Monday, March 2, 2015

Can AAP supporters move beyond single-person politics?

Don't know how relevant this may seem, especially coming from a chronically inactive AAP supporter, but here goes:

Laying out my basic underlying assumptions:
I believe teamwork and multi-person leadership, is the real alternative to one-man-cult politics as personified by PM Modi. What will solve the nation's and indeed the world's problems is multilateralism and not unilateralism. It is about role-based leadership, with different kinds of team members stepping in, and more importantly, out, of different leadership requirements at dfferent times. The same rule that applies to this planet, also boils down to countries, movements, organizations, NGOs and even private companies, to teams that are working towards a common goal, and all the way down to the family. Everywhere I have noticed the same pattern : when leadership gets concentrated with just one person or a permanent exclusive group of people, things start to go wrong. And that is not because of any bad intentions on the person's part, mind : Even in a family running on patriarchal values, the father / grandfather isn't evil. It is the STRUCTURE of the system that centralizes leadership that makes bad things happen due to the weakening of proper checks and balances. Our problems are systemic. Replacing one bad supreme leader with a "good" supreme leader is not going to solve the problems, as several friends of mine honestly assumed it would.

Moving beyond single-person politics:
For participants in movements, this is where the difference between being a mindless fan and a mindful follower makes its mark. It requires that while trusting good leaders and working whole-heartedly under their guidance, we take care to pledge a higher degree of allegiance to the ideas and values, beyond the person. And that we prepare ourselves for the day when we will have to choose between our leaders and our core values. In 1947, if the members of the Congress party had given the ideas of Swaraj, nonviolence, self-reliance, Nai Talim etc more importance than they gave to Gandhi, then Congress would not have been taken over by corrupts.

Looking at BJP right now, one can see that there is absolutely no concrete vision amongst them of India post-Modi. It literally looks like its most ardent supporters don't think any Indian is going to live longer than their supreme leader's own lifetime. They've literally set a ticking time bomb on themselves.
Applying this to 1947, I'm sure several people in Congress also must have been in the same disposition in the days leading up to Gandhiji's demise. Gandhiji khatam to India bhi khatam must have been the prevalent attitude. Same thing got repeated with Indira Gandhi, with even more recklessness. And the rest is history.

If we look beyond India's borders, then we find similar patterns in the histories of all nations and peoples. The one-person-leadership engine has a consisten, flawless record of causing problems 100% of the time. Yet we also have good leaders in history : who led their people well, and then learned to let go when the time came, or learned to delegate to more capable people what they themselves were obviously not very good at.

So then the question comes knocking on AAP supporters : Will we do the same thing to Arvind Kejriwal as those before us have done to other leaders? Will we also destroy his core values and his vision of Swaraj by giving more importance to the person than the ideas? Will we become another sheep to a shepherd the same way BJP supporters have become? Will we repeat the same tactics that have gotten our nation into its present problems?

Or can we evolve to see leadership from a different lens altogether? We're here to change politics, not mimic its present corrupted form, right? So can we apply the same logic to leadership as well? Can we also say that we want to change the way leadership is done in this country? Can we recognize the innate power of the common (wo)man, apply that to ourselves, and increase our own sense of self-worth? Doing so will enable us to look at Kejriwal as a worthy team-mate in a common journey, a person we feel proud to work shoulder-to-shoulder with and give timely feedback to when needed rather than treating  him as an untouchable leader the way BJP loyalists are treating Modi.

What I know about Yogendra Yadav so far, tells me that he too has not missed noticing the dangers of the person-worshipping tendency among AAPians. The social media volunteers of AAP are amongst the most vulnerable here. I can see that many of them, without any bad intentions, are naively slipping into Kejriwal-worshipping mode, and not even realizing how much harm they are bringing to us all in the long run by doing so. And they are ending up conveying the same old kind of politics to the general population and the outside world.
The 5 saal Kejriwal slogan etc may have been appropriate for Delhi's State elections. It may have been good for the short term. But look at the map, look at the area occupied by that state, and please internalize that this is the limit for single-person politics. We shall go no further. Doing so will screw everything that we stand for. The BJP only went further because of unlimited black money spending obtained by compromising everything they ever stood for. Indeed, the only thing India's 2014 general elections have proven is that it costs Rs.20,000 crore to fill an Indian Parliament with criminals.

