AAP 2.0 : Urban Activism does work

A few days back prior to the election, AAP was relegated to being an opposition player but after the electoral miracle it has captured the popular imagination of the nation. Kejriwal is the real anti thesis to Modi: Activist, Technocrat and Socialist. Both though great orators and have a down to earth connect with the masses, being original mass leaders. Modiji though with his 10 lakh rupee suit, lost his mojo. The fledgling start-up has received Series A funding from the voters to scale up and be ready for Private Equity funding in Venture Finance parlons. In short, run a total majority government for the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The anti corruption, anti VIP culture, pro poor message does indeed sell in the activism driven urban politics of the AAP. Delhi being an urban, and well educated ‘half-state’ is the microcosm of India. As the May 2014 polls for the BJP, February 2015 is a branding communications win too; this AAP victory has certainly had its messaging right. Local for local, community for community customized messaging actually very ala old Congress but very impactful, in hindsight; albeit, with too high promises and too high aspirations. A dangerous stance for governance, but an effective electoral campaign strategy nevertheless that worked. Arvind Kejriwal or AK accepted his mistake in running away from the 49 day stint, and sincerely apologized at every juncture and that connect clicked. But as the author observed during his time in Delhi during the December 2013 poll run up and the 49 day tamasha; AK was very popular with the man on the street as the core constituency was with the common man who eats ‘cholche kulche’ at the corner shop. The common man was not bothered by petty, rent seeking corruption effecting him. As AAP is an activist led entity, their eyes and ears on the ground was always present irrespective of Poll season or not. Mocked, humiliated by the Modi Brigade after the May 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, AAP went into a hibernation mode during which the Modi wave swept the nation winning state election after state election. AAP as per the corporate media was over, a one time fling. But the man on Delhi’s streets was getting impatient with a too much over confident BJP which had swept all seven parliamentary seats. BJP has always been known as the Brahmin, Baniya led Party with Punjabi support in pockets in the after partition areas. The AAP and its NGO movement progenitor India Against Corruption was a reaction against the corruption (read CWG, Coal scam) of the Congress during UPA 2. The Jan Lok Pal movement captured the moral and political imagination of the youth of Delhi. Many educated youth joined the movement as their own contribution to the country, leveraging technology of social media, and conventional communication mediums on print and radio to pass on their message to the potential voter. Catchy jingles by star music composer Vishal Dadlani mobilized the party activists to the ethos of ‘Paanch Saal Kejriwal’ or Five Years in Power for Kejriwal. This time around, the AAP’s activism was sober sans antics and the electoral management was better, Even with its depleted team with defections to the BJP (read Ilmi and Binny) they captured the right segments with a pro poor, pro minority image, leading to a transfer of votes from the Congress to AAP in addition to its own votes from December 2013. This catalyzed as landslide of 66 seats of 70. An unthinkable feat in contemporary Indian Political History for a fledgling political outfit, struggling to survive vis a vis a powerful BJP stopped its tracks. Kiran Bedi as an icon devalued her stature by accepting the BJP offer to join the party just prior to the polls. Kejriwal is a politician, Bedi is not. The veterans of the Delhi BJP did not like her and sabotaged their own campaign. In any case, the BJP has run the Municipal bodies inefficiently over the decades. Kejriwal is a street fighter with a middle class mindset and connects well with the man from the street as well as the international media in English, with Ashutosh and Prof. Yogendra Yadav; AAP has a fantastic media management team with robust research data to back up their arugments. Of course you can ‘Barely Speak’ with Arnab on the News Hour, the Fox News styled News Debate show on primetime Indian TV. Raghav and Aatishi as politicians are wonderful youth icons too. Nerdy and cool, certainly. AK and AAP defeated the supari or contract killer journalists of the corporatized media in the words of Rajdeep Sardesai (as stated in his website and also on scroll.in), himself a victim of the Big Media. The members of the AAP are normal people and that is the most powerful takeaway from the poll. Normal people can win. You don’t have to somebody’s son or daughter to win. At the inauguration ceremony today, AK was composed and collected. He is the man of the moment. His tenor was of a person in for the long haul and with sky high aspirations of the aam junta, he needs more work and less talk to start of the journey as the second term CM of the NCT of Delhi. AK chided the ‘Big Boss’ mindset paparazzi media for their 24×7 news cycle inputs and asked them to be patient for five years. AK is in here for five years for sure with the AAP. Don’t lose your activism AAP, because that is what makes you different. Ultimately Activism is about Politics.

