A common man’s letter to Arvind Kejriwal

Dear Shri Kejriwal,

Congratulations on AAP’s spectacular victory in the Delhi Assembly elections! This victory has given all common people in India the hope that they can work collectively to change things for the better.

The whole country seems to be hailing AAP as the inventor of ‘alternative politics’. Most people are either unaware or have forgotten that the AAP today closely resembles the BJP when it was founded in 1980. Then, the BJP worker was a volunteer who worked during the day to earn his/her living, and worked for the party outside office hours and on holidays. There were no leaders. Everybody was a party worker, and some were elected office-bearers. All of them were “common men/women”. People joined the BJP to work for the nation and for the party, never for personal gain. They gave the party their time, energy and money, often at the cost of their personal and family commitments, and expected nothing in return. They led simple lives. To give an example, around 50,000 delegates attended the BJP’s first annual session in Mumbai in December 1980. Delegates from outside Mumbai either stayed with their relatives or with friends, or were accommodated in tents at the session venue in Bandra, Mumbai. Nobody, not even the seniormost office-bearers like Mr. A. B. Vajpayee and Mr. L. K. Advani, stayed at posh hotels. Sounds familiar?

However, by 2004, the BJP had become a clone of the post-Independence Congress. Whatever faults can be found with the Congress can also be found with the BJP: corruption, crony capitalism, VIP culture, High Command culture, dynastic politics, etc., etc.

I am sure the Congress in 1947 was also like today’s AAP.

The Congress and the BJP transformed the way they did because, to quote Lord Acton, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I would go a step further and state that a political party and its members start becoming corrupt when power becomes approachable.

I sincerely appeal to you to remain constantly aware that whatever happened to the Congress and to the BJP can very easily happen to the AAP. One of your immediate and topmost priorities should be to create a set of mechanisms to ensure that power does not corrupt the AAP.

I am sure you, Dr. Yogendra Yadav, Prof. Ajit Jha, Prof. Anand Kumar and other political analysts in the AAP are eminently capable of identifying all risk factors, and that organisational experts in the AAP would be able to create mechanisms to prevent these risk factors from entering the party.

However, I would like to submit the following points for your kind consideration:

1. I hope you understand that corruption starts from the top. If the top leadership, or people close to the top leadership, is perceived to have zero tolerance to corruption, crony capitalism, ostentatiousness, etc., the party and its workers are less likely to become corrupt. However, if the top leadership is perceived to selectively turn a blind eye to corruption, the rank and file of the party gets a signal that corruption is acceptable, provided it is within limits.
For example, no free rides on private jets or helicopters under any circumstances. Also, every substantial donation must be proactively and stringently vetted. Sorry to say this, but when somebody donates Rs. 50 lakhs to you, please ask that person why (s)he is making such a huge donation and ensure that AAP is not compromising itself in any way by accepting such a huge donation. The fact that a donation of Rs. 50 lakhs was made by cheque and was accompanied by a PAN Card photocopy is not enough. AAP must make sure that the donor has earned the money by legal and ethical means, and that the donation is being made without any strings attached.

2a. Be extremely selective while admitting members. The current process allows anybody to join the AAP. Please have a screening process. I would suggest that membership be offered only to those who are recommended by existing office-bearers and/or active members. This may slow down the membership drive, but it will reduce the chances of opportunists joining the party.
2b. Set higher standards for election candidates than for members. ‘Winnability’ is extremely important, but it is less important than ‘cleanliness’.
2c. Set even higher standards for office-bearers and for ministers.
2d. Be extremely selective about alliances, electoral understandings, endorsements, outside support, etc.

3a. Be aggressive in your efforts, but be patient about results. There is a very heavy price to be paid for shortcuts. Be prepared for the fact that your noble goals may not be fully achieved during your lifetime. Please develop a second line of leadership, and create a process of continuous leadership development.
3b. Please develop the organisation in a state before you contest elections there. Elections can be won in Arvind Kejriwal’s name, but Arvind Kejriwal will not be part of the state’s government.

4. Avoid populism. Freebies win elections, but they also make the Aam Aadmi lazy. Remember the words of Rosalynn Carter: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

I apologise for having taken up much of your valuable time, and I thank you for having patiently read this communication.

Your admirer and well-wisher,

Proactive Indian

(Sent by email from proactiveindian@rediffmail.com to contact@aamaadmiparty.org)

Can’t our politicians read the writing on the wall, or are they refusing to read it?

Manish Tewari: “People wanted to teach BJP and its arrogance a lesson, they decided AAP is instrument of their choice rather Congress.”

Mamata Banerjee: “This is a victory for the people and a big defeat for the arrogant and those who are doing political vendetta & spreading hate among people.”

Nitish Kumar: “Delhi election results indeed is a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Delhi is the heart of the country so it reflects the mood of the country.”

Derek O’Brien: “A thrilling Tuesday for AAP & everyone of us who supported them, tight slap on BJP’s divisive politics.”

Vaiko (V. Gopalsamy, Founder, MDMK, Tamil Nadu): “People have staged a silent democratic revolution. They have taught a lesson to the Hindutva forces and the Modi government which has been supporting them.”

