Aap Ki Dilli – Dil Se !


Today, Feb 10th, 2015 has been a very special and unforgettable day !

The stunning sweep of the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory, with 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, has come at the conclusion of a long year, with many points at which the party had been written off by detractors.

As I look back on the past year, I believe these are the 5 most important reasons that Delhi voted so resoundingly for AAP.

1. The hard work and credibility of AAP’s candidates : Sir jee – AAP ki sarkar !

Candidates who had been elected as MLA’s in the 2013 election, conducted several Mohalla sabhas and meetings with Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWA’s) to ascertain the most pressing needs of their constituency. They then proceeded to expend their entire MLA LAD (Local Area Development) Funds, in line with these priorities. By the time the Delhi assembly was dissolved in late 2014, each had a tangible report card of projects that had been efficiently executed, in line with the requests and needs of citizens of that area.

Candidates who had lost the last election (many by very narrow margins) remained engaged with their constituents and worked on identifying solutions to local issues – functioning as the shadow MLA’s of their area.

None of them knew whether or not they would be given a ticket for the 2015 election – but that did not hold them back. They used the past year wisely to build relationships and earn the trust of their voters – which gave them a great advantage, during the short one month campaign period.

2. The AAP 49 day Government : Yeh Dil maange more !

Though projected in a negative light by many in the media, the 49 day AAP Government was actually a great success with the Aam Nagrik of Delhi. Corruption visibly reduced, the VAT “raid raj” ceased, school admissions were made more transparent, an SIT was instituted to probe the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, 47 fast track courts to handle cases of violence against women were commissioned and promises on power and water were kept, to name just a few.

Jo kaha so kiya” was a campaign cry that evoked a very positive response at every Jan Sabha I attended. What the opposition projected as anger against Arvind Kejriwal for “running away” – was in fact angst that he had not stayed on and continued to deliver.

When Arvind apologised with folded hands and said that he would never resign again, if voted in with a majority, the crowd would roar with approval !

3. Positive, Issue based Campaign : driven by the Delhi Dialogue 

In October last year we started the Delhi Dialogue process, which along with a few of my AAP colleagues, I had the privilege of leading. Through the Dialogue we had discussions with stakeholders from across the city – with youth, women, traders, villagers, teachers, health workers, RWA’s etc to understand their problems. We then had discussions with specialists locally, nationally and globally to find solutions to these issues.

Our focus was to identify Issues and solutions that an Elected Govt in Delhi could address to make the life of Delhi’s citizens simpler and better. The dialogue was apolitical and bipartisan – we tried to speak with as wide a range of stakeholders as possible – whether they were AAP supporters or not.

What emerged was very positive and energizing. The dialogue itself created a great deal of positive energy. The outcome of the dialogue created a tangible and pragmatic 70 point action plan, that became the solid foundation for our Delhi manifesto.

4. Wonderful and highly motivated volunteers : Dil se !

The magic of AAP is in the people it attracts – and the selflessness with which they work. Drawn from all walks of life and from every socio-economic strata, the Delhi campaign was powered by Volunteers who had seen the party through its worst days and had chosen to stick by it. United by their desire to serve their country, no one was paid for their efforts – other than for modest reimbursements of expenses.

The Delhi team was supplemented by volunteers from across the country and a superbly competent NRI team.

With no hierarchy or discernibleFeatured image organisational structure, volunteers bonded together to form dynamic groups that were determined to bring in 5 Saal Kejriwal !

The camaraderie and enthusiasm with which volunteers got the Aam Aurat and Aam Aadmi to sing and dance to the catchy campaign theme song, had to be experienced to be believed. Talented singers, poets, actors, artists, cartoonists, IT professionals each contributed to make this a very successful and viral campaign in both the real and the virtual world.

5. The Opposition : Kya bole ?

Political analysts will undoubtedly present detailed analyses on the reasons for the opposition’s debacle. Suffice it to say, that the mainstream political parties seemed to score a series of self-goals, that were hard to fathom.

I believe we will look back to the 2015 Delhi election as a turning point. In a democracy, no matter how good the Government may be, an Alternative is essential.