I see Arvind Kejriwal's role as working for the people of Delhi on a 5-year mandate. I accept and acknowledge the commitment he has made to the world at his swearing-in ceremony. The man means what he says. I do not want to be an idiot and keep speculating endlessly just to meet my naive zidd of seeing him gunning for PM candidature in mid-2019. I acknowledge that he will NOT be doing that and will be concentrating on his work for Delhi at that time, and I respect that.

By adopting the multi-person leadership perspective instead of the single-person leadership model, I can now liberate myself from the worries of "then who will lead in 2019" etc. Arvind Kejriwal has repeatedly said in all his interviews during the 2014 campaign that he's himself just a common man, he's not that important for the country, that the country has innumerable potential leaders, any of whom can emerge to be PM. That it is more important to vote for honest and dedicated candidates and they will decide amongst themselves who the PM will be. Using their Neanderthal-era logic, the media made fun of this. I think it will be a mark of respect, as well as intelligence, on AAP supporters' part, to acknowledge what Arvind has been trying to tell us all this time. The ideas are more important than the persons who champion them. Multiple persons can and will take the same ideas forward.

So in this context, I was least surprised by news of AK resigning from post of National Convenor of AAP. He needs to focus on his karmabhoomi. Must pass on the other baton, or he'll end up juggling the two and making a clown of himself. He chose the role which made the most of his abilities, and needs to let go of the other.
What has suprised me is the childishness with which it was dishonored and rejected.. both by the leaders and by many AAP supporters. It shows that we have a long way to go still.

When Emergency was imposed on India, this quote was doing the rounds : "Indira is India and India is Indira". Today, many people will agree that "Modi is BJP and BJP is Modi" : that is what BJP has been intentionally conveying. This kind of sentiment is popular, doesn't require much of brains, and leads to disaster : for the leader themselves, for the party, and for the country. But in AAP itself, what if we're similarly headed towards "Kejriwal is AAP and AAP is Kejriwal" ? It is clear that Arvind himself is absolutely against this, as he too knows what perils will follow.

Indeed, the 2014 general elections were a lesson that we're still not learning : When you DON'T have the nation's entire corporate-owned media as your personal propaganda machine, going into person-based politics is suicide. Despite having the best principles and solutions on board, the whole election campaign got side-tracked into person-based politics which the media could easily do selective character assassination with. Delhi elections on the other hand, were not about just "5 saal Kejriwal" even if that was the popular song and hashtag exchanged amongst the volunteers to boost their morale. I found out the hard way that it's not really a wise thing to start singing "5 saal Kejriwal" to my friends who didn't know jack about Delhi Dialogue, AAP's Manifesto for Delhi, etc. Towards the general population, it was a humble issue-based politics at play. NOT going into person worshipping mode.. to the extent that the main leader is openly saying sorry... is what made AAP win. People did not vote for AAP thinking that Kejriwal is the ultimate Messiah who will fix everything.. so it wasn't similar to 2014 general elections. They voted with a conscious decision to try this alternative out for 5 years, seeing that they have done their homework properly and are being quite humble.

Yogendra Yadav is one who embodies the multiple-leaders perspective, and is clearly worried about it getting eroded. Attacking him everytime he expresses a difference of opinion, is childish. The man has an understanding that encompasses the progress of human civilization across centuries, and he also sees things several years forward. Occasionally that may result in not being on-the-mark about immediate things, but this long-term vision definitely has an important role in any movement. Here is a video of one of his talks at Southern Collective, just before he came by Pune the last time. very aptly titled.

The Yogendra Yadav TV doesn't have time for

How many people in AAP know about the world's political history, about the origins and the mistakes in the whole nation-state idea, at this level of depth?

