Friday, December 29, 2017

Leadership might not be as bad as I'd assumed; leaderless not as good #AAP

This is an update on my evolving views on leaderless vs leader'ed movements.

I think [the] desire to see a leaderless movement is one of our follies and speaks about our ideological biases. I don't think there's been any such thing at a "let's change the government" scale and frankly I'd be skeptical if there were, as we wouldn't know exactly who is lurking in the shadows pulling the strings and where it might be led to. Rather, it's the harmful movements like the rise of fiat currency, factory education, rapacious industrialization, crony capitalism, caste system, patriarchy and such that seem to be following the "no one leader" pattern more. In a genuine movement somebody's gotta do the work and individual accountability has value; a movement without clear individual leaders is a movement that won't take any responsibility when it does something wrong.

This came as my comment on a thread here:
Hi this is Vinay & Khushboo, the directors of "An Insignificant Man". Ask us anything!

Do check it out, its a treat for budding documentary film makers as some very intricate details of their experiences have been openly shared here.

I'll add to this : In a real movement, one that arises organically, there will be people who really get in the thick of things and there will be people who don't get so involved, for all sorts of completely plausible reasons ranging from skills matching to having cancer patients at home to care for. There is asymmetry in involvement and that is natural. And there are practical, real life requirements like naming the contact person, defining whose account is to be used, who'll be the spokesperson that the media can invite, etc. And if we follow through with the power=responsibility equation then the reverse also needs to be true. Those who take more responsibility must be accorded more power. Else you leave the movement / initiative open to hijacking by disadvantage-takers. And note: there will ALWAYS be disadvantage-takers, even subconscious ones. 

And I say all this along with a self admission : I have been involved in organizing some small events etc where we said it's leaderless, we're all volunteers, etc.. I now see that I wasn't being genuine. Of course there were leaders, and that reality came up whenever a problem or a significant question came up. The people who KNEW how to tackle it, were the leaders. Leadership roles can be fluid, with different people stepping in and out over time, but there definitely was leadership. And my insistence that it was leaderless etc, apart from trying to make a noble impression, only ended up causing confusion through lack of accountability. If there were "just volunteers" then hell yeah there was a "core organising team" directing the volunteers. There was NO problem in having a leader'ed structure and I now feel that I wasted time and efficiency by stating that it was leaderless. And the biggest consequence of the leaderless-ness claim? No one to take things forward, everyone waiting for someone else to take the lead! If I had a penny for each time I've seen that happen, well, I'd have a nice penny collection.

So all this makes me pose the question : Is there anything natural about a leaderless people's movement that we so idealize and idolize? Or does it fall in the same pantheon as the perfect husband / wife, the perfect boss, the perfect job, the perfect kids.. you get my drift?

Ok, this just came out and I think it's significant :

My updated take on the AK Vs YY-PB split in AAP :

I believe the AAP breakup, the expulsion of YY and PB and many AAP supporters leaving with them was regarding what I've written above. From various testimonies I saw during that whole messy divorce proceeding, it seems this fracture had some history: there had previously been multiple instances by YY or PB or both threatening to leave if so and so decision wasn't taken. In fact, the decision to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is widely credited to have been done on their behest while AK was squarely against it.

Observe then that the blame (real or imagined) for the 2014 debacle was laid squarely at AK's feet : the one guy who hadn't been for it in the first place. The power=responsibility equation was thus violated. His own strength area of Delhi's CM-ship was laid open to elimination because of it. Even the incident of AK being thrown into jail happened on PB's insistence. Honestly, they could have just coughed up that illegitimate bond amount or whatever and moved along for the larger battle: there was no need to get nit-picking given the larger situation at the time. AK has thus repeatedly gone along with YY and PB and done their bidding, and every time he has had to bear the brunt when things failed. 

And then from ground experiences of people who had been there, it was also evident that YY simply wasn't as invested in the second Delhi state campaign as AK was. Post the victory, the complaining about there being no democracy in AAP started at a time when AK was out of Delhi for a few days, receiving naturopathy treatment for his chronic cough. It came up without even giving the newly formed Delhi State government its first 100 days of formative period. This is a most crucial period for any new government, and YY of all people would have surely known this. For me this was a major sign of disrespect for all the hard work done by a LOT of dedicated people and Kejriwal himself for the dramatic and still unbelievable turnaround in AAP's fortunes, and also a sheer absence of apology or shame on YY or PB's part for the earlier losses which they shared a big chunk of responsibility for and which had nearly sunk AAP.

