A few weeks ago two successive incidents left me grappling with the reality and the overwhelming problem of a society that is rapidly making ‘corruption’ the norm of everyday existence. While one elderly widow called me from Bangalore asking for help in saving her small plot of land and house bequeathed to her by her husband, another young widow thanked me for securing her the legitimately due pension. In the first case, this elderly lady told me how a few people were pestering her for many months to sell off her property to them which she did not want to do. She was living on the road close to the International airport and the pestering was tending to become intimidating. I was surprised at the anger in her voice when I politely suggested that she approach the local police. Apparently she had done so, only to be told that she should be happy that these people were at least willing to offer her a decent price. All I could do was to listen to her and feel her anger, pain and sense of helplessness.
The second person was a domestic help and had come to me for help to secure her widow pension. Being very poor with two daughters to take care of, she was well within the norms prescribed by the department and was eligible for her monthly pension. After more than 15 months of intense follow-up, we managed to get her the pension order a couple of months ago. She had come to me with a packet of sweets to thank me for the help and casually mentioned that she had gone to the local post office to get her first month’s pension of Rs 400. Surprised at the amount being lower than the Rs 500 that the Government was giving, I asked her about it. Innocently she replied that the postman told her that the pension would be Rs 400 if it came through the post office and Rs 500 if it was directly credited to her account. She not only believed this, but also was convinced that there was logic in the explanation. How many million poor and innocent people in this country live their everyday lives without worrying about how their lives are being affected by this all-pervasive corruption? I was also left wondering if she could have got her pension if I had let her negotiate with the system on her own. All that she would have needed to do was to grease the palms of the local officer and the opportunity cost might have been well worth it. The price of trying to work the system honestly was a delay of more than 12 months and Rs 6000 lost in the pension that she could have otherwise received. A mere Rs 3000 was the fee that she was asked by one of the ‘agents’ who had promised the pension within three months of her husband dying.
As I thought about these two incidents, my mind was drawn to another incident that had happened in our family more than 30 years ago. I was still a medical student then and we had just finished celebrating my sister’s wedding. A couple of weeks later, I found my father very distraught and worried. I learnt that he had received a notice from the Income Tax department asking him to explain how he had the money to buy jewelry worth Rs 20,000 for his daughter’s wedding. My father was then a Senior Audit Officer in the Accountant General’s office in Bangalore. Having been in service for nearly thirty years and being a senior gazetted officer, it was not illogical for anyone to understand that he could have surely saved Rs 20,000 that the jewels were worth. And being a very duty-conscious public servant, he had disclosed this purchase to his department as per laid down procedures. He was upset that a law-abiding citizen like him who had paid all his taxes and done everything by the rulebook had to be subjected to the humiliation (in his view) of receiving a notice from the Income Tax department. I could understand how he must have felt. This was the same person who would not even drink the coffee offered to him in the office where he was conducting the audit. Even that gesture of courtesy was for him unacceptable. That was the standard of ethics in his public life.
And today we live in a world where we have simply built into our transactions the cost of corruption. Whether it is getting our building or driving license, or the spectrum allocation for the telecom company or the permission to drill for oil or natural gas – everything comes at a price! It has become so much an integral part of our lives that we do not see the negative consequences of such actions. Whether it is the fire in a public building that occurred because the fire department overlooked the lacunae while granting the clearances, or buildings collapsing and killing hundreds only because the construction norms were allowed to be violated at a price or the state of our roads and utility companies today. In every sector that we can think of, corruption usually begins with the user looking for a short cut in order to maximize his profits in the short run. Very rarely does it occur to us that we are the final losers in this game of one-upmanship. From the corrupt politician that we elect after being bribed to do so, to the traffic violations that we want condoned by the local policeman for a petty sum – every one of these instances results in an unseen consequence for us. Unfortunately, most of us seem to be satisfied with the visible benefits of the money that we make or the time that we save or the losses that reduce. We can no longer talk of fighting corruption or merely nod our head in agreement watching television debates. Fighting corruption cannot be reduced to street-side sloganeering or waving the national flag. It needs to begin by we committing ourselves to staying honest whatever the inconvenience or the price that we need to pay.