Urban Infrastructure- Its about Politics Stupid!

Indian Cities are expanding, by leaps and bounds. The National Capital Region and The Greater Mumbai Region are urban agglomerations which are power centers of our economy. Every second tier Indian City is growing to accommodate the aspirations of the Indian with access to Google and hence the window to the world on their Nokia Asha’s and Micromax’s. Folks from the lower socioeconomic strata take selfie’s on their Chinese made Xylo phones in the Delhi Metro. The Smart Phone is a symbolic totem of an aspiring India and a powerful force multiplier. The Naya Raipurs and Greater Raigad’s are the future of urbanization in the country. The ten odd nodes of the Multi-Billion Dollar Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) driven new smart cities off a fresh template mirroring the Pudong-Pearl River Delta model of the early 1980’s made China the factory of the world. The DIMC Development Corporation is led by Amitabh Kant, a dynamo of a civil servant which shatters the stereotype of a sarakari babu. Aggressive Visionary Leaders make a world of a difference. Narendra Modi has put the Dholera node of DIMC in Gujarat near Amdavad on steroids with the work progressing on a firm footing.

A BJP led administration from May 2014 would be an enabler for creating urban infrastructure as its voter base is the urban middle class, while in contrast the Congress was welfare scheme oriented as its target consumer oops voter was different.  The Urban Voter is being taken seriously finally with Modi and Kejriwal vying for their vote.  Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party have been paradigm shifters for bringing the focus back on the urban voter. Prof. Yogendra Yadav from Gurgaon and an Ashutosh from Chandani Chowk would be a welcome add to  debates in the Lok Sabha. The Candidature of IT Visionary Nandan Nilekani from Bengaluru South is a sign that Indian Politics is finally accepting the urban professional.

The Urban voterscape is a myriad canvas of actors.   Gurgaon is about a Chakkarpur and Cyber City equally. The Aam Admi Party has a strong appeal for the urban poor in the National Capital Region and Kejriwal’s antics have delivered them the message that we can have a voice in the Vidhan Sabha too.  Urban Governance is ultimately about equitable access to public services. The Quality of Life has to improve. The Urban ecosystem is complex with multiple stakeholders with different stakes in the game.  Urban India can win only if they vote in the forthcoming polls.

Press the Button, gently.

The Post ‘Sickularism’ Age is finally here

Today Modi rocked Mumbai. Being a Mumbaikar I felt the energy of Bandra Kurla Complex through the airwaves in far away cold Gurgaon. I felt the gap in Left of Centre Politics in India as well. The syntax can be termed as Leadership which is not aloof. The High Command Culture of Lutyens Delhi was breached earlier this month by a civil society activist Kejriwal. Kejriwal’s politics is very much left of centre especially its economic populism. But there is a difference- Kejriwal’s vocabulary consists of a connect with the urban poor. He won the trophy constituency of New Delhi beating Sheila Aunty by a large margin.  The Aam Admi Party is scripting a new narrative for urban metropolitan politics in this country. Accountability, Inclusive Governance, Proactive Leadership are adjective-verbs that are currently appropriated by the Right in India and now by the Aam Admi Party. The ethos of a strong technocratic Developmental State is the edifice of Modi’s Politics. Raman Singh’s Chhattisgarh uses Welfare very effectively too. The core plank of Congress’s Politics is Welfare centric. I am a supporter of Entitlement Legislations as it is often the last resort of the extreme poor.  But Welfare needs a robust infrastructure to deliver value to the costumers. We live in the era of a Client-State Relationship. The legislations have to deliver on the ground. Ofcourse the lessons of governance are iterative, they take time for the results to emerge on the central dashboard of the media monitors.  The loss in Rajasthan has shown that Welfare is not a magic bullet. Strong Leadership matters in the atmosphere of policy paralysis.