For the past several months it seemed as if India was heading in a direction of single party dominance. Today the Common man has sent a message of hope across the country – that there is an alternative.

The onus is now on AAP to stay grounded and deliver transparent and accountable governance, that is honest, inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

And as Delhi swears in Arvind Kejriwal as its new Chief Minister on Valentine’s day, this is a romance on which the nation’s hopes rest !

Let the Vikrant be a wake up call


As you watch this video, I am sure you will feel the same sense of disbelief and anguish that I did.

On Friday 21 November, we were escorting a group from the Press through Haji Bundar and Darukhana to share with them the problems and potential of our PortLands. We had just trudged past the coal mountains and had paused to spend the sunset with the magnificent Vikrant.

The sight before us brought us to an abrupt halt. Blow torches were cutting through the hull of the Vikrant and a few minutes later we saw her bite the dust, before our eyes.

http://youtu.be/RvtwM_jJeZU

A few weeks ago, Munna bhai, the scrap merchant who had purchased the ship for Rs 63 crores had called and asked for a meeting. He explained that as far as he was concerned scrapping the Vikrant was simply business. “Try and understand” he said, “by trying to save the ship you are costing me money”

Undeterred, a small group of us intensified our efforts to save this iconic ship: we sought and received the support of 3 of the senior most former Chiefs of Naval staff : Admiral Tahiliani, Admiral Nadkarni and Admiral Ramdas. They were confident that a letter signed jointly by them, suggesting a practical and commercially viable solution to saving the Vikrant, would not go unheard by the Powers that be. Sadly, even as that letter was on its way, the Vikrant, a precious symbol of India’s maritime heritage, was being cut to pieces.

In a city where money talks – voices that speak for the future are often silenced, or go unheard, until it is too late.

We have witnessed this in our MillLands. We have seen this with the Vikrant. Let us join hands to make sure that this does not happen with our PortLands.

Let the loss of the Vikrant be a wake up call.

As she goes to her grave, in a ship-breaking yard in the heart of South Mumbai, let us join hands to protest the toxic poisons, that the water, air and soil of Mumbai – and each of us, is being exposed to. We could not save the Vikrant – at least let us try and save ourselves.

We can stop the dumping of coal in Haji Bundar. We can stop the ship breaking in Darukhana. We can stop the disastrous Offshore Container Terminal that will choke the arteries of our city. And we can regenerate the PortLands to provide a precious Green lung for our children.

If you feel strongly about this please join the PortLands movement.

Please come to the PortLands exhibition on Thursday 27th Nov, at Kala Ghoda, and see how the vision of young Mumbaikars, has aligned with the best design principles in the world, to present an alternative future for our city.

IMC_exhibition_poster_A4_finalIK

Please share this message as widely as you can.

If every Mumbaikar embraces our PortLands, then no vested interest, no matter how powerful, can destroy this last remaining hope for the future of our city.

Clearing Mumbai’s Coal Mountains


In July 2013 I came across an article that said respiratory diseases were among the top five killers in Mumbai.

Deaths due to respiratory tract infections such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD) and bronchial asthma were rising steadily. Lung specialists said that one in 10 people in the city had asthma. There were many more deaths from TB and lung cancer.

Where, I wondered, was the source of the pollution that was causing this problem ? What I found was quite shocking.

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

We have mountains of coal in the heart of South Mumbai, just a few kilometres from Chatrapati Shivaji Station. RTI applications revealed that over 1.8 mln tonnes were stacked here in 2013. And the sea breeze carries this coal dust into the lungs of every Mumbaikar. This coal, is not even meant for the city of Mumbai. It is being stacked here for storage and transport to coal plants of MahGenCo in Bhusaval, which would be much better served by ports such as Surat.

This coal is being unloaded through open excavators, stored in the open and transported in uncovered trucks in violation of all pollution control norms, exposing our city and everyone who lives in Mumbai to growing health hazards.

20140416_094344_resizedGoogle earth photos show how an area that was completely green in 2000 had turned completely black by 2013. Mangroves in the area have been completely destroyed and the entire area of Haji Bunder is carpeted in a layer of black sludge.

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2000

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2013

In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, I therefore committed that I would work towards the removal of these Coal mountains, irrespective of whether I won or lost the election.