We, as a Community or Society have to incentivize the actions of honest people. We need to celebrate goodness and make leading a virtuous life something that we can all be proud about. We have to dis-incentivize the corrupt and socially boycott such people. If we all make a collective decision not to entertain or invite any corrupt politician or official or any person who encourages corruption to any social event, and if we decide to not only look up to the honest but also look down upon the corrupt, can we then hope that this strong social signal will kick-start the change that all of us are desperately looking for.
The last two months has been a different kind of experience for me. It has also been the time when many of my own convictions have been questioned and tested. It is said that the true character of a person is evident only when his convictions are put to the test. Apart from this, I was also witness to the views and opinions of many different kinds of people – some of them were genuine friends and who cared for me and my welfare, some were just passersby, while many others were people whose lives would be affected in different ways by the decision I took. And what was this decision all about? Thanks to the media, my personal question was now a public one. Many who met me and knew about me had one question on their minds. Would I join the bandwagon of people contesting the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections? And if yes, which party would I be contesting from? While some newspapers had speculated that I would be contesting from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), others wrote that I would contest from the BJP. Each had a view to share, an opinion to state and a suggestion to offer me. While some felt that I would disappoint them if I joined politics, many others felt that I would surely disappoint them if I did not. It was the same whether I joined the AAP or the BJP. I was certain to disappoint people whatever decision I took. Some emailed me stating that politics was the last resort of scoundrels, while others said that I had to demonstrate the ‘nerves of iron’ and ‘muscles of steel’ that Swami Vivekananda had asked for, and jump into the fray. I have had no other desire than to work for the cause of National Reconstruction based on the principles espoused by Swami Vivekananda. How well would mainstream electoral politics go with my temperament and me? A close friend and confidante from my Harvard days put it succinctly by asking me if I could be a politician on the outside while maintaining my principled and value-driven self on the inside. He went on to say that if I could find that balance, I would be a successful politician who could still do meaningful and constructive work for the development of India. One mentioned that it would be the next logical step for me while another felt that I may now need to learn to deal with the devil.
The normal perception of the common man today is that the world of politics is dirty and needs cleaning up. But then, many including me till recently had always believed that someone else would do this cleaning up. Very few have the courage to jump into the system and attempt any change from within. Most have lost their way in attempting to do so and this today serves as an example of how impossible the task on hand is. Though I have always loved challenges, I am also realistic in my assessment of the barriers that are there for people like me. The issues of religion, caste, sub-caste, money power, muscle power, connections, family lineage – all this needs to add up to get a few doors open. Coming from an activist background and the values that I subscribe to, one can imagine how much more difficult this would be!
Amidst all this confusion, I decided to talk to a large cross-section of people from varied backgrounds. I also met and interacted with politicians – honest ones, situationally honest ones, ones with a ‘clean image’, some tainted ones, etc. They belonged to different parties, though I could not easily decipher the underlying ideology or philosophy driving them. One thing in common was that they were all career politicians who believed that politics was in their DNA and it was their calling. I needed to see the picture from their side of the fence and it was indeed a revealing experience for me. This information, I felt would surely serve me in good stead if I were to actually make the move. I remembered the old adage ‘get yourself warm winter coats if you are planning on moving to the Arctic’.
And this is what I learnt from them…
The first thing I learnt was that people have a very two-dimensional understanding of the situation and that the view from the inside was very different from that of the outside. The setting is indeed very complex. The pressure of pampering and responding to the gallery was the unstated norm. People measured their political leaders based on whether they responded to their individual demands. The pressures that the constituents manage to create were also very palpable. Decisions were seldom based on the collective well-being of society but were guided more by the personal stakes involved, the mass appeal that such a decision would create and on whether it addressed the concerns of vested interest groups and political factions and caste combinations. Leadership here was not about giving the work back to people; it was about positional authority and being the ‘man’ up there. It was about basking in the glory of being important and occupying the limelight all the time. It was about negotiating your seat on the ‘dais’, about making sure that you were seen in the newspaper at regular intervals and about making the ‘correct’ comments at the appropriate places. It was not about speaking your mind or sticking to the truth. It was always about the truth that people wanted to hear and about catering to the needs of human ego and pride.