These are a few reactions from prominent anti-BJP politicians. All of them are celebrating AAP’s victory as BJP’s defeat, claiming that the fact that BJP’s vote-share dropped by 14% from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections shows that the Indian voter is disillusioned with the BJP government, and hoping that BJP will be defeated by them in assembly elections in the near future.

What they are unable or unwilling to realise is that AAP has won a positive vote from the people of Delhi. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, quite a few Delhi voters had declared, “Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM.” This probably explains the 14% swing from the BJP to the AAP.

The best explanation I’ve come across so far is from Deelip Mhaske, who had unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election as an AAP candidate from Jalna in Maharashtra: “We as alert citizens are able to create alternatives to traditional politics. This has to be the win of alternative politics over traditional politics. …. Every political party will learn a lesson — that Indians need action. No more will we blindly trust politicians, and we the ‘People of India’ are ready to take politics in our hands. …..

AAP’s win will change Indian politics forever. It will generate tremendous synergy among other social activists across India to be part of politics. Once good people join politics, naturally politics will change. A change in politics and political leaders will bring new ideas and transparent ways for governance.”

The people of India want results. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the people of Delhi voted for Narendra Modi because they thought he can deliver results as India’s PM. In the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, they voted for Arvind Kejriwal because they thought he can deliver results as Delhi’s CM. The verdicts in both these elections are wake-up calls for all politicians and political parties, giving a clear message:Deliver or be voted out!

Can’t our politicians read the writing on the wall, or are they refusing to read it?

Train journey with Narendra Modi

A Facebook friend shared “A train journey and two names to remember“, which had appeared in The Hindu on June 1, 2014.

The writer, Ms. Leena Sarma, General Manager of the Centre for Railway Information System, Indian Railways, New Delhi, has written about a train journey in 1990 from Delhi to Ahmedabad, in which she and another female colleague were co-passengers with Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi, both BJP members at that time.

I strongly suggest you read the entire article, but for those who are short of time, here’s the summary:
Ms. Sarma and her female colleague, then Indian Railway (Traffic) Service probationers, had wait-listed First Class tickets to travel from Delhi to Ahmedabad. The train was heavily booked. The TTE (Travel Ticket Examiner) asked them to sit in a particular coupe, and assured them that he would try to get their tickets confirmed. The two persons who had confirmed tickets for that coupe were both politicians, as could be discerned from their white khadi attire. The TTE assured the two women that, “They’re decent people, regular travellers on this route, nothing to worry.” The politicians readily made space for their co-passengers by almost squeezing themselves to one corner.

After initial introductions, the 4 co-passengers started discussing various topics, particularly in the areas of History and the Polity. Eventually, the discussion veered around to the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.

After the food, four vegetarian meals, arrived, the four ate in silence. When the pantry-car manager came to take the payment, the younger man (Narendra Modi) paid for all four meals.

Soon, the TTE came and informed the two women that the train was packed and he couldn’t arrange berths for them. Both men immediately stood up and said: “It’s okay, we’ll manage.” They swiftly spread a cloth on the floor and went to sleep, while the two women with wait-listed tickets occupied the berths.

As the train was nearing Ahmedabad, the politicians asked the two women about their lodging arrangements in the city. Vaghela told them that in case of any problem, the doors of his house were open for them. There was some kind of genuine concern in the voice or the facial contours of the otherwise apparently inscrutable younger one (Narendra Modi), and he told them: “I’m like a nomad, I don’t have a proper home to invite you but you can accept his offer of safe shelter in this new place.” The women thanked the politicians for that invitation and assured them that accommodation was not going to be a problem for them.

I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about the politicians involved in this episode.

My observations:

1.The entire episode took place far away from media scrutiny. The manner in which Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi conducted themselves speaks volumes about their character.

2.Since Ms. Sarma first wrote about this train journey in an Assamese newspaper in 1995, when neither Shankersinh Vaghela nor Narendra Modi was a minister or a famous person, it can be safely assumed that she had nothing to gain by writing an article praising them. As Ms. Sarma herself says, “It was a tribute to two unknown politicians from Gujarat for giving up their comfort ungrudgingly for the sake of two bens (sisters) from Assam.”

Please share your observations on this episode.

No ‘Shehzade’ or ‘baba log’ among BJP Ministers!

During the long election campaign this year and even before that, Narendra Modi, now India’s Prime Minister, had strongly opposed dynastic politics.

The BJP’s candidates’ list contained a few, but not too many, political dynasts. I had touched on this in my post The arrogance of inheritance? Of course, the presence of these candidates could be due to various factors governing realpolitik.

After the BJP’s victory in the elections, I, like many other Indians, was curious to see if Narendra Modi would walk his talk about dynastic politics while appointing ministers in his new government.

The first sign of things to come appeared on rediff.com, which said, “Narendra Modi enforces a new rule that no children of BJP leaders will get cabinet berths.”

