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 !


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.


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.


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 !

Time for an Indian Monsoon to wash our politics clean

This has been an Indian summer filled with heat and dirt.

Every new scam, brings with it ever increasing disillusionment with the existing political establishment, cutting across party lines.

Evidence of rampant corruption to an extent never witnessed before, combined with the brazen disregard for public opinion and probity in public life and, have led India to a tipping point. As political parties trade charges, in an effort to gain political mileage from scandals in the other camp, both Government and Parliament have been paralysed. But for our Judiciary, things would be looking very bleak.

However there are two emerging trends that offer a ray of hope in this dis-heartening environment.

1. The Emergence of Citizen’s parties and candidates : Across the country, like minded citizen’s are coming together to create a new Political Order. There is a growing feeling that we must create a political alternative led by citizen politicians. The hope is that people with integrity, experience, competence, vision and humility will be willing to enter politics, not to serve themselves but to serve their country. Unburdened by the baggage of dynasty and criminals, politics in our country could be washed clean.

Over the past months, I have had discussions with many such groups and individuals. Hearteningly, what unites us is the understanding that bringing this change will take time, and the commitment to stay the course, until it does. As a wise elderly gentleman said “Change will come and we will win, but this is a race in which only the those with the stamina and courage for the long haul will survive. Hamein lambe race ke ghodon ki zaroorat hai !”

I am hopeful that many of these citizens groups will find it possible to rally around a common set of Principles, and agree on the priorities and policies that need to be focused on. If we do so, we can use this precious window of opportunity to create a viable Third alternative that this country so desperately needs.

2. The power of citizen’s participation, enabled by media and technology : It is clear that both media and social media have become game changers. Technology now makes it possible for citizens to actively participate in Governance – to share their views on-line, in real-time and for their voice to be heard. Increasingly our elected representatives are being held accountable, for doing the job they were elected to do, and for upholding moral and ethical values, that many have so far ignored.

Ours has always been a vibrant democracy with an electorate that does not hesitate to boot out incompetent and corrupt administrations. Regrettably these lessons are often forgotten by both incumbents and opposition, in the five-year long lead-up to the next elections.

Nevertheless, these two trends are encouraging signs for a truly representative and participative democracy. Thanks to them, we will hopefully have an Indian Monsoon, (rather than an Arab Spring), to wash away the dirt in Indian politics.

What I stand for

In 2009, I stood for the Lok Sabha, National Parliamentary election as an Independent Candidate for South Mumbai. Though I lost, I learnt a great deal about my city and the people at its heart. It was the beginning of a journey, and one that I knew, I would devote the rest of my life to.

At the time, my step was considered quixotic by many, who regarded it as tilting at the windmills of the powerful Indian political establishment. Yet, in the four years since then, I have been delighted to see a rising wave of other independent citizen candidates and newly formed political parties, start to contest local and state elections.

It is as if the floodgates have opened, and the common citizen, the Aam Janta have said “Enough”. The initial reluctance of our generation, to participate in a political process widely regarded as venal and corrupt, has given away to the realisation that Politics matters. We can no longer abdicate the space of Governing our nation to the lowest common denominator. We can and must participate constructively, not just in the political debate, but in the process itself.

In the past four years I have been asked repeatedly if I would stand again; from which constituency and what my campaign strategy would be. Friends and well wishers have been generous with advice and offers of support, that I greatly value.

But it was a simple question from a child that has dominated my thoughts over the past four years.  “Why are you standing” she asked, “and what do you stand for ?”

To answer this question, I started to undertake a series of exploratory journeys. The first into the issues that our country grapples with. The problems of education and health; of law and order and human rights; of poverty and corruption; of water, energy and food security…and of the best practices and policies that India could adopt, to address these challenges.

But it soon became evident that my ideas were shaped by my own background and perspectives – that of a banker who had grown up in urban India. In my years of banking I had learnt one thing – if you make the wrong assumptions, you make the wrong decisions – and such mistakes can be very expensive. There is no better way to understand the business and prospects of clients than to spend time with them in the field and understand the dynamics and drivers of their business.

