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 !


AJ said...

Thanks for the full account. It was a fascinating read.

When AAP came to life, traditional parties would cite the non-existence of an organisational structure as its biggest weakness. But after reading your account, I feel the AAP campaign was really well run and its organisation is probably more professional than any other party.

I was sceptical that if AAP lost, maybe the volunteers would head back home and the junoon, as such, would fizzle out. But thankfully, AAP did well at the hustings. There is now a steady flow of honest, efficient, visionary people wanting to join AAP - Samir Nair of Star TV, Bala of Infosys - and I hope they will strengthen the party and make it one with national importance.

AAP has a lot to do in the fields of Economic & Foreign Policy and many of its spokespersons are making a fool of themselves on TV debates ... but I am willing to give the party time and get its act together on all issues of national importance.

Good luck to you and to AAP.

P.S. - One suggestion though, AAP must have its own spokespersons and the Govt. of Delhi its own.

Shrikant Shelat said...

Inspiring brother. Great job sharing the entire story. I am sure I have a lot to learn from it.

seema said...

thank u navendu for the detailed account of events... now I m inspired to vote fr AAP instead of NOTA! keep up the good work..

sandy said...

superb representation and a way to go

Biplab Das said...

Congrats bro!!

CoolFundoo SmileWithMe said...

Inspiring...Shared on my Facebook Timeline to let people know about you and your fellow volunteer hard-work.

Neha Verma said...

Pandit Umesh Sharma is a Member of Aam Aadmi Party and He is standing in election of MP at West Delhi. He is a social worker in his area and do more worke for neede people.
Pandit Umesh Sharma Aam Aadmi Party

Kishor Gummaraju said...

Wonderful article. Has certainly influenced the way i think Bout this movement

Kishor Gummaraju said...

Wonderful article. Has certainly influenced the way i think Bout this movement

Vicky said...

WOW, I really want that AAP wins upcoming Delhi assembly election 2015. Let the Aam aadmi rule the india, kejriwal fir se.

bharti sharma said...

खतरे मे है आम आदमी पार्टी के 21 विधायक, चुनाव आयोग में सुनवाई आज
Read More

rinea dourado said...

Wow man! I am... You are amazing Nav. Just keep it up okay! AAP zindabad! I LOVE AAP... And I think volunteering is much more fulfilling than working. I want to be a forever volunteer! :-) Preferably of AAP GOA :-)

Sapkal Sominath Mahadu said...

Thank you for the information regarding Election Campaign Management in India Intresting post. Keep sharing such information these are really really very beneficial.