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)

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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?

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.)

Do such things happen only in India?

In 1975, a lawyer, then 27 years old, defended a 41 years old man accused of raping a 12 years old girl after luring her into a car.

In recently discovered audio recordings, which date from 1983 to 1987, the lawyer, who is now a politician, “is heard laughing as she describes how she succeeded at getting her client a lighter sentence, despite suggesting she knew he was guilty.”

After hearing the audio recordings, the victim, who is now 52, said that the lawyer/politician “took me through hell.” She said that if she saw the lawyer/politician today she would say, “I realize the truth now, the heart of what you’ve done to me. And you are supposed to be for women? You call that [being] for women, what you done to me? And I heard you on tape laughing.”

The lawyer/politician is none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was US Secretary of State from January 2009 to February 2013, and is expected to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2016 US Presidential Election.

If this sounds unbelievable, please read this report for the details.

In early April 2014, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed capital punishment for rape, saying, “Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?” (Read this Indian Express report for the full statement.) Other Indian politicians made similar statements about rape, either in response to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s statement or on their own initiative.

All right-thinking Indians, including me, were justifiably outraged by these statements. Many among us stated, explicitly or implicitly, that this kind of thing could happen only in India, with some claiming that it could only happen in a particular part of our country.

What do we have to say about the actions (in 1975) and the statement and laughter (from 1983 to 1987) regarding rape by a highly educated female politician aspiring to be “the most powerful person in the world”?

Many of us tend to believe that social ills, inefficiency, corruption, etc. exist only in countries like India and not in countries like USA. I have always believed this is not so. Social ills, inefficiency, corruption, etc. exist everywhere. It’s just that it’s more blatant, more visible and probably more widespread in India.

Please read this report on sex trafficking in USA, this report on a US university’s school of journalism misspelling its own name on diplomas and this report on a Washington couple being flown by British Airways to the wrong destination!

This post is not an attempt to gloat over these incidents in USA. It is only to remind ourselves that social ills, inefficiency, corruption, etc. can be found all over the world. While we must work on a war footing to improve the state of affairs in our own country, we should not let ourselves be weighed down by wrongly thinking that we are the only people plagued by these problems.

Where does the buck stop?

A few months after I had joined a marketing company, the Export Director informed me that the company had decided to participate in a month-long trade show in a foreign country. It was proposed that our stall, in which we would display 2 machines, would be manned by a Senior Service Engineer and me. The Senior Service Engineer would look after the installation and operation of the displayed machines, while I would handle all business enquiries.

When I pointed out that I had absolutely no exposure to International Trade, he assured me that our company’s Agent in that country, who was extremely well-versed in International Trade, would guide me in all commercial/legal matters.

The trade show went off very well. Many visitors showed interest in our machines. One customer decided to buy both the displayed machines. Our Agent prepared the contract documents, which were signed on the last day of the trade show by the customer and by me on behalf of my company. The documents contained some clauses that I thought should not be there. When I asked our Agent about these clauses, he confirmed that these were standard clauses in any such contract. Considering the Export Director’s assurance, I signed the documents. The machines were handed over to the customer.

A few days after we returned to India, it turned out that our company could not claim the payment for the two machines because the contract documents were not suitable for machines that had been displayed in a trade show. (The contract documents would have been perfect if the machines had been shipped directly to the customer.) Our Managing Director was totally upset, but he said our first priority should be to recover the payment, adding ominously that a ‘post-mortem’ on the matter could be carried out after we recovered the payment.

We engaged the services of an Export Consultant, who managed to resolve the matter. Our company received the payment three months later. As expected, our MD summoned the Export Director and me to his room the moment he was informed that the payment had been received.

As soon as we were seated, our MD glared at me and asked, “How could you have signed a contract that contained such glaringly wrong clauses?” Before I could say anything, the Export Director said, “Sir, it was not his mistake. He only followed my instructions. Before taking up this assignment, he had reminded me that he had absolutely no exposure to International Trade. I had instructed him to follow our Agent’s guidance in all commercial/legal matters. When I told you this, you had expressed your reservations, but I had assured you that I have complete confidence in our Agent. It is my mistake.”

Our MD was absorbed in silent thought for about 30 seconds, during which I fervently hoped he wouldn’t take any drastic action against the Export Director. I was stunned when he looked at the Export Director and said, “It’s not your mistake. I am to blame. It was wrong on my part to have accepted your assurance.” He turned to me and said, “I am sorry that we sent you on this assignment without training you properly.”

It would have been very easy for the Export Director to blame me for the mishap, but he chose to accept responsibility.

It would have been even easier for our MD to blame the Export Director and/or me for the mishap, but he chose to accept responsibility.

Both the Export Director and our MD had displayed the essential leadership quality of readily accepting the ultimate responsibility for a decision that has gone wrong. In other words, “The buck stops here!”

How many leaders (in business, politics or any other activity) readily accept the ultimate responsibility for decisions that have gone wrong?

How many leaders ‘pass the buck’?

What do we do when our decisions go wrong? Do we readily accept responsibility, or do we ‘pass the buck’?