Since India lives in her villages, it became clear to me, that this is where I would have to go. So in the summer of 2012, I embarked on a journey to the villages of India. During the course of the year I visited 15 states and spent time in over 120 villages. For the most part I traveled by public transport and lived in the homes, for a day and a night, with the women beneficiaries of my bank’s foundation.

Some of the stories of the journey have been shared with you through this blog and posts on Face book and twitter, and much of it still remains to be told. But the thread that ran through each and every step of this path, was that despite all the cynicism and sense of hopelessness that we experience when we watch TV or read the papers, the heart of India beats strongly.

The dignity and generosity with which I was welcomed into the homes, of women who had very little, will stay with me for ever.

In home after home, my hostesses refused to take any compensation for the hospitality they provided me. The true meaning of “Atithi Devo Bhava” came home to me when in one instance my gift of a saree was gracefully accepted and then in return I was presented her “shaadi ka joda”. Despite the  hard physical labour which they put in over long hours (women everywhere in our country rise at dawn and work till late at night), there was always time for the sharing of stories and for the gift of laughter. It became abundantly clear to me that the women of our country have very big hearts and very broad shoulders.

But it also became clear to me, that we are eroding this moral fibre of our people with the policy of hand-outs and give-aways that every political party is adopting for short-term electoral gains.

In Gram Sabhas, I was often asked aggressively by male villagers, as to what I had come to give them. The plethora of Government schemes driven by electoral promises, delivered inefficiently and with innumerable leakages, is creating a climate of entitlement. This is worsened by well-meaning NGO’s who see development through the lens of charity.

In other villages I was asked for help in accessing bank loans. Initially very pleased at this request, I was distressed to learn the reason bank loans were preferred to all other forms of credit was that “they never had to be repaid – as they were invariably written off before the next election.”

Flag ship schemes such as MGNREGS, which if well executed can transform districts (ref my blog on the Bankura experiment) are in general so poorly implemented that they are becoming major vehicles for corruption and theft. Villagers across the country confided how they had received money despite doing no work, but also shared that they did so in the knowledge that everyone up the chain had taken a much larger cut. “Is it not fair that we should get our share ?” was the simple question.

So we have embarked on a path, where policies that ostensibly aim to provide social justice and inclusion are becoming ruinous. From the recent experience of some countries in Europe, it is clear that such policies are not financially sustainable in the long run and result in the impoverishment of the finances of a nation. What is worse, is that through the collateral damage they create, they impoverish the soul of a nation.

We are converting a proud and dignified people into those who are dependant on hand-outs. This will destroy the future of our children.

The second major concern that I gathered on this journey, was the erosion of faith in our Institutions. The common man has begun to doubt the pillars that are the very foundation of this country – the police, the judiciary, the CBI, various constitutional bodies, and even the Armed Forces.

These are institutions that we look up to, to uphold our rights as free citizens – no matter what our social status or incomes, no matter what our gender, community, caste or religion. We can only be equal in the eyes of the law if there are institutions that defend and uphold our rights, not just in letter but in spirit.

But sadly, whether this is justified or not, the people of India have begun to feel that the integrity of these important institutions have been compromised. This will erode the faith of citizens in the state and the very basis of our democracy.

We are at a tipping point.

Ours is a nation of hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial people who are decent, God-fearing and honest. Our people have no need for charity, nor is it in their nature to cheat or defraud anyone. We are not a corrupt nation but sadly some of our leaders are. It is not the people of India who have let our country down, but regrettably much of our political leadership has.

It is time for all of us to take a position in defending what we believe to be right. And so, this is why I stand.

And this is what I stand for :

I stand for the soul of India.

I stand to uphold the integrity of our institutions.

And I stand for the dream of every mother who believes that the future of her child will be bright – based on his/her own hard work and because she/he had no more, but also no less, than a fair and equal opportunity.

Democracy in Motion : Sisters of Sampoorna


This article was published as part of Gateway House’s Democracy in Motion report on 9 AUGUST 2012.

In the summer of 2012, I took a journey through the villages of six states in India: Gujarat, Assam, Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh.

