Rs 1,100/-. I paid the fine of Rs 1,100/- and took the receipt, wondering why the fine had suddenly escalated just because I wanted a receipt instead of paying the Rs 300 bribe which the SI had asked.

After my client meeting as I was driving back, I was annoyed at myself for not carrying the documents and I was angry that at an officer at an SI level was blatantly seeking a bribe. I decided that I should do something about it and as soon as I reached my Home Office, I logged on to the net and found out that the Traffic Police of Bangalore has a website, which gives details of the fines chargeable , it also provides for logging complaints and gave the email ids of the Asst Commissioner of Police for the traffic division. At about 7 pm that evening I wrote an email to the email id of the ACP, narrating the incident of the afternoon and lodging a formal complaint in the email. I also found out the website of Lok Ayukta of Karnataka and marked a cc of the same email to the email id's given on the Lok Ayukta's website. By about 7.30pm I had done the
needful, and I was happy with myself that what I preach in my Leadership Workshops wrt Values, I had practised to a large extent (Paying the fine instead of paying the bribe and reporting the bribe demand to the best of my ability). I thought the chapter ended there, little realising that I would be having an indeed amazing and pleasant experience on this whole incident in the hours & days to come.

On Saturday 7th June(the next day) at about 2 pm, I logged into my Home Office and checked my email and lo behold, I had 3 emails sent to me by the ACP to who I had written the complaint email the previous day.. The first one, informed me that I had done the right thing by paying the fine and not the bribe, the second email asked to give my complaint in writing and fax it to the ACP, so that action can be taken on the SI and the 3rd email asked me to give the ACP a call
on his office no or his cell no, so that he could accelerate the action to be taken on the erring SI. I promptly put my complaint in a letter and sent a scanned copy through the email to the ACP.

On Sunday, 8th June in the morning I checked my email and I had an email from the ACP stating that the erring SI had been suspended from services and that I must give the ACP a call to work out the next formalities. I called the ACP (till now I did not know the name of this ACP) who answered my call on the Sunday. During my phone conversation he introduced himself as ACP Pravin Sood, and thanked me for doing what I did wrt not paying the bribe and also escalating the matter in writing, he explained that many Bangalore citizens escalate such cases to him but then back down when asked to give the complaint in writing. He apologised to me (yes - he said "I am sorry for what you faced with this SI who harassed you, because he did not have any business stopping your to check your documents if you had not done any traffic violation") and he invited me over to Tea to his office at a time convenient to me. After I kept the phone down, I could not believe that here was a case where within 48 hours of an incident of seeking bribe, the erring office was suspended. I decided that I must meet in person ACP Pravin Sood, speaking with who for 10 minutes had changed a few paradigms in my mind about Public Services Officers. Since I was travelling the next few days, I sought time with him on 15th June at 4.30 pm at his office. I reached ACP Sood's office a little early (at 4.10 pm) and was pleasantly surprised when I was ushered into his office at 4.15 pm, he asked me to sit as he was completing a meeting with another delegation. At sharp 4.30 pm he ended his previous meeting and turned to me and spent the next 20 minutes discussing with me several aspects of Traffic Policing in Bangalore and offered me a cup of tea (Many corporate clients I visit, do not see me on time
and do not ask me for a cup of tea, so what ACP Sood was doing was indeed better than many corporate folks I have met!). Right through the conversation, he was courteous, frank and completely articulate on his thoughts and ideas. He reiterated that there would be no repercussions on me for giving the complaint in writing, and that I may have to make one appearance in person when the internal enquiry is done, he also offered that instead of me having to come to the Police headquarters to give the statement, he could send one of his officers to my residence to take my statement if I so wish. When I was leaving ACP Sood's office, I told him "Over the years many of my friends and cousins have urged me to migrate and settle in
one of the western countries, but I have consciously chosen to stay back in India by my choice - when I have interactions like the one I had with you ACP Sood, I am happy that I made the choice to stay back in India". It was an impromptu comment, straight from my heart to which ACP Sood just smiled and shook my hand.

When I was walking out of ACP Sood's office, I felt reassured that if we have officers like ACP Pravin Sood in our country, there is a Glimmer of Hope, against corruption, provided, we as citizens have the courage to say NO to Bribes and have the inclination to report cases of Bribe (I am no major RTI or Social activist, yet I found all the info I needed on the web, sitting in my
Home Office). Change begins with me, I can make a difference !
Shabbir Merchant
Chief Value Creator
Valulead Consulting

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Performance of Goan MPs -Published Version

Article Published in Herald Newspaper on 17 Apr 2009.

Unedited version

Thanks all for the feedback and support,

Jai Hind,
Navendu Shirali