I'd like to re-iterate this point because I think it is very important and has been largely ignored : The TIMING at which YY and PB's complaints erupted displayed an extremely high level of disrespect and disregard for nearly every other active Delhi AAP member's herculean efforts. For me this is equivalent to urinating inside a temple just to piss everyone off.

There's a few more nuanced points about the timing:

1. It co-incided with Modi govt's first union budget release that had several problematic issues which were of national importance. There were other issues too which were simply more important than internal arguments in India's smallest political party if you consider cash-in-bank levels. Even for Delhi, the LG had just started intruding on the state government's turf and some very controversial things like forced occupation of Delhi's ACB by central paramilitary forces that effectively castrated the new Delhi CM's executive powers happened around this same time period. The only thing that could have allowed the central govt to get away with it all was a major distraction that keeps all the news channels and newspapers diverted for a long time and not talking about these more important issues. The AAP split came like a gift from heaven for Modi, and I simply do NOT buy the theory that it was mere co-incidence.

2. The issues that YY and PB brought up, for all their fire and fury, were nothing new. Those complaints were being spoken by several dissenters withing AAP since before the 2014 general elections even. YY himself had then been rubbishing the very things he was suddenly making an issue about now. Because these issues were nothing new, he, of all people, could have easily let the new AAP government's first 100 days and first clashes with LG pass without having to stab people in the back while they were fending off attacks on the front. With more important issues like Budget being present and "hot", if I was in YY's place and live TV cameras were pointed at me during prime time and I was given the mic like he was, I would have used that crucial opportunity to address the nation about things that truly matter. Instead, I saw YY practically following a script and sticking ONLY to the AAP split topic.

So whatever the content of what they were saying, the timing of the AAP breakup is something that has sent up several red flags (excuse the pun) for me. From the BJP's perspective, it was just too perfect to chalk up to blind co-incidence.

And don't tell me you haven't seen this situation happen in family, social or office circles : someone does most of the work and someone else who you know isn't really doing as much, is the first to complain about not being included and there being no democracy. Or, someone else who wasn't actually doing the core work, goes riding high and screws the whole thing. This is "indulging in petty politics" 101 my dear, we have all seen it! Also note that there's usually a big difference in the eloquent-ness : some people simply have a better way with words than others; doesn't always mean they're right. Ring any bells? In a corporate setup the behaviours YY and PB exhibited along with their objective track record (2014 general elections) would have been reason enough to demand a formal resignation. 

From all this, I can only say that if I had been in AK's place I'd have tossed these two out the very first time they had threatened to leave if things didn't go as they said. That's blackmail and it has no place in a movement or a democracy. It also goes into ideological roots, and may well be the core reason why the folks in the NGO sector seem to me to favour YY more than AK : AK is more free market oriented and YY is more socialism oriented. Perhaps there too lie the leadership differences : one takes ownership for being the man in the arena, while the other prefers to keep it a group thing, calling it leaderless, while at the same time not being able to resist wanting to drive the agenda. And as for PB.. well, nit-pickers are great for some things and bad for others. He's amazing in court and in all those PILs, I hope he continues where his core strengths lie. 

The 2014 elections, all those wonderful human beings across the nation emerging as actual electoral options, the very exposure to the possibility that you can have a political party that doesn't harbour criminals and isn't in nexus with the elites, the putting forward of the most radical governance transformation proposal that this planet has seen (decentralisation of powers to mohalla sabhas operating on direct democracy models): DID do a lot of good as well, and I see the value in YY and PB's push for it (while still maintaining that they should have lived up to their leaderless principles and not propped AK up as the reluctant frontman, should have gotten out of group think, taken personal responsibility and stepped down in mid-2014 and THEN gone ahead to form the Swaraj party as a national-level version of AAP.. heck for all I know perhaps they actually considered this and were prevented by others doing group-think): whatever happened, it's for the best, and let's see now how to move forward.

PS: I'm a nerd sitting in Pune and don't really have much ground exposure. This is just my take and there's probably a million other fact-pieces I hve no clue of that I'd be grateful to have put in the comments section here so I can learn more and evolve my understanding further.

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