It was a fascinating journey, and I returned full of hope. In our villages lives a vibrant India, and one where there are many fine examples of good governance driven by strong local grassroots participation.

I saw that in places where the people took active part in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs are local governance bodies in rural India), government subsidies and schemes were more efficiently and honestly utilised. Consequently, these villages had noticeably higher development indicators.

Equally interesting: where larger numbers of women were on the Panchayats, or more women were Pradhans (heads of the village governing council), the outcomes were better. For example, in Lobsan village in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat, where the Pradhan was Zahera Daruwalla, the village primary school was better staffed, facilities for drinking water were better, and the village was cleaner and more hygienic, than the other villages I visited in the same district.

To my pleasant surprise, very few of these women were regarded in their villages as proxies for the men in their families. While many had initially stood for elections on the quota reserved for women in PRIs, I was delighted to see that many women were also confident of standing and winning on merit.

The story of the Didis or Sisters of Sampoorna, in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, is one such amazing example.

The Karanjia block in this district is an area that has been historically characterised by high poverty levels and mass migration to cities. The population of this area is predominantly adivasi (tribal)—the Santhal, Munda, Bathudi and Kolha are the major tribes here. Villages are located in the fringe and buffer areas of the forests of Simlipal, and the adivasis are dependent on forest products.

The women of this district are artistic. Each home is beautifully decorated in colours and designs that could grace the museums of Paris. But their days are long and hard. Every morning, they rise at 4 a.m. and go in groups to the forest to gather sal leaves. When the day’s work is done, they sit until late at night weaving the leaves into plates and containers that are then picked up by middlemen and shipped to the temples of South India, for the distribution of prasadam to devotees. The selling price of these natural, eco-friendly and bio-degradable plates ranges from Rs. 60 to Rs. 100 per thousand—by any standards a pittance for the amount of effort put into making them, and indeed for their true value.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Pradan and foundations like the Royal Bank of Scotland Foundation, have worked successfully in Karanjia block to organise women into self-help groups (SHGs). These groups focus on economically empowering their members. They encourage savings, help in the formation of thrifts, enable micro-credit, and facilitate alternative livelihood options such as producing and packaging spices and rearing commercial poultry, so that women have access to supplementary sources of income.

In many parts of the country SHGs coalesce to form a federation that enhances the economic strength of the groups. One such, called Sampoorna, was formed in Karanjia comprising 400 SHGs and a membership of approximately 6,000 women drawn from 255 villages.

Unlike other federations, Sampoorna, guided by Sulakshana Pandit, a bright 28-year-old young lady who works with Pradan, decided to focus on political empowerment rather than on economic activities.

Funded by a United Nations programme for women’s rights, Sulakshana and her team started workshops for the members of Sampoorna, to create awareness about PRIs and their role in village and district governance. In February 2012, as the panchayat elections approached, Sulakshana asked the Sampoorna didis if any of them would stand for the 125 panchayat ward seats in the Karanjia block.

To her astonishment, 137 women said they would. Supported by members of their SHGs and their friends and families, the Sisters of Sampoorna formed a formidable group. Confronted by this development, the established political parties swung into action—intimidation, monetary clout, and other tactics came into the picture. The women stood their ground, the elections were keenly fought, and the outcome is a wonderful example of Democracy in Motion.

Of the 125 panchayat ward seats, Sampoorna candidates won 88. For the 13 posts of Gram Pradhan or Sarpanch (head of the village panchayat), 29 Sampoorna sisters contested and 7 were elected. For the 13 Panchayat Samiti seats (this tier is an administrative division comprising a group of villages), 33 Sampoorna candidates filed papers and 8 won, and for the Zilla Parishad (at the district level) 8 Sampoorna sisters filed nominations and 2 succeeded.

This is an impressive set of statistics. As I interacted with the didis of Sampoorna, I found that their spirit was even more impressive. Those who had won shared a clear and focused agenda of the changes they would like to bring about in their villages. Those who lost felt no sense of dejection—they were confident that by holding those who had won accountable, they could also make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in their villages.

