Saturday, December 28, 2013

Economic challenges will be Kejriwal's acid test

A lot of us have been for years saying that India will not change unless we change the way we do politics. A few attempts have been made in the past to bring about that change.

In mid-70s, when many thought that Indira Gandhi was getting dictatorial and corrupt, Janata Party was cobbled together. In an unbelievable electoral wave, she and her Congress were swept out of power in 1977. She herself lost her seat to someone called Raj Narain.

The Janata Party experiment was largely reactionary: it set up Shah Commission and hounded Indira Gandhi. Their undoing was they practised the same politics as Congress. Morarji Desai as PM couldn't keep the disparate power centres together. The same Congress, the same Indira Gandhi, came back to power in three years.

Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, gave us lot of hope. He tried cleaning up the system, and called upon bureaucrats and technocrats to come to public life. Even now there are many talented people, young and old, in the Congress. But none of them are able to break out of the party’s culture; and instead of reforming the system, they have virtually merged with the system. The BJP, positioned itself as an alternative with a different approach, but in many ways, they are no different from the Congress.

For the first time, a group of educated people, not belonging to any established political parties, but sworn to public service, took corruption as a major issue, and decided to clean up the system by getting into the system. (Of course, AAP was helped to great extent by Anna Hazare's Lokpal campaign.) That’s the reason why the AAP victory in Delhi assembly elections and today’s formation of new AAP-headed Delhi government is historic.

So far the AAP story has been a heady mixture of populism and idealism. Nothing wrong with that. But now they will have to find space for hard reality too. The AAP movement grew on India's anger against corruption. But corruption is a part of India’s socio-economic culture. Changing the way we do politics will now have to extend to changing that culture.

For example, we have been brought up on freebies and subsidies. A lot of these, which should actually go to the poor, go to people who don't need it, the upper middle class and rich. Our economy and development policies are in a shambles; and that’s one reason why our infrastructure and standard of living are way poorer than what they should actually be. Political changes are easier compared to economic changes. And therein lies Kejriwal’s acid test.

AAP and Kejriwal have a real battle ahead. But as of now, they are the best bet we have. They are not only talking idealism, but also making every effort to practise it

(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

Monday, December 9, 2013

AAP has bigger challenges ahead

The AAP is on a roll. But as Arvind Kejriwal would know very well, the path ahead will be harder from now on. This is a track he chose consciously: to fight the system by joining it, and not as his mentor Anna Hazare prefers, to be outside the system. So far so good.

Politicians may not admit, but surely the Aam Aadmi Party’s performance has made them sit up. If it were any party other than the AAP in Delhi, we would have seen power-brokers jumping into the fray, leading to the all-too-familiar scenario of wheeling and dealing, and before long we would have had a government.

There may be a few reasons why the BJP is not staking claim to power. One, with the AAP-inspired vigil, it's difficult to woo allies to cobble the requisite number. Two, President's Rule will lead to a re-election in Delhi, probably along with the Lok Sabha election. BJP might well be hoping that the Modi wave will give it a greater momentum for a decisive mandate.

Kejriwal's hope is that the AAP will be able to repeat the performance at the national level. But the extrapolation may not be so easy as it sounds. The citizen-driven party will have to mobilize state and district-level participation in big numbers to counter the well-entrenched local influences of the established parties, not just the Congress and the BJP, but also the many regional parties. It may not be beyond Kejriwal and his highly motivated team. Their theme of 'clean politics' is one which has a pan-India resonance. If Kejriwal has his eyes on a big number in the Lok Sabha, then the work will have to start right away.

The Delhi election result is a milestone in India's story of democracy. The light at the end of the tunnel is now a shade brighter. Kejriwal and his team need to ensure that the light only burns brighter. Hopefully, we are seeing the beginning of a change. If the right people are elected, the right people will be in power, and there will surely be better governance.

Friday, December 6, 2013

RIP Mandela

Nelson Mandela was more than the first Black President of South Africa. He was more than an anti-apartheid leader. What inspired people across the world was his compassion and forgiveness. There aren't many fighters and achievers like Mandela.

His African National Congress was once classified as terrorist organisation. He spent 27 years in prison. Once he walked out he carried no vengence against the people he fought a life-long battle against.

He set up a Truth and Reconiliation Commission. He was not just against senseless minority domination purely on the basis of colour of human skin. He was also against Black domination. The way he accommodated Fredrick De Klerk, the last apartheid era head of state, is a monumental example of his deep understanding of the society for whose liberation he fought.

The sort of societal transformation he brought about is unparalleled in the world. He avoided massive bloodshed that could have ensued. He was so humble and forgiving that he invited the prosecutor who got him jailed, for tea in his presidential palace.

He taught us the value of the age-old saying "Let bygones be bygones". He said we had to move on and the country had no time to waste to achieve its larger goals of elevating the standandard of lives of people.

How many leaders we see around have the vision Mandela had? How many can sacrifice their comforts for the good of the society? Mandela is guiding light for everyone, especially so for leaders who are championing people's causes. We have a lot to learn from his life.

May his soul rest in peace.