Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Intricacies of Electoral Politics

The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 have firmly established that electoral politics has come of age in India. What with outfits of all colours and sizes from the right to the left of the political spectrum, apart from the Maoists, some Northeastern militants and the Mujahideen, having jumped into the electoral fray and with the voters coming out in the largest numbers ever to vote, despite the terror threats from sundry recalcitrants. The most notable fact is that many of the prominent activists of the long standing grassroots movements have opted to fight elections as members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Some of these have been die hard anarchists all their lives and yet now they are in the hurly burly of electoral politics as candidates. However, it needs to be understood as to how difficult it is to establish an electorally successful political party at the national level without engaging in corruption as the AAP has set out to do. Since we can't do so without being part of this process ourselves, I along with my wife Subhadra, participated intensively in the campaigning of the Aam Aadmi party candidate from Indore, Anil Trivedi, for the past one and a half months and finally voted for a political party for the first time in our lives yesterday!!!
Even if the BJP and the Congress, following the lead of the American parties have spent a lot of money on advertisements in various media, in India, garnering votes still remains a hard door to door affair. Therefore we set out on a door to door campaign to cover the electorate of about fifteen polling booths numbering approximately 15000 voters spread in a radius of about two kilometers from our house. We have been working off and on with the poor residing in the slums in this area, providing them with relief of various kinds from their daily problems and so we have many contacts among them. So we tried to enlist their participation in the door to door campaign so as to boost the numbers. However, we drew a blank. These people said that while they appreciated the help we had provided to them from time to time as an NGO, if they came out in the open as supporters of the AAP then they would not be able to approach the BJP or Congress leaders of their area for help when needed in various matters. Neither did they believe that the AAP would be able to tackle the viciousness of the administration nor were we in a position to assure that we would take up the solving of their daily problems on a regular basis instead of just tackling some of their problems relating to health and education as we do sometimes.
We could just make vague promises about removing corruption and initiating people friendly development but what poor people need is help to negotiate the many daily illegalities that they are forced to commit or face to eke out a living. To do this there has to be a full fledged party apparatus. The BJP and the Congress have this apparatus and it is funded by bribes. The basic modus operandi is that the party workers operate as agents between the administration and the poor and take a cut from any bribes that are given to government functionaries or from any benefits that are taken from the government schemes. Now as AAP members we could not do this kind of corrupt brokering but would have to fight the system and fund this fight by raising resources from other sources, mainly donations from relatively more well to do people. However, unlike Arvind Kejriwal we have neither the capacity nor the inclination to do so. What little funds we do have, from institutional donors mainly as grants for development projects, is for working in far away Alirajpur and from time to time in the slums in Indore and not for full time political party work in Indore. The AAP did not give us any funds because it did not have the necessary funds at the central level to fight the Lok Sabha elections nationally and Anil Trivedi could mobilise only about enough to cover his own campaigning at a shoestring level. Thus, throughout the month and a half of campaigning we went around wearing the AAP cap with brooms in our hands, shouting slogans, singing songs, distributing pamphlets, conducting jhadoo marches sweeping the roads and speaking to people of all classes and engaging them in vigorous debates and covered each and every household in the fifteen booths that had been allotted to us. However, when it came to building up any solid organisational framework of the party we drew a blank because we could not promise anything concrete to anyone given our lack of resources!! When anyone wanted our phone numbers so that they could contact us in an emergency, we would point to the contact numbers of the central office of Indore AAP in the pamphlets that we were distributing and tell them to phone there!!! And so most probably very few people have in the end voted for the AAP from our area except those who are already enamoured of it from its stellar performance in the Delhi elections. Anyway we did enjoy the great experience of electoral campaigning which is a totally different ball game from the grassroots rights mobilisation work of the KMCS. No doubt we would have been more successful if we had campaigned in Alirajpur for the AAP candidate there but even there our base is in only around 100 booths while Alirajpur is part of the Jhabua-Ratlam constituency spread over three districts and 1700 other booths where we have no base whatsoever and neither the resources to build one.
Finally, after the campaigning ended, there was the important matter of managing, on the day of the poll, the polling booths that we had campaigned for. Each booth ideally requires around eight people. Two to sit inside the booth as polling agents of the candidate by turns to see that polling was progressing properly and to verify the sealing of the electronic voting machines at the start and at the end of polling and four to sit outside to help voters who do not have voter slips showing their number on the electoral rolls and find these from the copies of the electoral rolls. There should be at least two more workers who will visit the booth to get the trends in polling and the names of the voters who have not voted and then go to the houses of these voters and encourage them to come and vote, especially those who are confirmed supporters of the party. So we tried to get these one hundred and twenty people for the fifteen booths that were our responsibility. Unfortunately we could not get even one!! Most people made some excuse or other while some others who are professional booth managers demanded money. Managing booths requires a lot of money. Two tents have to be set up two hundred metres from the polling booth in the two directions from which it can be approached along with tables and chairs and electoral rolls and there has to be at least one two wheeler. All the six to eight people who are managing the booth have to be provided with food and tea right from 6 a.m. in the morning when they have to report at the booth to attend the initial sealing of the voting machines to 7 p.m. in the evening when they have to do the final sealing after voting closes. In the end since we did not have the resources either in the form of volunteers or in the form of money, Subhadra and I decided to sit as lone polling agents in two of the fifteen booths of which we had been made the election supervisors of the AAP in Indore!!! Given 1800 polling booths in a Lok Sabha constituency and a conservative estimate of  expense of about Rs 6000 per booth, the expense of effective booth management on the day of polling alone comes to more than a whopping Rupees One Crore for each Lok Sabha constituency. During the long thirteen hour stint in the polling booth I chatted up the Congress and the BJP polling agents. To my question as to how they managed the distribution of liquor these days given the announcement of two dry days from the end of campaigning till the end of polling and the strict vigil on the movement of liquor and cash they said that they had worked out the method of giving coupons to the voters. After polling is over and the liquor shops open once again the voters can go to them and get a fixed amount of liquor free in exchange for these coupons!!!
This brings out clearly how resource intensive it is to set up a political party on a national scale that intends to make a mark on the electorate by giving them the belief that it can solve their day to day problems and so get their votes. While the mainstream political parties manage this by engaging in corruption from the local to the highest level, the AAP by definition cannot do so being committed to fighting corruption. The immense achievement of Arvind Kejriwal is that he was able to garner volunteers and resources in large numbers through crowd funding on the internet and campaigning on the ground over a period of one year or so prior to the Delhi elections and convince the electorate that the AAP would be able to solve their problems. However, when it came to the Lok Sabha elections this did not work. The AAP is the party with the largest number of candidates in the country, four hundred and thirty four, but it has been able to centrally mobilise only about Rupees 31 crores till date which comes to less than Rupees five lakhs per constituency after setting aside around Rupees 10 crores for the overall management of the party, which is a woefully inadequate sum. Locally in most cases throughout the country, apart from the AAP strongholds in Delhi, Haryana, UP and Punjab the mobilisation of volunteers and resources has been dismal as was our own experience in the fifteen booths that we took the responsibility for in Indore. Even relatively strong grassroots campaigners like Medha Patkar, Alok Agrawal, Dayamani Barla, Soni Sori and Rachana Dhingra succeeded in garnering about Rupees ten to fifteen lakhs only. Possibly some of the film stars and corporate honchos who have fought as AAP candidates may have poured in resources and may breast the tape at the hustings on the strength of that.
Thus, while one sincerely wishes that the AAP can emerge as a clean liberal democratic alternative in the current quagmire of electoral politics in this country, the task is going to be a difficult one. One can only hope that a few candidates will make it to the Lok Sabha despite these difficulties and then build up the core of the party thereafter around their constituencies and later spread to other constituencies.