I believe the example set by the Sisters of Sampoorna in Karanjia will, in time, resonate through our country. They have shown what can be achieved when ordinary citizens have the courage to come forward and participate in the political process. More importantly, the villagers who voted for them have shown that democracy is a gift—but only if we chose to put cynicism aside and exercise our franchise wisely.

About the Author : Meera H Sanyal is the Country Executive and Chairperson of the Royal Bank of Scotland, in India. In 2009 she stood as an Independent candidate for the Lok Sabha elections from South Mumbai. In 2011 she was the only woman leader from India to be invited by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join her International Council on Women’s Business Leadership.


For whom the Votes Poll

Municipal Corporation Building, Mumbai.

The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai Head Quarters Image via Wikipedia

It is very heartening to see the number of citizen candidates who are standing for the upcoming elections, both for the 5 state assembly polls and for the Municipal Corporation elections in Pune and Mumbai. Many of these candidates have reached out to me over the past few months to share their stories, and seek support.

As I speak with them, I am reminded of an encounter that took place a few months after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. We were standing in a small group at a Social gathering, when a senior politician from a well-connected political family, and belonging to a major political party, came and joined us.

“So” he said, referring to my campaign, “are you going to stand again ?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued condescendingly, “Idea chod do – is zindaji mein tum kabhi jeet nahi sakogi ” (Give up the idea – in this lifetime you will never win !)

Somewhat taken aback, I looked carefully at him. Past the arrogant bravado, there seemed to be a glimmer of fear in his eyes. So I responded gently, that while he may be right, I was confident that in our lifetimes, the nature of politics in India would change.

Politics would once again be considered as an opportunity to serve one’s country and not as a dynastic prerogative where the “gaddi” or entitlement to rule was passed from one generation to the next . While it could be that I may never win, ordinary citizens like me would win one day – and India would be a better place for it.

It is therefore a matter of great happiness to see so many citizens candidates supported by grass root citizens groups, enter the fray just 3 years after the 2009 elections.

In Pune the Pune Nagrik Sanghatan (PNS) has selected and is supporting candidates like Binod  Ojha , Sana Patil, and Advocate Sunil Jagtap, who have a track record of service and a reputation for integrity. More details can be found on the PNS facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/PNS-Pune-Nagarik-Sanghatana-Clean-Politics-for-a-Better-Pune/224762500939523. Whether or not you are a registered voter in Pune, do please visit the page, and register your support should you feel appropriate, by “liking” the page.

In Mumbai, so far 37 citizen candidates, have come forward to stand for the Corporation elections.

Mumbai 227, (who also have a facebook page by the same name) have followed a rigorous process to select potential corporators. Amongst their candidates are Capt Vijay Shivdasani an ex naval officer, with an exemplary track record, contesting from Ward 227 (Navy Nagar, Colaba); and Vishwajit Sangle a young social worker from ward 210 (Mumbai Central, Grant Rd East & Najivan Society) Both these gentlemen are well-known to me and I can vouch for the fact that they are standing for a better Mumbai. Corporators like them, can, and will, make a difference.

Similarly the Lok Satta Party, headed by the charismatic JP Narayan, is putting up amongst others, Sangeeta Sharma for ward 76 and Dr. Parag Jhaveri for Ward 216. The Mumbai Nagrik Satta led by Adolf D’Souza is supporting 7 candidates and the Mumbai Nagrik  Manch led by Hansel D ‘Souza is putting up 3.

What is common amongst all these citizen candidates is that :

  • none of them is a career politician
  • they are standing independent of established political parties
  • they each have a track record of performance and integrity in their current professions
  • each is driven by a desire to improve their ward/locality/city/ state/country
  • they are not afraid to lose !

The entry of this large number of citizen candidates has the potential to be a game changer – particularly at the Corporation level in Mumbai and Pune.

It comes at the same time that nearly 70 % of the existing corporators will lose their seats, due to reservations. The situation in Mumbai illustrates this clearly : out of 227 seats, 114 are reserved for Women, 61 for Other Backward Castes, and 13 for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – leaving only 39 seats unreserved !