My leadership lessons would surely be tested – the leadership that I had learnt and teach now was to keep the focus on the ‘work at the center’. It was not about ‘myself’ but about a process of empowering the group to address the problems that besieged them. It was about getting people to understand that they were a part of the problem and had to necessarily be a part of the solution if they wanted it to work. I was unsure how this would work in the setting where constituents neither have the intent nor the patience to do it themselves. They see their elected representatives as the people who should be doing the hard work on their behalf. The people tend to see their political representatives as a wire conducting the electricity of their hopes, frustrations and desires. Anything less and they would be unforgiving and push them out of electoral significance.
And how it all panned out finally…
As the debate and speculation continued, a senior journalist friend living in Delhi and who has covered the Parliamentary proceedings for more than three decades told me that any party interested in making me their official candidate in Mysore would not be serious about my winning the elections. He went on to mention that my caste was not in my favour and I would never be able to understand the electoral arithmetic of caste and cash. One senior politician suggested that I choose a constituency where the voters predominantly belonged to the same caste as I do. Being deeply wedded to egalitarianism and a caste-less society, it was unacceptable to me. Having wanted to ‘Make Democracy Work’, it would also be unethical and a mockery of participative democracy to contest from a constituency that I neither belonged to nor knew about.
Another friend mentioned that I would never be able to convince any party that was serious about my winning to restrict their expenses to the limits prescribed by the Election Commission. One group of people belonging to a particular caste combination was more candid. They mentioned that their desire for a man of competence and integrity to represent them was not as strong as their filial affection for a man of their own community. At the end of the day, it did boil down to the ‘change that the common man desired and cared about’. And I painfully realized that the system would be forced to change only when the electorate was intent and determined about the change. And the electorate at this point of time is not fully prepared to let go off their own insecurities and concerns. They are not ready to bell the cat or be the change or not even be a part of the change. But everything is not so depressing. I do see a silver lining amidst all this. One section of society, especially the youth are beginning to get restless and are looking for a change. Many of them are keen on breaking down the barriers of entry for credible people with the appropriate competence to enter the political world. The very fact that mainstream parties did consider a person like me for electoral politics is a beginning of this change. But more needs to be done and this will happen only when the people demanding that things change reach a critical number. And I understand that till then, my aborted attempt to cleanse the system will only serve to ripen the issue. Hopefully, the years to come will be different and more and more young people will be able to realize their dream of serving this country through the political path. And only then can we boldly say that the Indian Democracy has come of age.
Many years ago, I was visiting the house of a Lok Sabha member to advocate for some provisions to be included in the Forest Rights Act. Having been a strong advocate of this Act on behalf of the indigenous tribes with whom I have worked for more than 25 years, I was trying to meet as many parliamentarians and seek their support for having this Act passed in Parliament. My meeting with this particular MP was a memorable one. Though he showed a genuine interest in understanding the plight of the forest dwelling indigenous communities, the endless stream of visitors who wanted to meet him constantly interrupted our conversation. He must have sensed the restlessness on my face and he politely apologized for this. I explained to him that I was less irritated by the interruptions but more upset by the requests that the people from his constituency came to him with. If one came looking for a plum posting, another wanted his wife’s transfer orders cancelled by the state government. Some wanted houses; others a contract to be awarded to their firm. None amongst the 30-40 people who met him within the hour ever had anything other than a personal favour to ask of him. I pointed this out to him and asked him if in his experience he was ever lobbied for a policy issue or a collective social cause. He embarrassingly mentioned that the only time someone came to him for a policy matter was when the policy actually benefited his company. He rued the fact that none came to him for any social policy or legislative matter. In fact, it did seem sad that a seasoned politician like him with years of parliamentary experience was using his time to solve the mundane and every day problems of his electorate. While I am not implying that these problems are unimportant or are not issues of concern for the common citizen, what I would like to highlight is the fact that a Member of Parliament should not be burdened with the responsibility that a Corporator or a Gram Panchayath member is mandated to address. It is indeed unfortunate that most people do not understand the role of an MP, his specific functions and how much he/she costs this nation. The sadder part is that many Members of Parliament themselves do not seem to have internalized their roles completely and only see themselves as people occupying positions of power. Before we understand how one gets elected to be a Member of Parliament (MP), we first need to understand what the Lok Sabha is and what its powers are.
