Friday, January 24, 2014

In support of air-conditioned chambers.

Opportunities to change the world we live in come across only a few. And that too, not everyday. 

During a cold Delhi December, a young upstart political party was the chosen one. 

That Delhi handed the reins of power to the Aam Aadmi Party, was as much a matter of pride and satisfaction in the process of democracy in India, as it was a scathing indictment of the established political players. Let us not make any mistake about the message here. If an MNC organisation having long established career executives angling for the top job, anoints as its CEO a raw inexperienced rookie fresh out of college, what message that for the well-entrenched?

Heartwarming indeed then, was also the accompanying thought that things could actually change. Change for the better. That people could see behind the cynical machinations of the career politicians, and the people breathtakingly, had the courage (or desperation?) - to go out on a limb and trust a new kid on the block to do right by them.  'Hold on for a moment', we seemed to tell the die-hard cynic in most of us - 'all may not be lost as yet'.

Hope germinated. Fragile, but hope unmistakably.

When the AAP was shoe-horned into the ruler's chair by the career politicians, the thoughts and calculations seemed straight out of a comic book illustration 'balloon' - visible for all to see ! The newbie's thoughts -  'Oops ! Did I actually make it to the chair? Err... What next?'. On the other hand, the career politicians rubbing their hands with breathtakingly Machiavellian cunning 'Let's give this upstart a rope long enough, and sooner than later, he will hang. Teach 'im to play with us big boys !'.

For the AAP, it was never going to be easy, for one does not build any organisation overnight. Be it a successful business, or a political party, organisations are built with time, energy and effort. The Congress has been in existence for a century; the BJP, decades. For all their faults in delivering, these organisations are smooth well-oiled political machines, with established processes in place. The spokespersons know their lines and roles, the high-commands and vice-presidents and such others know how each action of theirs is perceived by the public at large, there are funding sources lined up, hierarchies and ladders lined, each of the MPS and MLAs speak in 'one voice' carrying the official line, etc.  All well organised and smooth.

Been there, done that. Since time immemorial.

The AAP then, was never expected to be a smooth, calculating political machine, with all drivers in the party driving in the same direction, at the same speed. Fully expected was that some drivers wanted to go slowly, some faster. Some on the highway of economic liberalization, and some choosing the by-lanes of protectionism. Some drivers were expected to be polite and thoughtful, and some abusive, spitting paan and venom. All this, because the newly minted motley crew of MLAs were driving on the roads of power, without even holding so much as a learner's license ever !

But all these were sins to be expected, and with a bit of indulgence, eminently forgivable. 

However, what was and is expected, at least by the trusting Delhi citizens if not the hopeful masses in the country, is a good solid honest effort. A roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-sweaty-and-dirty effort. What was expected that once the keys to the vehicle of governance were given, at least all the drivers would stay put in the car and try to give a honest-to-God account of themselves !

Governance is of course many things : At times, it could indeed mean spot checks. At others, it could also include seeking views at 'darbars'. And at yet other times, it could even possibly extend to  'protests and dharnas'; for who is to grudge somebody a new way of doing things? But at at the heart of it all, governance means one indisputable thing : To Govern. And govern The Whole. 

This does mean an attempt to set policies and things right for the masses of people, the entire state for which one is responsible. It means simplifying processes at large. It means bringing in laws impacting the whole state in one go. It means reforming at a systemic level, and not at the level of the individual. Taking an example, for sure sending a few cops on leave may give the police force a message that they need to do right by the people. But how effective the message? For how many policemen? For how long does the message sustain? 

If there are no fundamental and systematic changes for the police force at large  - better salaries, better equipment, removal / reduction of political interference, instilling pride in their work etc. how does sending a couple of odd cops on leave really matter? 

Fundamental change is not easy. It necessarily means long hard hours, difficult discussions over budgets and conflict of interests, reconciling expectations at a centre and state level, changing laws, working to get a consensus or trying to achieve a majority vote etc. All difficult and for sure, unglamorous work, as compared to sitting on protests, but if we all are honest with ourselves, it is the only real way to bring about lasting change.

Of course, in this instance, the police force may not be under the domain of the state government, but the larger point is this : The AAP can only bring about fundamental changes and leave a lasting impact on the lives of citizens by doing what they ironically, claim to detest : sitting in air-conditioned chambers !

Who says there is nothing to learn from the Congress and BJP?