This explains the friction that the parties in all major political alliances are currently undergoing. It is no longer a scramble to find “safe” seats – it is hard enough finding any seats at all to stand from !

The upcoming elections provide us a unique opportunity. We can stop complaining about the problems of inadequate infrastructure, corruption and poor leadership and instead take positive actions. Let us take the trouble, to get to know the candidates who are standing, make a reasoned choice about who the best individual is, and make the effort to support her/him. Last but not least, let us take the trouble to go out and vote on election day – if we vote for better candidates we will have better Governance. It really is that simple.

In his lyrical book For Whom the Bell Tolls, Earnest Hemingway reminds us “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 

If ever there were a time to remember this, it is now – it is not these citizen candidates who will win or lose – it is us, you and me.

A New Year’s Resolution…Vote for Independence

When I look back at my campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha election, one of the most memorable moments was watching a news clip of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh on a flying visit to Mumbai, for a day, say “Don’t vote for Independents – they are spoilers” !

As I was an Independent, and as this had been, for several weeks, the refrain mounted by my opposition, it was widely assumed that the PM’s comment was directed at me.

A group from my campaign team was elated – they felt this was a sign that the traditional political establishment was so threatened by the new independent voice in politics, that they had to get the PM to speak against it. Other members of the team saw this as a real dampener for my campaign. The PM was one of the most respected voices in the country, and his comments would undoubtedly sway many voters against me.

The TV channels asked me to comment on Dr Singh’s statement. What I said at the time, was that I was glad we were living in a Democracy. The Prime Minister, whom I greatly respected, was entitled to his view. However, as a citizen of India, I believed that we needed Independent voices in Parliament – people who stood because they wanted to serve this country; who would vote for issues on principle; and who took a stand based on the dictates of their conscience rather than on the direction of their party’s High Command.

Watching the debate in Parliament on the Lokpal Bill over the past few days, I feel this is more important today for India, than ever before. There are many intelligent and honorable men and women in Parliament – however their voice is drowned by the compulsions of Party politics.

It is astonishing that narrow partisan considerations have blinded all political parties to the nation wide outrage at Corruption and the unwillingness of our representatives to pass legislation to tackle it.

Perhaps the reason is, that this sense of outrage, has not yet translated into a loss of votes. After all, why should the political establishment change its behavior, when old behaviors continue to be rewarded ?

The excellent reports by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) show the disproportionate increase in assets of our elected representatives term after term. Proceedings from Parliament are broadcast live. We have more than enough facts to be able to draw up a balanced score card of the performance of those whom we have elected. If despite this, we continue to re-elect them, are we justified in complaining ?

Yatha Raja Tatha Praja : In his Nitishastra, Chanakya said “As the ruler does, so do the citizens of his country”. The philosophy of Grecian democrats was the inverse of this – they believed that citizens of a Democratic state, would choose leaders who reflected their own nature, namely Yatha Praja Tatha Raja !

Indians are hard-working, God-fearing, honest people. This is evident from the success of the Indian diaspora across the world. Given a level playing field, and access to equal opportunity, our fundamental entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to work hard, help us succeed. At home, Corruption has become all-pervasive, not because “we are like that only” but because the inefficiencies and over regulation of the system have made normal honest functioning very difficult.

If this is true, then we deserve leaders who reflect the true nature of our people. In the New Year, we will have the opportunity to test this belief.

In February 2012, Municipal Corporation elections are scheduled to be held in Mumbai and Pune, followed shortly thereafter by Corporation elections in Delhi and Lucknow. In each city, Independent candidates supported by Citizen’s groups, are coming forward to stand as Corporators to serve their cities. The Pune Nagrik Sanghatana, Mumbai 227 and other civil society groups are doing a magnificent job in supporting Independent citizen’s candidates.

So on the eve of the New Year, if you too feel that we deserve Independence from our current lack of leadership, then rather than becoming despondent or cynical, please resolve to support the Independent Voice.

As we have seen recently, one can be sure that it is NOT the Independents who are spoilers !