Congress’s other political Killer App is secularism. Unfortunately, this is a pejorative word with a negative connotation. This means minority-ism and vote bank politics. The introduction of the communal violence bill is not the reform legislation that’s top priority anyways. The Lok Pal Act is a victory for the civil society and not for Rahul ji as it was a reactive measure. 

Secularism isn’t panacea. The Politics of Pluralism has a wider appeal. Arun Shourie should take a workshop for the friends from the Left. Regional Leaders are strong leaders. A Nitish and a Jayalalitha ji are perceived as leaders who have a mass base unlike a Scindia.

The Liberal Left has to realise that Developmentalism and Strong Leadership is the need of the hour rather  rhetoric on communalism. Modi and Kejriwal are metaphors for clean and development based politics. The Congress needs more Jairam and Pilot than Gehlot and Jogi.

A Pluralism+Development+StrongLeadership approach. Is it that difficult Rahulji?

Why the Political Start Up called AAP is changing the political narrative in India

The emergence of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) as a viable alternative in the urban political culture of Delhi after the electoral results are out, is akin to nothing short of a small budget documentary film winning an Oscar. The author, director and narrator of the script are the indomitable Arvind Kejriwal  & Co, who trounced the erst while Delhi Chief Minister by a big margin. The party that metamorphosed from the India Against Corruption aka Jan Lok Pal Movement. This break out victory gives AAP the energy to rise above the circumstantial moral authority of the saint from Ralegaon Siddhi- Anna Hazare and the NGO-esque mold. It gives the middle class leadership of AAP the critical to expand to a role to fill in the vacuum of being a proper urban political platform for India. Normal people, next door neighbour type of personalities being elected to assembly is a brilliant thing for representative democracy.  AAP is a political start up from Delhi that has potential for a scale across urban centres.  The biggest fall out, will the re-energising of the urban youth to take interest in participatory democracy. As I read somewhere on Facebook- ‘Greater Kailash gives lessons in Democracy 101 to South Bombay’ captures the energy of the moment. The push to move beyond social media platforms to actually working on the ground is a monumental game changer.

There are more political start ups that are reshaping the terrain of Indian Democracy. The Peace Party, The Welfare Party and AUDF are contesting for the taken for granted Muslim Vote. I welcome the rise of newer players to represent minority communities.  Maharashtra Navnirman Sena may not be new as it has its roots in the five decade old Sena Movement in Mumbai, but it seems the larger than life image of Raj Saheb has enthused the Marathi youth to look beyond the status quo.

The other major political start up of the educated classes in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is the Lok Satta Party of Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, a MLA from Kutapally in Andhra Pradesh. This is again a NGO converted in to a political outfit.  The outfit could potentially be an ally of the AAP in the South, where the linguistic barrier could be a deterrent for expansion.

The Political Start Up is a blend of two factors- a strong personality brand and approachability uncharacteristic of the main political parties. I was a sceptic of the AAP, but its direct approach is an attractive draw.  More Power to the Urban Politics of the AAP.

Politics in Urban India needs a reboot: an exegesis

India is rapidly urbanizing as cities expand into the hinterland and form urban mega clusters like the National Capital Region and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region among others. Even Kolkata has a ‘New Town’ and Rajarhat to contend.  Cities are economic engines of growth with densely packed spaces and brimming with activity.  By the year 2030, as per an influential Mc Kinsey Report on urbanization states that, India will be predominantly urban.  Most state capitals are urban agglomerations, and provide most of the revenue for the state. Mumbai contributes India’s lion share of corporate taxes but gets peanuts in return from politicians whose voter base is hooked on ‘sugar’ in Western Maharashtra. Mumbai is a Cash Cow for these rural politicians to milk Mumbai dry in order to fund their ‘Pork Barrel’ projects (sorry borrowing an American Political Nuance 😛 ). Mumbai on the same lines as Delhi will not be given autonomy for this very reason as other backward regions in Maharashtra are financially on a drip line called Mumbai. Cultural reasons apart, the devolution of power to Mumbai is difficult only for the cash question in contention.   As a third generation Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, who has lived in first world capitals in our very own Asia; am honestly appalled by the traffic quicksand which I face at the bottle neck at Ghatkoper and Saki Naka everyday when I travel from far away Navi Mumbai.  Mumbai is currently going to have a Mass Transit Line soon; unfortunately we are two decades late.  A commercial backwater (or an art centric vanguard which ever pov one looks at) such as Kolkata had a Metro System way back in the 1980’s.