Lok Sabha and its functions:
The Lok Sabha is also known as the ‘House of the People’ or the lower house. All of its members are directly elected by citizens of India on the basis of universal adult franchise, except two who are appointed by the President of India. Every citizen of India who is over 18 years of age, irrespective of gender, caste, religion or race, who is otherwise not disqualified, is eligible to vote for the Lok Sabha.
The Constitution provides that the maximum strength of the House be 552 members. It has a term of 5 years. At present, the strength of the house is 545 members. The seats are apportioned among the states based on their population. Up to 530 members represent the territorial constituencies in states, up to 20 members represent the Union Territories and no more than two members from Anglo-Indian community can be nominated by the President of India if he or she feels that the community is not adequately represented.
The period during which the House meets to conduct its business is called a ‘session’. The Constitution empowers the President to summon each House at such intervals that there should not be more than six-months gap between two sessions. Hence the Parliament must meet at least twice a year. In India, the parliament conducts three sessions each year:
- Budget session: In the months of February to May
- Monsoon session: In the months of July to September
- Winter session: In the months of November to December
How can one become a Lok Sabha MP and how does one qualify to stand for the elections?
A member of Lok Sabha is a representative elected by the voters of an electoral district as determined by the Delimitation Commission of India. In order to contest the elections to be a Member of Parliament, one should fulfill the following criteria:
- He/She must be a citizen of India.
- He/She must have completed the age of 25 years.
- He/She must not hold an office of profit.
- He/She must possess qualifications laid down by the Parliament of India.
- He/She must not be of unsound mind and should not have been disqualified by a court.
No person can become an MP unless he/she is a voter from any constituency of the State.
What is the function of the Lok Sabha and what are the powers of its members?
The powers of Lok Sabha members are conferred on them to ensure that the house functions for the purpose that it has been set up. The main functions of the Lok Sabha are:
1. Legislative: Law-making is the main function of the Parliament. All types of bills can originate in the Lok Sabha and if a bill is moved in and passed by the Rajya Sabha, it has to come to the Lok Sabha for its approval. If there is any disagreement between the two Houses, the Lok Sabha will prevail in the joint sitting with the Rajya Sabha because it has more members.
2. Financial: The Lok Sabha exercises control over the finances and has to approve the budget presented by the Government in power and ensure that money is allocated adequately and appropriately for the business of Governance. In financial matters, the Lok Sabha has a distinct superiority over the Rajya Sabha. The Money Bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha and cannot be moved in the Rajya Sabha.
3. Control over Executive: The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament. Thus, the government is accountable to the Lok Sabha for its acts of omission and commission. The Rajya Sabha cannot hold the government accountable to it. It is only the Lok Sabha which can force the Council of Ministers to resign by passing a vote of no-confidence against it. There are also other methods by which the Lok Sabha can exercise control over the central executive. These methods are putting questions, moving adjournment motions and call-attention motions, budget discussions, cut-motions and debates, etc. By employing any of these methods, the Lok Sabha can expose the misdeeds and inefficiency of the government and warn it against repeating such mistakes. The members are expected to oversee and monitor all the programs and schemes that the executive implements. This does not mean that they merely sit on committees approving beneficiary lists and houses and determining how local area development funds are spent. They are expected to ensure that the executive branch of the Government does its job responsibly, responsively, transparently, impartially and in line with the decisions taken by the political executive.