And so over the past few months, working with a team of committed citizens, I filed a petition in this matter. As the Pollution Control clearance to Mumbai Port Trust for the handling of coal was expiring on 30th September 2014, this was a matter of urgency.

I am very glad to share that the Hon High Court of Mumbai has heard our Petition. Their judgement, extracts of which are attached below, gives us confidence that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board will not extend its permission to the Mumbai Port Trust for coal handling.

” PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (L) NO.111 OF 2014

Smt. Meera Sanyal and anr. vs. Union of India through Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi and ors.

Mr. Kusumakar Kaushik for Petitioners.

CORAM: MOHIT S. SHAH, C.J. & M.S.SONAK, J.

DATE : 25 SEPTEMBER 2014

Two public spirited citizens in Mumbai have moved this Court for challenging the consent to operate order dated 14 October 2013 granted by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to Mumbai Port Trust (MPT), particularly, in the matter of coal handling at Haji Bunder or at any other place in Mumbai Port Lands. The said consent to operate order is going to expire on 30 September 2014 and the petitioners have therefore prayed for an injunction to restrain the MPCB from renewing/extending the consent to operate beyond 30 September 2014.

2] Having regard to the nature of grievances voiced in the public interest litigation, it would be just and proper to direct that MPCB shall treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation.

3] Accordingly, the public interest litigation is disposed of with a direction to MPCB­respondent No.3 to treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation and to take the same into consideration before taking any decision on the proposal of MPT ­ respondent No.4 for renewal/extension of the consent to operate order. It goes without saying that the MPT will also be allowed to submit their response to the representation and such response shall be given within two weeks from today and thereafter MPCB shall consider the proposal of MPT for renewal/ extension of the consent to operate.

4] It is clarified that we have not gone into the merits of the controversies sought to be raised in this public interest litigation and it will be open to the petitioners to move this Court again, if and when required.

CHIEF JUSTICE

(M.S.SONAK, J.) ”

This is however only the first step in our battle to reclaim the PortLands for the city of Mumbai.

Please join me in this fight for a more livable Mumbai and share this post with your friends. Please also share any ideas and suggestions you may have on Mumbai’s PortLands  at apliportlands@gmail.com

APLI Mumbai : a citizens plan to re-imagine Mumbai


In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, the issue of reclaiming Mumbai’s Port Lands was central to my agenda. 

Mumbai’s Port Lands, (comprising approx. 1000 acres of non operational land within the Mumbai Port Trust, on the eastern water front) represent a unique and perhaps the only chance to re-vitalise and re-imagine the city of Mumbai.

The Mumbai Port was once the fulcrum of our great industrial city from the 18th-20th century. However with rising costs, Industry migrated, with a corresponding decline in Port operations. Once thriving warehouses turned derelict and the area is now a dumping ground for coal (1.8 mln tonnes in 2013), a toxic ship breaking yard, (where the iconic air craft carrier Vikrant has been beached for scrap) and other polluting and undesirable activities. 

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

The area can and should become a green lung for the city offering much needed public utilities such as schools, colleges, vocational training centres, hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, sports facilities, arts & crafts zones and open spaces. It can also become an Educational cum sports hub, and an Innovation cluster with Incubation facilities and infrastructure for new age entrepreneurs.

Derelict warehouse

Derelict warehouse

Over the past few months, I was happy to see that many Mumbaikars shared this dream and even happier that the new Government picked up this idea, and invited citizen suggestions.

Working with a wonderful group of young architects, urban planners and Mumbaikars, we formed a citizens group called APLI Mumbai and proposed the attached vision plan to the Mumbai Port Trust. 

Our proposal takes into account the historical, archeological and ecological characteristics of the Port Lands and proposes 12 neighbourhoods that can swiftly and economically transform our Port Lands into a beautiful, friendly, open and vibrant part of our city.

Strategically located between the Suburban harbour line and the eastern waterfront, most parts of the Port Lands are no more than a 10 minute walk from an existing railway station.  The Eastern waterfront lends itself seamlessly to coastal water transport and with the 9 Passenger Water Terminals that we have proposed, the Port Lands can decongest Mumbai’s crowded arterial roads and provide much needed North-South and trans-harbour connectivity.

