Reply from AAP to “A common man’s letter to Arvind Kejriwal”

On February 17, 2015, I had sent a letter to Arvind Kejriwal by email from proactiveindian@rediffmail.com to contact@aamaadmiparty.org
Click here to read the text of my letter.

On March 14, 2015, I received the following reply by email:

Dear Sir,

We apologize for the delay in replying.
Thank you for writing to us and reminding us of the possible pitfalls. We assure you that your mail will be given a deep consideration, and we will guard ourselves against the corrupting effects of power. We will take all caution to prevent AAP from degenerating into yet another political party.

Our historic journey begins now. We request you to join us and together let us work hard for a better tomorrow for our nation.

Warm Regards,

Dona Rose Thomas
Team AAP

My thoughts about the reply:

1. AAP must be receiving dozens, maybe hundreds of communications every day. It appears they have created the organization to reply to each communication.

2. From the contents of the reply, it is clear that my email, or a significant portion, has been read by the signatory.

3. AAP’s email has been signed by a party functionary, and no attempt has been made to give the impression that my email has been read by Arvind Kejriwal himself.

4. I hope that the assurance given in the reply is sincere, and that the reply is not merely a well-worded PR exercise. I am making this observation because the recent events in AAP have made me wonder whether AAP is, below an impressive exterior, just like any other political party.

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)

‘Freedom of speech’ only if you agree with me, not otherwise!

The outrage expressed and being expressed by public and private individuals and organizations over the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Perumal Murugan controversy definitely lead one to believe that ours is a liberal and tolerant society.

Most of us love to proclaim: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Wikipedia reports that these words are “often misattributed to Voltaire.” They were actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall “as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs”.)

Do we practise what we preach? Let me share my experiences as a commenter on a few blogs.

1. On one very popular blog, I found that, while my positive or neutral comments were approved within a short time on various occasions, one comment, which expressed an opinion completely contrary to that of the blogger and other commenters, was not approved for a few hours. During this time, various positive comments posted by others were approved. My comment was finally approved, but only after about 20 hours, and only after the blogger had published the next post. Obviously, readers’ attention was now almost entirely focussed on the latest post. So much for the blogger’s stated commitment to freedom of speech!

2. I had the same experience on another popular blog.

3. On another popular blog, while my positive or neutral comments were approved within a short time on various occasions, one comment, which expressed an opinion completely contrary to that of the blogger and other commenters, was not approved for a long interval. During this time, various positive comments posted by others were approved. My comment was finally approved, but the blogger’s reply was published almost simultaneously! Obviously, the blogger approved my comment only after composing a reply to my comment!! “We both enjoy freedom of speech, but I enjoy more freedom than you!”

4. Please read this one carefully. This incident doesn’t take the cake; it takes the bakery!! A very popular blogger published a post about how the parents of prospective grooms used to make unreasonable demands in arranged marriages, and described the recent trend of the parents of prospective brides now making unreasonable demands. Another blogger posted a comment which applauded this new trend! I posted a comment (not a reply to this comment) stating that all such unreasonable demands were wrong, irrespective of who made them, and lamenting the fact that the recent trend was being applauded. My comment was published immediately since this blog did not have comment moderation. When I checked a few hours later, I found that the blogger had replied to my comment, agreeing that all unreasonable demands were wrong, but stating that none of the commenters had applauded the recent trend. When I tried to re-read the comment applauding the recent trend, I found it had been deleted. Obviously, the ‘evidence’ had been destroyed!!!

I must state that such behaviour is not restricted to bloggers. I have had many such experiences with people who are not connected with blogging. All these experiences have convinced me that very, very few people genuinely believe in freedom of speech. Most of us (by ‘most of us’, I am referring not only to the ‘fringe elements’, but to all cross-sections of society) believe only in our own freedom of speech and the freedom of speech of those who agree with our own thoughts, beliefs, customs and practices. We may not say so in so many words, but most of us do NOT respect the right of our fellowmen to have thoughts, beliefs, customs and practices that are different from our own.

Speech Disorder or Spinal Problem?