4. Constitutional: The Lok Sabha shares with the Rajya Sabha the power to amend the constitution.
5. Electoral: The Lok Sabha takes part in the election of the President and the Vice-President. It elects the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker and its members are also elected to different committees of Parliament.
6. Judicial: The Lok Sabha has power to punish a person on the ground of breach of privilege. It takes part in the impeachment proceedings against the President of India, and it shares power with the Rajya Sabha to remove the Judges of the Supreme Court and the Judges of High Courts.
7. Ventilation of Grievances: The members of the Lok Sabha are elected from different parts of India. They try to remove the difficulties of their respective constituencies by stating their grievances on the floor of the Lok Sabha.
8. Imparting Education on Democracy: The Lok Sabha discussions would help in raising the political consciousness of people. As the discussions in the Lok Sabha are directly telecast, the people are able to learn of different aspects of Indian politics.
9. Other Functions: The Lok Sabha discusses reports submitted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Finance Commission, etc.
Salary and other privileges of our MPs:
We need to understand that our Lok Sabha MPs are paid well for the services that they are expected to do. The receive a monthly salary of Rs 50,000 and an allowance of Rs 2000 for every day that the Parliament sits in session. In addition to this, the members are entitled to liberal travel and dearness allowances, telephone, water & electricity allowances, constituency maintenance allowance and wages for their personal staff, etc. They are also entitled to Rs 20,000 monthly pension for the rest of their lives. These expenses being paid out of taxation revenues are reason enough for citizens to demand performance, accountability and transparency from the elected members.
Apart from the salary and other related perks, our MPs also enjoy immunity and freedom of speech on the floor of the House. They cannot be prosecuted for having said anything on the floor of the House. During session the members cannot be arrested in any civil cases.
Measuring the performance of our MPs:
Only when we understand and appreciate what our MPs are expected to do, can we as common citizens measure their performance and assess how well they are playing their roles. It is extremely important for us to know what they will be doing for the next five years as our elected representatives. Let us try to understand how well they performed over the last 5 years. The 15th Lok Sabha met for an average of around 60 days a year in comparison to around 120 days that the previous 14 Lok Sabhas did. The Winter Session of December 2013 was only for 4 hours and 31 minutes, or 6% of the schedule time. The 15th Lok Sabha has only passed 118 bills till date and of these only 27 of them (23%) were discussed for 2-3 hours. About 20 bills were passed with discussions of less than 5 minutes. As on 11th Feb, 130 bills are pending in this last session of the current Lok Sabha. Despite all this, the Lok Sabha met for only 15 minutes on the 07 Feb 2014 and was adjourned due to the Telengana issue.
We the citizens must come together and demand that our MPs bring out an annual report card clearly outlining their performance. They need to inform the people of their constituency on how well they performed against indicators like their attendance in the Parliament, the number of questions they asked, their understanding and appreciation of the different policies and laws they make, the amount of time they spend consulting their constituents, how well they oversaw the executive and a statement disclosing their income and assets. Only when we the common people continue to engage with our elected representatives even after the elections are over and continue to monitor and evaluate their performance will we be able to demand good governance from them. It is in our own interest that we do not relax but continue to demand both accountability and performance from our MPs for the next 5 years.
We launched our ‘Making Democracy Work’ campaign two months ago and since then we have undertaken different kinds of activities to bring in voter education. We felt that it was time to take our campaign to the next level and meet the voters on a one-to-one basis and explain the importance of choosing the right candidates and staying connected with the elected representatives even after the elections.