12 Neighbourhoods to re-vitalise Mumbai’s PortLands

We have suggested certain core principles to the Rani Jadhav Committee in our Citizens Vision plan, namely :

  • People Oriented planning: no privatisation of the the water front, human scale development, and the area should be designed to friendly and accessible to all (from a child of 8 to a senior citizen of 80, as well as to those who are differently abled)
  • Transit Oriented Design: with integrated mobility, pedestrian &  cyclist friendly, and with a walking time to a transit hub (rail or passenger water jetty) of no more than 10 mins
  • Holistic planning: integrate the needs of Mumbai and the MCGM 2014-34 plan with the development of the Port Lands space, as per UDPFI guidelines.

We have also suggested an enabling Legislative framework and a financing plan, that envisages Mumbai’s industrial houses, investing their CSR budgets, for creating Public utilities and public spaces, that are much needed for the future of all Mumbaikars.

To ensure that this is truly a Citizens plan and that the Port Lands are not subjected to the land grab that our Mill Lands were, please share this widely with your friends and family and all who are passionate about the future of our city.

We see this as a living document and would be very glad to receive your ideas and suggestions.

Please share your feedback at apliportlands@gmail.com so that we can incorporate your input and update the MbPT at regular intervals.

Dilli Chalo !


We have spent the last week on the campaign trail with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi.

It has been a fascinating experience – walking shoulder to shoulder with volunteers from all walks of life, in the most elite but also the poorest colonies of our nation’s capital. The buzz in the air is electric – one can feel that history is about to be made. Driven by ideals and integrity, the Aam Aadmi Party is shaking the foundations of the political behemoths that dominate Indian politics. If they win, and surveys show them gaining pace rapidly, this will send a clarion call through out the nation, that the common citizen can stand and win an election, without the money and muscle power that have made Indian politics a closed club.

Candidates :

Selected through a rigorous, transparent and bottom up process , the candidates are at the core of the campaign.

Campaigning door to door with Saurabh Bhardwaj

Campaigning door to door with Saurabh Bhardwaj

We were volunteers for the campaign team of Saurabh Bhardwaj, AAP candidate from the Greater Kailash constituency. An engineer and lawyer, he worked as a software systems engineer with a reputed multinational, before resigning to join the India against Corruption movement. Resident of Chirag Delhi village, he is soft-spoken and grounded. The son of a DESU engineer and grandson of a respected local lawyer who fought for the rights of the neighbouring Chirag masjid, Saurabh is greeted warmly in the 4 Lal Dora villages of the constituency. “Yeh hamaara hi beta hai” say village elders as they place their hands on his head in blessing. But he is equally well-liked in the posh drawing rooms of Panchsheel Enclave and Greater Kailash. He listens attentively to the issues of residents and invites inputs for the local manifesto that each AAP candidate is drawing up for their constituency. “It is nice to finally have someone we can actually talk to” was the common feedback.

Candidates come from varied backgrounds. We had the opportunity to meet Irfan, AAP candidate from Okhla, the lively and vivacious journalist Shazia from RK Puram, and supreme court lawyer and prominent civil activist Somnath from Malviya Nagar. What is common amongst them is the intensive door-to-door campaign that each has undertaken over the past few months to meet their constituents and understand their issues. By contrast, as at yesterday, barely a month before the Delhi state assembly elections, other political parties have not yet shared the names of their candidates.

Volunteers:

Interacting with Saurabh’s volunteers was a simply delightful experience. N the talented guitarist and software engineer from IIT, was the soul of a flash mob that had all of GK M- block market swinging, though his regular task is handling the IT systems. A, a PhD scholar from Kolkatta was pitching in to help with data analysis, but also persuasively explaining to residents of Chittaranjan Park that there was no option “Ebaar AAPer jone vote korte hi hoi !”. M, who quit her job with an NGO is a full time volunteer at the campaign office. Messrs S, L and A, all in their late 50’s have put their businesses on hold while they volunteer their time and resources for the campaign. S and I, elegant ladies from Delhi’s old and genteel families, are helping Saurabh bridge with the elite of Delhi, but also campaigning tirelessly door-to-door in their colonies. What unites them all is the conviction that the time for change is now.