Maybe if we had this depth, maybe if we saw the AAP in the context of a spontaneous shift in human consciousness that is emerging everywhere across the globe right now, then we might accept what Arvind tried to tell us from the bottom of his heart on 14 Feb 2015. Maybe then we would have the inner strength and confidence to let him go so he can perform his duties unburdened. And if we also treated him as a human being and a beloved brother, and cared for him more than just his "deliverables", then we might also be more open to being grateful for all that he has done for us, and allow him to retire peacefully and attend to his family, his health and other interests as a common man, once these 5 years are over. God knows, he has earned it. Heck, the whole planet might benefit much more if political leaders retired after seving just one term.

And at the same time, what people like Yogendra Yadav have been doing since the general elections, is travelling across the country and reaching out to people's movements and social sector, or civil society as we can call it, and feeding valuable inputs into the argument for greater involvement of these grassroots groups in politics. Since AAP's inception, his view of AAP has been that it is a common platform upon which all who are doing good service for the country can come together and give people a real option in their elections. This message didn't go out so well, in large part due to the whole personality cult that got built up around Kejriwal. AAPians may not have intended it to get as out of hand as it did, but we must realize that we live in times of magnifying-glass-media, which will blow the tiniest of weakness of the good guys out of proportion while white-washing the bad guys. What volunteers didn't realize is that while their idolizing of Kejriwal resulted from a sincere appreciation of the man's work, this work wasn't well-communicated to people outside of the regular volunteer groups, but their idolizing was.

As a result, turned off by this personality cult and cut off from a lot of important details of AAP's agenda and manifesto (even today many people I meet in the social sector are completely unaware that several things they are pressing for were already included in the 2014 AAP manifesto) there was still a large part of civil society that remained "apolitical" : even though privately they voted for AAP, they didn't mention that little fact to the millions of people they collectively work with. Many are realizing now that their decision unintentionally translated into a support for the very bad things they've spent their lives struggling against. People, when confronted by AAP's promises that resonated with them, saw the stony silence of the social workers they knew as reason to doubt AAP's promises. Now, several victories for people's rights that had been won after long and bitter struggle, like rights over land, stand to be eliminated. All the hard work of thousands upon thousands of social workers is likely to be flushed down the toilet. The next general elections will see a big change in this "apolitical" stance if a proper dialogue happens. And I see leaders like Yogendra Yadav as key in bringing about this dialogue.

A lot of the people who joined AAP as volunteers have had zero or negative exposure to the social sector, and hence I see, again, some childish behaviour ("Ja, Katti!") in this quarter. The typical saas-bahu logic : "Why should we reach out to them when they didn't help us till now" is coming to play. There seems to be a refusal to reach out and involve the very people who are the key to reaching the hearts of large sections of the population. When people who have been working sincerely for the betterment of communities since decades are seen proactively and constructively engaging with AAP.. that's when the people who owe their lives to these local heroes, will take serious note. THAT is what happened in Delhi Dialogue : AAP listened to the social sector. They reached out proactively instead of saying "Oh, let them come to us". And it was this act.. of not being a stupid bitch (excuse my French) and just reaching out without any past baggage.. that got a rock-solid action plan made that couldn't be defeated by 100s of crores worth of propaganda.

The AAP must focus on delivering good governance in Delhi. And at the same time it also has an opportunity to reach out nationally and get more people to unite for issues that matter. Those who stick to the centralized leadership model, see this as a problem, as having to choose between two or more opposing things and having to sacrifice one for the other. But those who can think of leadership as a multi-person thing, for them these both are very much possible. The two "rival camps" need not be "rivals" at all. Everything can happen simultaneously, and in full collaboration with each other. It's so simple when you really think of it : "Theek hai yaar, tu woh part sambhaal, main yeh part dekhta hoon. Let's keep in touch!"

We live in a multi-player world, where the more people that get involved, the better. Our systems should be designed for human beings who move in and out of leadership roles as per situation, not full-time robots. It's time for AAP the movement to move beyond Arvind Kejriwal or any one leader. It's time for us to stop mimicking the mistakes and disasters of Congress and BJP and scores others. It's time to restore focus on the core principles, on the idea of Swaraj and honesty and non-violence and seva and all that jazz, and let a thousand leaders bloom.

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