Our plan was to walk through the city and villages, talking to the people as we walk by, addressing people at street corners, having street plays and singing awareness songs. The first of our walks was on 18-Dec (Wed). More than a hundred of us walked from Mysore city to Jayapura village. We walked around 22 km and visited 7 villages, interacting with about 10000 people along the way. We could see a distinct difference in the way people in urban Mysore and the rural areas received our messages on participatory democracy. The rural youth were more enthused and interested. They had organized themselves into small groups and received us with flowers, garlands, lemons and fresh fruit juices. One group at one of the villages had also organized lunch for all of us.
The second walk was held on 23-Dec (Mon) and around 80 of us walked from Piriyapatna town to Doddabellalu village. We walked around 22 km and traversed through 9 villages and interacted with about 15000 people. The quality of discussions and the engagement with the people here was higher than the previous walk. We saw so much hope in the eyes of people and the desire for change in their hearts. The youth were very articulate in their expectations for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. Many of them saw the Delhi verdict as the harbinger of the change in the country itself. A few were hopeful that the mainstream parties would be serious on fielding well-meaning and honest candidates. If this hope and energy lasts long enough and translates as meaningful participation of the electorate in the coming months, then I am sure Democracy will become healthier and meaningful.
The country has just seen something remarkable and it has left the entire nation wonder-struck! One party, which was dismissed off as insignificant by its political opponents, quietly upset all calculations. The election results may have offered hope and solace to the BJP in three states and to the Congress in one, but what has left everyone impressed is the fact that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did so well. And the credit for this rightfully should go to Arvind Kejriwal and also to the thousands of ordinary men and women of not just Delhi, but to all those who believed in the cause and worked tirelessly on the streets of Delhi for more than two months. This result stunned the political pundits, shocked the political class and has given a sense of hope to the common man. For people who were skeptical that change in the Indian political spectrum would not be possible, this should serve as a reminder of the power and potential of what can happen when people who believe in themselves get together and work with the conviction that we saw.
The Delhi results are an indicator of the winds of change that are blowing. It surely is hope for the Nation that is longing for transparency and good governance. It is something that the youth of the country are now seeing as possible and achievable. One must surely thank not just the AAP, but also the Anna-led anti-corruption movement and the experiments of the Lok Satta Party and other people’s movements around the country. All of them have served to ripen the issue of change and the demand for clean politics in the country.
For a party that is just a year old it speaks volumes and is a fabulous attainment. AAP is now redefining the rules of the game – a game which many of us thought that was impossible to play for the well-intentioned; a game that had too many barriers to entry for the competent and honest men and women who wanted to participate in electoral politics. Some experts may argue that this is only an isolated phenomenon with Delhi being mostly urban and a smaller state than all others. But then the change that urban voters have ushered in – be it the rich, the working class or the middle class – has proven to be the game changer. The question that needs to be asked is not just ‘will the rural voters follow suit?’ but ‘how can this fire be made to spread across the length and breadth of India?’
Many experts on TV are calling this result as the anger against the political class. But we also need to appreciate the fact that there is a genuine desire for clean electoral politics. This desire, driven by the demographics of a young India needs to be capitalized and reflected in the next parliamentary elections too.
I had met Arvind a few months ago at the Bangalore launch of AAP. He exuded confidence and told me that the AAP would do exceedingly well in the Delhi elections. At that time, I had felt that it was misplaced optimism. I must now confess that I am happy to be proved wrong. I can also appreciate that his confidence stemmed from a correct assessment of the mood of the people in Delhi. This mood now needs to be turned into a national process. It needs to be translated into ‘call for action’ across India, especially in rural areas. It needs to be the tipping point in making India a healthy and vibrant democracy.
The AAP has also proved that personal connect matters a lot. Once people, especially the poor and the marginalized, are met and explained about their role and need to participate in strengthening the democratic process, they demonstrate their conviction through the ballot box. Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have not just given hope to the millions of Indians, but have also given back the voice to the common man, to whom power should rightfully belong. Arvind is surely a master strategist and a passionate leader. He is also described by a few as stubborn and individualistic. But then change makers have to be this way for things to start moving. The present reality too demands some one like him, for change is not easy and needs people who do not just have the conviction but are also ready to take the heat and dust of living those convictions. As he reaches out to others across India, he will surely understand that he needs to be more visibly democratic in order to build an effective coalition of like-minded people.