We also had the opportunity to meet volunteers at the central office and of other constituencies. Driven by the same passion for change they are pouring in from all parts of the country – and many from abroad as well. An eminent neonatologist from Chicago has put his practice on hold for 6 months to volunteer. R, a software professional from Houston is helping with the Comms backbone…Volunteers turn up at the central office and are assigned tasks/ constituencies. They pay their own way, arrange their own accommodation and food. Those who are unable to do so, are accommodated in the homes of Delhi volunteers. There is no talk of money – there is no need to.

Voters

The perception that AAP attracts only the poor, marginalised voter was completely de-bunked. There is no question that the poorest voters have embraced AAP as their own party. The smiles on their faces as we were welcomed into their homes said it all. However we were pleasantly surprised at the extent of goodwill towards both the candidate and the party as we interacted with more well-heeled residents of Delhi.

Mr S, a retired diplomat from the IFS explained the reason he supported AAP : ” Every hoodlum and anti-social element in this colony is on the pay-rolls of one or the other major political party. Ishraaf Insaan yahan sans bhi nahin le sakta.” Mr SG, who had served many years with the legendary Kurien said “I was fortunate to witness the milk revolution, now I want to see the revolution for clean politics“. This positive sentiment was echoed by young school children waiting at bus stops who gave us the high five; retired seniors from the armed forces, railways, banks and multinationals whom we met on their morning walks; heads of Residents Welfare Associations (RWA’s); and housewives everywhere.

Supporting AAP on their morning walk

Supporting AAP on their morning walk

The issues of water (both availability and price), exorbitant electricity bills, rising food prices (particularly milk and onions), and safety for women were the top agenda items wherever we went, though their priority varied. Problems of garbage collection; the lack of footpaths, over-bridges and bicycling paths (Sunita Narain’s serious injuries while cycling were fresh in everyone’s minds); the covering up of the nullahs with cement concrete and consequent dengue menace and foul odour; the poor quality of construction (and collapse) of parking lots; the wastage of money on granite gates for parks, erected for the sole purpose of displaying the name of the local MP /MLA/ Councillor were amongst the common discussion items.

What was refreshing was the willingness of voters to engage – while they complained about their problems, many also constructively offered solutions. AAP’s strategy of a local manifesto for each MLA constituency (since adopted by one of the major political parties) is both engaging and sustainable – it creates a charter of accountability for the candidate on local issues, and a process for continuing dialogue with citizens on an ongoing basis. It is the first time in India, that I have seen such a serious and well thought out plan that implements local self governance in urban areas. If this succeeds it will be a beacon of good governance for the entire country.

How you can be the change

I have inundated with messages, asking how you can participate. These are my suggestions :

As a voter in Delhi :

  • Invite the AAP candidate from your area, and all your neighbours to your home, and jointly formulate your local area manifesto. Irrespective of party affiliation this is an essential step to drive good governance in your area, and frame the agenda for future action
  • Organise an a-political gathering in your colony and invite all candidates to an open debate, and Q&A session on local issues. This will help you arrive at a first hand assessment of the candidates in your area.
  • Make sure you and everyone in your family is registered to vote and go out and vote on election day

As a supporter of AAP (either in or outside Delhi )

  • Help with funds : AAP is short of funding, both for candidate campaigns and basic advertising, in this critical last phase of the Delhi elections. The war-chest of the major political parties is now evident in the blitzkrieg of advertising unleashed over the past few days. It is simple to donate (either on-line on the AAP web site, or by cheque); it is 100% tax free; and you receive both an acknowledgement and receipt immediately. But there is a sense of urgency, so if you plan to donate, do so now.
  • Make a call : AAP supporters have set up a website http://myaap.in/emc3, through which you can call Delhi voters and campaign for AAP. For those without an Internet Facility, you can SMS 9958323665 and request phone numbers. 10 random phone numbers will be SMS-ed to you, which you can then call. There are daily Conference Call Training Sessions on how to do so effectively. (so far over 7500 Volunteers from all over the world, including NRI’s from Ghana and Khazhakistan have made over 1 Lakh Phone Calls !)

