Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ch 26: Ruminations (some excerpts)

Periodically, I used to observe myself minutely, so as to keep negative tendencies in check. Once, on ‘Newshour’ on Times Now, I derided Renuka Chowdhury from the Congress. She had been trying to block all arguments against Robert Vadra, and, in response, I mocked her for ‘rolling [her] eyes and making faces’ instead of answering the nation. She was understandably angry, but many viewers were highly tickled.  For the next two days, there was a flurry of emails, texts, Facebook posts and tweets that expressed amusement and applauded me for an ‘apt retort’. I began gloating over my sharp riposte. 

It was on the third day that I suddenly realized what a monster I was becoming! Instead of apologizing to Renuka on air, I had taken delight in offending her.

My ego was getting the better of me; I was bursting with self-importance.

During the height of movement, I used to participate in TV panel discussions almost every night; in public places, people started recognizing me, praising my arguments or making suggestions. One day, at the Mumbai airport, I caught myself trying to make eye contact with people, hungry for recognition. I had to stop myself. What was I doing?

All my life, I had mocked those who took themselves far too seriously, who were pompous and sought the limelight. A white khadi shirt clad politician with gold rings on his fingers and thick gold chains around the neck was my idea of the absurd. While I had not yet become that man, I recognized that my attitude needed a complete rethink.

There is a Marathi poem that goes: ‘There was once a man who peed into the sea; he spent his life measuring how much the sea level had risen because of his pee.’ Was I travelling to the point of becoming that man?

I had erred in a similar manner as far back as 2007. While reconnecting with my spiritual self, through a process called ‘sun gazing’, I had energized my mind and body to such an extent that I had no desire to consume food. Instead of acknowledging the science guiding this, I gave all credit to ‘my spiritual evolution’. My family started broadcasting my ‘powers’, and as people started visiting me with wonder, my conceit only grew. When, after a twenty-eight-day fast—which left me feeling, not depleted, but energized—I got a call from my mother-in-law, I found myself gloating, full of pride at my achievement. Suddenly I stopped myself. I approached my wife Minal and said, ‘This is not my true path. Siddhi—miraculous power—has a way of distracting one from the goal of self-realization. I have strayed.’ Instead of humbling my mind before a higher power, I had allowed myself to grow vain.

I had brought myself in check back then; it was time to fashion myself again.  I had to stop being an attention-junkie. To bring balance back to my life, I had to embrace anonymity—till such time that I learnt equanimity. I informed the media management team of the party that I had no desire to appear on television shows henceforth. The party wasn’t pleased—they believed I added value by being a spokesperson—but deep within I knew I’d turn into a liability for myself and the party if I remained self-obsessed.

For over a year, I did not appear on television debates. It was only when I grew confident that I’d be able to handle recognition without digressing from my path that I resumed media appearances—and that too, very rarely. I had moved on.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ch 12. The 2013 Verdict: A Foot in the Door

Since we were leveraging all channels to get our message across, I told Arvind, ‘We need a revamped website and a party newsletter which can be distributed to people of Delhi.’ Arvind connected me with his architect-friend Satyender Jain and his website designer.

I met Satyendra Jain in a restaurant, and he immediately offered to fund the newsletter every month. However, when he suggested giving me cash, I grew uncomfortable. I spoke to Arvind, and he suggested that Satyendra Jain could directly pay the printer of the newsletter every month. That is how AAP Ki Kranti, the party's newsletter, was born. Simultaneously, I worked on restructuring the website, so as to make it easy to navigate, and so it became attractive and effective.

During this time, Arvind also asked me to take charge of training and monitoring seven of AAP’s candidates, including Somnath Bharti, Saurabh Bhardwaj and Shazia Ilmi. Working with both Somnath and Saurabh proved to be an enriching experience.

Somnath was a lawyer and was passionate about the movement. He had a huge sofachair in his office on which he’d sit like a king, surrounded by his small team. As soon as we were introduced to each other, Somnath said, ‘Mayankji, I have a wonderful strategy for the election.’
‘What is that?’
Somnath continued, highly excited, ‘I want to make a computer game!’
I was taken aback.
He continued, ‘In this game, AAP volunteers will be wearing caps and hiding behind trees . . . and when the time is right, they’ll come out and shoot the Congress and the BJP.’
I grew anxious.
‘I will give this game free of charge to the students, and after they play it, people will be certain to vote for us.’
I sat in stunned silence.
Thankfully, the idea died a natural death.

My brief interaction with Somanth made it clear that we were still novices making sense of mainstream politics. But what we did have was enthusiasm. Somnath was hardworking, sincere, popular in his constituency, and willing to fight for the party’s core principles—this would hold him, and us, in good stead.

While Somnath was flamboyant, Saurabh was entirely the opposite. He was a soft-spoken engineer who had quit his job. To me, he was the ideal candidate, and I was glad that after his victory he became a minister in the Delhi Government.  We used to interact every day, and I enjoyed guiding him. 