After the names of all the ministers were known, I checked whether this ‘new rule’ had actually been followed. I found that almost all the ministers from the BJP are first-generation politicians. Some of them are children of BJP workers, but none of these parents were senior leaders in the BJP. Only 6 ministers could be said to have had the advantage of family background while entering politics, but each of them has a long track record that could have earned them ministerial positions even without the benefit of family background.

Najma Heptulla: grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Dr. Heptulla was a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 2004. In 2004, she joined the BJP.

Maneka Gandhi: wife of Late Sanjay Gandhi (son of Late Indira Gandhi). According to Wikipedia, “In March 1983, after falling out with her mother-in-law, Maneka founded her own political party, the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch …. In 1988, Maneka merged the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch with the main opposition party, the Janata Dal and became its General Secretary. … In 2004, Maneka joined the BJP. … She has won 5 out of the 6 times she has contested from Pilibhit.”

Ravi Shankar Prasad: According to Wikipedia, “His father Thakur Prasad was a senior advocate at the Patna High Court and one of the founders of the Jan Sangh, which is now the BJP.” However, Wikipedia also states, “Prasad began his political career as a student leader in the 1970s organising protests against Indira Gandhi’s government. He worked in the student movement in Bihar under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan and was imprisoned during the Emergency. He was associated with RSS & Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for many years and held various posts in the organisations.”

Rao Inderjit Singh: According to Wikipedia, “…son of Late Rao Birendra Singh the scion of the Rewari dynasty who served as a second chief minister of Haryana.” From 1977 to 2013, Singh was a member of the Congress party. He was an MLA for 4 terms, an MP for 3 terms, and held various ministerial positions. In September 2013, he resigned from the Congress and joined the BJP.

Piyush Goyal: (son of BJP leaders Chandrakanta Goyal and Late Shri Vedprakash Goyal):According to Wikipedia, “ He has had a strong academic record – all-India second rank holder Chartered Accountant and second rank holder in Law in Mumbai University. He has participated in Leadership Programs at Yale University (2011), Oxford University (2012) and Princeton University (2013) and is currently pursuing the Owner / President Management (OPM) Program at Harvard Business School…. During his 27 year long political career, he has served on the National Executive and held several important positions in the BJP. He was also nominated by the Government of India to the Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers.”

GM Siddeshwara: According to Wikipedia, “His father Late Shri G. Mallikarjunappa was also an M.P. for two terms: 1996-1998 and 1999-2003. Shri G. Mallikarjunappa was affiliated to the RSS before joining the BJP electoral politics…. Shri G. M. Siddeshwara is one of the top unquestionable Lingayat leaders in Karnataka and a mass based leader in Central Karnataka. Shri G. M. Siddeshwara has been rated as one of the best MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha by various independent organizations based on his performance both in the Parliament as well as his efficiency in the constituency.”

It is refreshing to see no ‘Shehzade’ or ‘baba log’ among BJP Ministers! This is a good beginning to replace dynasty with meritocracy.

What about the Indian National Congress? Read The Hindu’s editorial Putting dynasty before party

The arrogance of inheritance?

The Hindu reported that Poonam Mahajan, BJP candidate for Mumbai North-Central, has said, “It’s not fair to say I benefited from dynasty. I have worked for the party for the last eight years. It has tried and tested me.”

As far as I could remember, other than occasionally appearing on Page 3, Poonam Mahajan has done hardly any work for the BJP or for the country. However, the Wikipedia page on her says that she “joined the BJP as a normal member of the party, with the encouragement of her uncle Gopinath Munde, himself an ex-Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra state. Now she’s national secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party.”

I asked a few people who generally follow politics, a question:
In your opinion, how much did dynasty (Pramod Mahajan’s daughter, Gopinath Munde’s niece) matter in BJP giving Poonam Mahajan a ticket?

Of the 15 persons who replied, 14 said dynasty was the ONLY factor in her party giving her a ticket. 1 person said, “No idea”. Please note that 11 of these persons live in Mumbai North-Central or have been living there till recently. At least 2 of them are staunch BJP supporters.

While this is not a large enough sample, it gives sufficient indication of the public perception that Poonam Mahajan got her party ticket mainly, perhaps only, because of dynasty.

Poonam Mahajan is not the only ‘young’ politician who has been air-dropped into politics by dynasty. All political parties have such persons in large numbers. One is also a Prime Ministerial aspirant.

After being given some position in their respective parties, most of these persons have done some work for their parties. However, very few have done sufficient work and achieved results that would enable them to claim that they have reached their present positions mainly on the basis of merit. If the ticket had been given only on the basis of merit, somebody else would have been given the ticket. To be blunt, the candidate’s ‘winnability’ is not really a factor in Lok Sabha elections. For example, even if Poonam Mahajan defeats sitting Congress MP Priya Dutt, it will be because of a combination of the anti-Congress/UPA wave and the Modi wave.

When Poonam Mahajan and others like her have clearly benefited from dynasty, why do they claim that it is their ‘work’ that has brought them to their present high positions? Are they in denial? Or is it merely their sense of entitlement or, in other words, the arrogance of inheritance?