Many of you have asked me whether I have joined the Aam Aadmi Party. The answer is no.

During my campaign for the Lok Sabha in 2009, I was deeply grateful for the support I received from volunteers, most of whom were initially strangers. Their support and faith in what I was standing for, meant a great deal to me. My husband Ashish and I felt it was therefore right to volunteer our un-conditional support to AAP.

In the process we were fortunate to have the opportunity to campaign for Saurabh who is an outstanding candidate and to meet many wonderful and inspiring people who have joined his campaign team. Best of all, we have returned to Mumbai filled with hope and energy for our 2014 campaign for South Mumbai !

What drives the Rupee down ?


Indian rupee collection

Indian rupee collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Global factors, local forces or animal spirits – what drives the Rupee down ?

As the Indian rupee nose-dived this past week, and stock markets were enveloped in gloom, pundits struggled to decode the answers to this question.

One thing however was painfully clear : the consequence of the lower rupee would be higher prices for all of us.

–       we would pay more for fuel, fertilisers and every item that had imported parts

–       we would pay more for our loans, as the Reserve Bank of India raised interest rates, in an effort to keep FII money from flowing out

How did the Indian economy, hailed as a roaring tiger just a few years ago, reach this sorry state ?  What triggered the fall  and what  sustains the rupee’s downward momentum ?

The first global trigger was the suggestion by Ben Bernanke on June 19, 2013, that the central bank of the USA was prepared to begin phasing out it’s Quantitative Easing (QE) Program.  As a result bond yields in the USA rose, and markets across the world fell, as Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs), pulled money out of equities and emerging markets to invest in US treasuries.

Economies such as India, which had developed dependencies on FII inflows to fund their Current Account Deficits, faced immediate and painful adjustments.

A second trigger came earlier this week, as fears of military action against Syria escalated.  As the price of Brent crude spiked, markets assumed that rising oil prices would undermine growth – especially for countries highly dependent on oil imports.

However these factors affected many emerging markets. Why have the currencies of Mexico, South Korea and many eastern European nations held up so well, while the currencies of countries like Turkey, South Africa and India have plummeted ?

The answer is that FII’s are differentiating between countries.  They are looking at the fundamental factors driving each local economy and choosing where they wish to place their bets.

Countries that rely most on short-term foreign money to fund trade deficits have been the hardest hit. India has a Current Account Deficit (CAD) of  5.1 % of GDP (Turkey  is at 5.9%, S Africa  at 6.3%)

But even this does not fully why FII’s are pulling more money out of India, hence causing the Indian rupee to weaken more than other currencies ?

The answer lies with the elusive animal spirits.

There is a change in guard at the Reserve Bank of India. Markets will observe carefully to see if the new governor, Dr Raghuram Rajan, will take as strong a stance as his predecessor Dr D Subbarao, on inflation, monetary policy and the autonomy of the central bank.

More importantly it is clear to Investors that the Indian political establishment will cater to vote bank politics rather than focus on economics in an election year.

To quote the Wall Street Journal, dt Aug 29, 2013 :  “If India’s fiscally irresponsible “antihunger “ bill passes the Upper House, while needed structural reforms languish, don’t be surprised if pessimism over the country’s future deepens.”

What is the way out of this situation ?

The markets, like all of us, are looking to see decisive actions by the Government, that will help restore confidence in the Indian economy. Three simple steps will not only stem the fall of the rupee but also set the Indian economy back on the path of growth :

1)   Rein in Government Spending and bring the fiscal deficit under control

2)   Take quick measures to address the Current account deficit

3)   Start seriously undertaking pro-growth reforms

As Terrence Checki of the New York Federal Reserve stated “Fundamentals are Fundamental”. Three simple words that our Policy makers and politicians would do well to heed.

If we have criminals in Parliament, we will have criminals on the streets


On Thursday 22 August, a young journalist was brutally gang raped in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

On the same day, the Union Cabinet of India, cleared a proposal to amend the Representation of People’s Act (RPA), in order to negate a recent landmark Supreme Court judgement, that disqualified legislators convicted of crimes.