We also need to appreciate why this milestone is important for the nation. Why does making Indian democracy healthier matter at this point of time? The answer could lie in what has been the situation till now. The Association for Democratic Reforms has analyzed 62847 candidates who have contested either Parliamentary or State Assembly elections since 2004 and the highlights of this analysis are:
- 18% of them who contested have declared criminal cases against them.
- There is a 23% chance of winning if you are a candidate with a criminal background.
- Amongst those with a criminal background only 27% of them had a graduate degree.
- 30% of our sitting Lok Sabha MPs are facing criminal charges (162 out of 543)
- All the political parties without exception have given tickets to candidates who have declared criminal cases against them.
Analysis of 8790 out of this 62847 who were elected as MPs and MLAs (since 2004) showed that the average assets of the winner was Rs 3.83 crores and the runners-up was 2.47 crores. The average assets of those with criminal background was 4.31 crores. Analysis also showed an average increase of 134% in declared wealth in less than 5 years of candidates who were recontesting the elections. All this shows how the chances to win an election in India are higher if you have money and a criminal background. It also shows how little chance one has if one is clean, honest and doesn’t have much money to contest the election with. We need to see the achievement and success of AAP against this backdrop.
While the recent Supreme Court judgments are further facilitating this change, we also need to ensure that all good and like-minded people come together and expand on the momentum built. We need to make sure that Delhi is not just a flash in the pan but also a harbinger of what is in store for the Indian Polity and Democracy. The next Parliament elections is not just an acid test for these values but will turn out to be a watershed in Indian politics. For too long has the center stage been occupied by the same set of people with questionable values. Now it is time they are swept aside by well-intentioned, honest and transparent people who are true representatives of the common people of India.
The word ‘Politics’ has different connotations for different people. It also has many meanings attached to it and the way it is used is also different in different contexts. I would like to use the word ‘Politics’ to indicate the activities that are associated with the governance of a country or state or a local area. While this is indeed a sweeping statement and necessarily includes development, I would like to exclude all activities born out of a particular ideology or party in order to acquire power to rule. Purists may argue that my understanding and definition of this word is incomplete and restrictive. While this may be partially true, I would like to stick to it in order to communicate what I mean by saying SVYM is non-political.
Saying that SVYM is non-political would sound like an oxymoron. On one side, we talk of SVYM being a development organization. This surely makes us political from the perspective of ‘Development’ being inseparable from ‘Governance’. The point I would like to drive home is that we are non-political in the context of party politics and do not indulge in any attempt to either acquire or influence the acquisition of power to rule over any area or state or country. We are value-neutral as far as electoral politics goes. This translates into we neither endorsing nor campaigning for any person or party in any electoral situation. It surely does not prevent us from advocating public causes on behalf of the many constituents that we partner with in the political system – either those in power or out of power.
Considering the fact that we are interacting with the Government and undertaking policy research and advocacy, it is a tightrope walk to stay this way. But we have been able to maintain this position for the last 3 decades. We have had people from across the political spectrum interacting with us and many of them have indeed lent a helping hand for our activities. Despite our good working relationships with many, we have been careful in not getting too close to any one person or party. We have remained equidistant from each of them and that is our strength. While we may be critical of the positions and stands of many of them, we have never let this come in the way of personal relationships.
Being non-political also means that we do not encourage our employees from contesting elections while they are regular and full-time employees. They are asked to take a call and decide on whether they would like to remain employees or quit and contest the elections. Being an employee does not preclude anyone from having his own personal political thought, but it surely does not permit him/her to campaign or use his/her position to influence any voter during the electoral process.
Being non-political has allowed us to be independent and vocal about our views on development. It has also given us the bandwidth to implement programs like Making Democracy Work. It has also given us the credibility to articulate our positions and be taken seriously. We cherish this view of ours and intend to keep it that way.