Sudhir Katiyar said...

Difficult, no doubt, but not impossible. Author describes very well the mechanics of grass root politics and why it is difficult for a new entrant to break in. But I am surprised that he has not commented upon the general good will for an honest alternative like AAP. Our experience was that most people are disenchanted with the corrupt system that has been brought into being by both the parties. As both the parties have been tried out, they are in no position to claim that they will provide an alternative. It is this disenchantment that provides the biggest hope for a new alternative like AAP.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it’s the negative campaign by the rivals that “AAP ‘fled’ from running the govt” created a bit lost ground in delhi too. Rivals are saying this again in Varanasi against Kejri . AAP had the guts to form Govt in Delhi being in minority too - which none of the clever mainstream parties will ever do; and they got the taste of it’s impossibility. We Indians will never understand these, we will vote for these corrupt rivals - going as per these mass leaders charisma; and in turn gets sucked / fooled years after years.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Sudhir, in Indore at least the goodwill towards AAP was few and far between. Very few people knew the credentials of AAP and even if they did they were sceptical about whether it would be able to clean the system!! The only way to convince them is for us to start solving the their problems by taking on the corrupt forces. However, this requires huge resources which we lack. The AAP has itself to blame for the Delhi fiasco. It should have been clear from before given the peculiarity of the Delhi situation that not even a majority government can do much in the face of opposition from the Centre. Therefore it should either have refused to run the Government or continued to do so after having consented to form it.

_____________ said...

These mainstream so called ‘national’ political parties are so desperate to serve the country & people that, at individual level they are resorting distributing liquor and cash. What is so attractive to serve the country - it is sparkling in their eyes !!! scams & making fortunes. Causing price rise ; and making poor to poorer. This is another sort of VOILENCE to poor countrymen. Look at these goons they have given tickets. In many Western countries, serving the people / country is a noble work. Here, they become our masters an loot. As seen in one Punch cartoon “…Handerson , sell my mother”. This is what we are doing by voting these corrupts.