As for Shazia, she was one of the most aggressive and combative candidates. She sought attention and resources for herself—possibly because she was in a tough constituency. It was unfortunate that she lost by few votes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Gandhiji's courage of conviction

In 1938, a group of well-meaning people felt that against the best equipped British army, Gandhi's way of non-violence was doomed to fail.

They gathered in front of Gandhi and advised him to seek a compromise, a reconciliation on issues rather than waste his life fighting a hopeless battle.

Gandhi very calmly replied to them, "My life gets meaning only in seeking complete freedom of the country from the Britishers, so that we can have self-rule. I do not stand for reconciliations, settlements or compromise with violence, subjugation or enslavement. Give your advice to the weak who doubt my way."

On another occasion, some other people asked Gandhi, "What are the chances of your non-violent struggles to succeed?"

Gandhi smiled and said, "Honestly, I don't know. No one has ever experimented with non-violence as a tool for a national movement in human history."

"So, why do you pursue such a struggle that you are not sure of succeeding?"

"I do not work so that I succeed. I work because it is the correct thing to do, because it gives meaning to my life. It gives me the dignity to my existence even in its failure. A life without a cause has no purpose." Gandhi responded.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

AAP & Down - The Arvind I knew

Chapter 1 (excerpt)

While I had met Arvind only a few times, I had heard many inspiring stories about him. For instance, during his avatar as an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, he’d regularly expose fellow of officers who’d ask for bribes. While working with the Income Tax (IT) department, he was also operating as one of the founders of a grass-roots activism organisation called Parivartan. He’d visit the Sundar Nagari slums of Delhi, attend to the grievances of citizens, and resolve their concerns, whether this had to do with getting a ration card or common income tax and electricity complaints. Arvind used RTI to help people get their work done in government offices without paying bribes, and he organised public hearings to hold government officials accountable.

There are two stories involving Arvind and Parivartan that are particularly motivating. 

As all of us know, IT refunds can get held up for a variety of reasons, and the citizen gets severely inconvenienced. To resolve this, each time there was an impasse, a team of Parivartan volunteers would meet the concerned officer along with the assessee and ask for the date of refund. On the said date, they would reach the IT office with musical instruments. If the refund was refused, they’d sit on the floor of the office, sing songs, beat drums and clang cymbals, till the refunds were made.

Another story involved an individual who was asked for a bribe of Rs 25,000 by an IT officer to pass his refund order. Parivartan volunteers, along with select media entities, took a procession led by drums and cymbals, carrying a cheque of Rs 25,000 to pay the bribe. The officer, as expected, ran away from the back door.

I was bowled over by Arvind’s approach and audacity. I became his admirer. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

AAP & Down - prologue

I was sitting under a tree and talking to some of the farmers of Parchundi—one of the fifteen villages we have adopted in Marathwada, Maharashtra for rural development. 

We were having an intense discussion about some impending post-monsoon work. From the corner of my eye, I could see Govind, one of the smartest boys of the village, fidgeting. He appeared uninterested in the goings- on. Each time the conversation paused, Govind seemed to want to say something, but the words would stall.
When the meeting ended, I asked, ‘Govind, what is it?’ Sheepishly, he looked at me and whispered, ‘Sir, tell me please, exactly kay zhala?’ (‘What exactly happened?’) 

All interest in our earlier discussion vanished as every face in the gathering lit up with expectation.

It was a question I had got used to hearing wherever I went:
Kay zhala?
Kya hua?
Shu thayu?
What happened?

Yes, what happened to you and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)?

In other words: How did the party splinter? Where did it lose its way? And what exactly compelled you—one of its founding leaders—to quit?

Thousands of books have been written, lms made and historical volumes published with the details of India’s independence struggle. But very little has been written about what has been called India’s ‘second independence struggle’—a struggle almost synonymous with the creation of AAP and its promise to rescue a nation plagued by corruption. Equally little has been written about the party’s sudden implosion—and with it, the caving in of the dreams of a billion Indians for a new India.

Someone had to attend to this gap. Someone had to write about one of the most important phases in post- independent Indian history with knowledge, objectivity and insider information. Someone had to trace AAP’s meteoric rise and fall.

This book attempts to do that. It offers, not just bare- boned history, but a personal account and analysis of the events of the recent past, the minds of its protagonists—be it Arvind Kejriwal or Anna Hazare—and the ups and downs of one of India’s most controversial parties.

This is my truth and what I know of AAP. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Rural Economy

Rural economy
Having now worked in one of the poorer parts of rural india for some time, I wanted to make a few points and observations

Only a small fraction of tax revenue comes from rural India, but a major and disproportionate part of the expense goes to rural India. And it is appropriate in a pre-dominant rural and developing nation.

This expense is in form of infrastructure, various poverty alleviation schemes, social reforms, agriculture development, other income generation models, subsidies etc and is spent by the govt. Thousands of schemes.