The correlation between the two events, is a tragic reflection of the situation that India finds itself in today.

The proposed amendment to the RPA deserves a brief explanation.

On July 10, 2013, the Supreme Court of India, in response to a Public Interest Litigation, gave an eminently sensible judgement, ruling that Section 8(4) of the RPA would be set aside. The RPA states that a convicted criminal cannot stand for elections.

However, as per Section 8(4), if a sitting MP or MLA is convicted while in office, then they will have 3 months from the date of such conviction, to file an appeal. Until the appeal is decided, no action will be taken to disqualify them, until the appeal is disposed. Unfortunately in India, given the speed of the judicial process, a convicted criminal can remain in office for several years while the appeal is being considered.

The Supreme Court ruled, that this Section went against the intention of the founding fathers of the nation and the spirit of our constitution, which was to debar criminals. In the view of the Supreme Court, if a sitting legislator felt he was being unfairly prosecuted, he could seek protection by staying the conviction; however a blanket protective clause, as provided by Section 8(4) was ultra vires.

As a consequence of the 10 July judgement, Section 8(4) was struck down with immediate effect. Any legislator who is henceforth convicted of a crime attracting a sentence of more than two years, will be immediately disqualified, his seat declared vacant, and he will be debarred for the next 6 years from contesting for elections. The Supreme Court also ruled that anyone in police or judicial custody (i.e. in jail) would be debarred from standing for elections.

Given that 30%* of our MP’s & MLA’s have criminal cases against them, this ruling was greeted with relief by citizens across the country.

(Source *: Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) statistics: 162 MP’s in the present Lok Sabha, 40 MP’s in the Rajya Sabha and 1258 sitting MLA’s, have self-declared criminal cases pending against them.)

Unfortunately, the reaction of all major political parties to the judgement was very negative. Perhaps because, in our political system, we have come to believe, that candidates with criminal cases against them, have a better chance of being elected, or that their criminal record does not matter to the voters.

ADR statistics show that political parties, shockingly gave tickets to 74% of candidates with criminal records, for a second time, despite having information on their criminal background from a previous election.

MP’s (who have otherwise been unable to agree on any matter of national importance in the past 4 years) gathered to protest the Supreme Court judgement, at an all-party meet on Aug 1. The Indian press reported an extra-ordinary show of solidarity, as leaders of various parties, cutting across party lines, asked for amendments that would overturn the apex court’s ruling, on the grounds that it challenged the supremacy of Parliament.

The Cabinet proposal to amend the RPA, was then swiftly moved forward – ironically, and tragically for India, on the very same date as the Shakti Mills gang-rape.

What does this mean for us ?

A week ago, a highly educated young man who had studied at an Ivy League Business school in the USA was discussing politics with me. He argued passionately in favour of a certain national political leader of a certain national political party both of which shall go unnamed.

India is at a tipping point” he said, “and a fractured mandate is dangerous for our country. Every vote that goes to the xxx symbol is a vote for xxx.” However, when I sought to discuss the credentials of the local candidate in his constituency, he dismissed this saying “It does not matter who the local candidate is – he could be a rapist for all I care”

This then, is where we find ourselves. As the grief and rage over heinous attacks on innocent women like Nirbhaya and the young photo-journalist mount, it is worth reflecting on how we reached this point.

It is self-evident that :

If we have criminals in Parliament, then we will have criminals on the street.

– If the law-maker is a law-breaker, and makes laws to protect himself, then the citizen has no protection.

If Police reforms that will empower the police force to serve citizens, rather than politicians, have still not been implemented, despite repeated strictures by the Supreme Court since 2006, then the citizen has no hope.

Is there a solution ?

I believe there is. Clearly we can send the right message to political parties in the next election, by voting for candidates without a criminal record.

However, social media gives us the opportunity, to send them that message today.

With 78 million Indians on Face book, 20 million on Twitter and 22 million on LinkedIn, we have a voice. We also have the means of instantaneously and effortlessly, reaching senior leaders in the major parties, each of whom sees social media as an important tool of communicating with us.

So let’s send them the message :

We do not want criminals in Parliament – so there should be NO amendments to the RPA !