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 !

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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 !

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.