All these money’s through the schemes, contracts and infrastructure are cornered by politicians and their supporters/contractors.

Therefore in Rural India, the politician are the new monarchs and they are treated as such with people milling around them and each of their meetings overflowing. Money gets power and power gets money. It’s what I call a Monarcracy ( monarchs elected in democratic manner) ☺

Farming is unviable and while one can survive while being farmers, it cannot lead to prosperity.

Every village has various groups from each of the major political parties and get the largesse if their party nominees win. Therefore, villages have tremendous internal and in some ways, vicious politics. The biggest business in rural india is politics.

There is so much corruption and leakages in all schemes and contracts, that there is an incestuous relationship between administration, politicians and contractors. If you see large houses or cars or luxury in rural india – it’s the contractors (most of them are politically connected).

Unless farmer earns from farms and agriculture ~ this will continue. Loans, waivers, more expenditure, less leakages, small industries, increased subsidies, waivers, other sources of income generation may be a band-aid on the cancer within. The problem is deep rooted and will have to dealt in an appropriate manner.

Today, the youth does not get attracted to farming, people are not willing to give their daughters to farmers and there is no respect for farming community.

Unless some serious paradigm shifts take place in policies and rural management, I shudder to think what will we do after 25 years, when our youth is so reluctant to get into core agriculture.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Kumar and Amanatullah

I saw the way AAP was functioning and was hoping against hope that it will soon realize that it was heading the wrong way and do course correction. I prayed that AAP loses badly, so that circumstances makes it see sense. It lost everywhere. My hopes rose that this shock loss may bring it back to its senses.

But what has happened since is unexpected and shocking!

After AAP lost miserably in Punjab, Goa and Delhi, it made some appropriate noises. Some papers of resignations were exchanged internally. No one from the coterie was sacked nor chastised. It was business as usual. I was sad. Was losing hopes.

Then I was pleasantly surprised when Kumar Vishwas took a stand in favor of serious introspection.  Then the classic game that I had seen being used against Prashant and Yogendra began – some social media members started attacking Kumar Vishwas’ character in the worst possible manner. Amanatullah was mandated to attack Kumar as a RSS / BJP stooge and stage was set for hinting to Kumar that if he dared to go against the High Command, then his reputation will be spoiled.

I thought for a while that Kumar Vishwas will stand up for principles, but he catapulted. He settled for removal of Amanatullah and being made the Rajasthan in-charge. Yes, Rajasthan. Completely inconsequential. All talks about introspection are in cold storage and in just few days, Kejriwal has shown who is the boss, by reinstating Amanatullah. So Amanatullah has been given senior positions in the party, giving a sharp message to any one who has the temerity to speak against the Supremo.

So, Kejriwal stays as convenor as well as CM. All challengers have been vanquished within the party. Partymen are happy that there was no split. The country enjoyed the entertainment, but the genuine volunteers are pained at this episode. The icing on the cake is when AAP introspected that it lost because it was behaving like an Aam Aadmi and that it should behave more like MLAs from other parties. So, instead of going closer to the original principles of the party, it concluded that it should go further from them. My hopes from AAP are receding. It has become like any other party.

By the way, why so much love for Amanatullah Khan? Who is he and what is his background?

It was 2014 and Narendra Modi and BJP had swept the LokSabha elections. Kejriwal was worried as he heard reports that BJP was trying to poach some muslim MLAs from the Cong to form the state government. There were some anonymous posters stuck it in the constituencies of the Cong MLAs. The posters essentially called the MLAs “Quam ke dushman” or enemies of the religion for planning to join BJP. This was considered as communal by the police and they acted immediately and arrested Dilip Pandey.

Meanwhile, some members of the party unearthed a Ram Vilas Paswan supporter called Amanatullah Khan. He was told to take the blame and he would be given a ticket in the forthcoming polls from AAP. So, he did.

In 2015 when the tickets were being distributed, Prashant Bhushan kept on objecting to many of the candidates. This made Kejriwal furious. It was planned to keep Prashant silent till the elections and then discredit him and throw him out of the party along with Yogendra. So, the Kejriwal faction promised Prashant that there will be restructuring in the party after the election to usher in transparency and accountability. Prashant agreed and then went to Jindal Farm in Bangalore for treatment. When he came out of the Farm, he found out that Amanatullah Khan was given the ticket. He was upset and wanted to hold a Press Conference informing public that Kejriwal was compromising all principles. But again he was requested to be patient and wait for the election, which he agreed.

Amanatullah Khan won and was made part of PAC and used as a tool when needed. Kumar did say that he knew that someone was behind Amanatullah, but he settled without confronting. The arrogance  and technique of Kejriwal won once again.

What can I say! I am fast losing hopes from AAP. I would genuinely love it if AAP improves and keeps BJP on its toes as a strong party.  Just, don’t feel too hopeful about AAP, right now. Let me observe for some time and pray for some sense.