The urban voter’s needs are neglected. Municipal Corporations are archaic institutions with no teeth; no policing prowess and normally short changing on financing options.  A government in a union territory like Delhi has no jurisdiction over Law and Order and Land Issues and has two to three Municipal bodies with the Central Governments over arching Big Brother attitude. It is quite a quagmire of overlapping scope of work in Consultant Speak. With the rest of NCR either lying in Haryana (Gurgaon) or UP (NOIDA)- Urban Governance needs a new operating system.  

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region has the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation and Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation as its stakeholders with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) as the focal point for Infrastructure development in this megapolis.  The MMRDA is under the Maharashtra State Government’s Urban Development Ministry which is under a Congress Chief Minister, the Public Works Ministry with its unfriendly coalition partner NCP and the MCGM is under the control of the Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena. The MCGM’s budget is more than many a budget of a smaller state like Goa and Manipur.  These political conflicting turfs make for haphazard planning and execution of mega infrastructure projects.  There should be a single window clearance mechanism for such projects which reshape the economic landscape.

India needs a new social contract with its urban citizens. Parliamentarians from urban India are not able to reflect the aspirations of a rapidly globalizing youth. The Politics of this nation is stuck in 1970’s with Right to Food, Education and other welfarist legislations. Social Infrastructure public sector initiatives are fully supported by the author but in order to power these projects, one needs the cash, hard cold cash. The cities are the growth incubators. Empower them with good politics. Effective governance is tied in to good politics.  A new politics is required for reform;  new operating system which captures the aspirations of urban India. The existing parties are terribly falling short. A Milind Deora or a Sandeep Dixit is great, but we need a sea of them.  We need the ‘Citizen Elite’ to rise and usher in a new wave of caste neutral development centric urban politics.

Politics of the Urban Voter is not new. The Swatantra Party, the Jan Sangh and especially the Mumbai and Marathi centric identity politics of the Shiv Sena. The Right Wing Parties with their emphasis on free market and physical infrastructure focus have been better at capturing the urban imagination.  The Swantantra Party decayed and declined in the 1960’s as socialism became the voice of economic thinking during Nehru ji and Indira ji. Even the Congress has appropriated some of these tactics to win in Delhi and Mumbai over the past decade.  Sheila Dixit with the Delhi Metro is a case in point where urban development has worked for a left of centre Congress in a totally urban electorate.

 The Shiv Sena is a ‘Made in Mumbai’ urban ideological product. The Shiv Sena founded by cartoonist turned Hindutva icon Late Balasaheb Thackeray in 1966 at Shivaji Park, Dadar distilled the grudge of native Marathis in Mumbai against the ‘Outsider’ over the decades till it reached its zenith of power in 1995 when they reached Mantralaya in the aftermath of the 1993 riots. Although the urbane politics of the Shiv Sena was narrow and parochial; they transformed Mumbai City with 72 flyovers in five years from 1995-99. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway was a signature project of the regime.

The Aam Admi Party with Civic Society Activist Arvind Kejriwal has transformed a volunteer led citizen movement in to a political fighting force. In the opinion polls in the run up to the Delhi Assembly Polls it is poised to do phenomenally well for a first time entrant. If they succeed, they are poised to be India’s first and truly urban political voice. Lok Satta is another one down south. Such actors are needed, as microbes in the governance gut to clean up the digestive system known as politics.