One morning at a domestic airport, I was standing in a long queue for Security Check. A well-known politician, then a state minister, walked past between 2 queues with his entourage. One of his sidekicks was pushing people aside to ensure his boss had a wide path. When I protested, he gave me a condescending look and said, “He’s a Minister,” to which I replied loudly, “Is he a public servant or is the public his servants? You guys beg for our votes during elections, but act like kings after we elect you!” The sidekick did not respond, but he stopped pushing people aside. After the politician and his entourage left, some of the other passengers said things like, “These politicians will never change” and “No point wasting our energy.” One person advised me that speaking up against politicians would only mean inviting trouble.
I was not surprised that none of the other passengers had bothered to protest even though they knew what was happening was wrong. I was not surprised that none of them had supported me when I spoke up. But I was certainly surprised and disappointed that none of them said even a word of support after the politician had left.

On another occasion, a late evening domestic flight (ETD 8.15 pm) did not take off for about 45 minutes after having taxied to edge of the runway. It was announced that we were awaiting clearance for take-off, but no time frame was given. When a couple of other flights took off while we were waiting, some passengers asked the cabin crew why our aircraft was held up. The cabin crew had no explanation. At that point, the Captain announced that we would take off after about 30 minutes. Hearing this, the passenger seated next to me called the flight attendant and started rebuking her loudly. She listened patiently for a few minutes, then left to attend to other passengers. My co-passenger continued grumbling. He calmed down after we took off. He then told me that this was the third time in the last couple of months that this inexplicable delay had occurred on the very same flight.
I told him that, when I had faced a problem with the same airline in the past, I had sent an email to the CEO, who had ensured that my grievance had been redressed in the best manner possible. I suggested that he should send an email about this matter to the CEO, but he replied that he was not very conversant with email. I offered to send the email to the CEO if he provided accurate information about the previous flight delays. He promised to have this emailed to me the next day. After 2 days, I sent him an email to remind him, but got no response. After 2 more days, I telephoned him, but he mumbled something about being very busy with work. There is a very small chance that I am wrong, but I got the feeling that he was not keen to put the matter on record.

All of us grumble in private. Many of us speak strongly to persons who are not in a position to hit back. Very few of us speak up to persons in positions of authority. Why? Do we need speech therapy or spine strengthening exercises?

(This post was originally published on July 23, 2013.)

There’s no such thing as a free lunch!

During a business visit to the capital city of another state, I noticed many small processions, each of 10 to 20 men carrying red flags and shouting slogans in the local language, which I did not understand. When I asked my business associate what these people were up to, he explained that they were protesting against the electricity tariff hike announced by the state government. I asked him what the new tariff was. When he replied, I said that their new tariff was considerably lower than the existing tariff in my state.

I then explained that, if the earlier tariff was retained, the electricity board’s losses would have to be borne by the state government, effectively by the state’s people. In fact, those people who consumed less electricity would be paying on behalf of the people who consumed more electricity. However, if electricity tariff was increased, each family would be paying the extra amount only on the electricity consumed by them. So, the tariff hike was actually in the interest of the common man. My business associate agreed with me, but argued that the financial burden on each family due to the tariff hike would be too high.

I asked him what the financial burden would be on each of these protestors. He thought for a while and replied that it would be about Rs. 200 per month. Since this was a state known for its high per capita consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, I told my business associate, “Just tell all these guys to reduce their consumption by one drink every week and one cigarette every day. By doing that, not only will they save over Rs. 200 per month, their health will also improve!” My business associate had no reply!

I remembered this incident two days back when I saw Finance Minister Arun Jaitely defending the rail fare hike by saying that if people are using a service, they should pay for it.

His words amounted to: There’s no such thing as a free lunch! (TNSTAFL)

Wikipedia explains that this adage communicates the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing, and that the “free lunch” refers to the once-common tradition of saloons (bars) in the United States providing a “free” lunch to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. Many foods on offer were high in salt (e.g., ham, cheese, and salted crackers), so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer. The saying indicates an acknowledgement that, in reality, a person or a society cannot get “something for nothing”. Even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole, although that may be a hidden cost or an externality. For example, a bar offering a free lunch will likely charge more for its drinks.

Read Wikipedia for explanations of TNSTAFL in Economics, Science, Finance and Technology.