Lalita Ramdas, feminist and long time environmental activist discusses her experience of participating in the Aam Aadmi Party’s caller campaign and reflects on the reasons for her support
In the first week of November this year, I decided to do some voluntary work for Aam Aadmi party and made some 200 calls to random numbers on a data base for Delhi Aam Aadmi Campaign.
I understand this does not sound like a big deal – Only 200 in 10 days? Others are managing over 200 calls in one day – and some of our whizz kids have hit over 5000 calls. My own humble effort makes me realise the extent and depth of the time commitment made by so many from across India and abroad.
Looking at the total statistics on the Citizen Call Campaign computer prompt also show that out of a total number of calls made to date, the number of calls not reached/wrong has now overtaken those of the calls made. But even on a conservative count of 50% of those not reached voting for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – we are looking at approximately 60% of those polled actually voting for AAP. Can we dare to hope that the polls and predictions of 40 plus seats in the Delhi assembly will indeed be realised?
Statistics and surveys and demographics and psephology can be seductive and addictive. I would like to share some qualitative reflections and feedback about the actual experience of making these phone calls.
But first – a quick personal introduction. Who am I and Why am I supporting AAP?
I live in a village in the Konkan region of Maharashtra – am in my early seventies – and have been actively engaged with peoples’ movements and developmental issues for over three decades.
I have been an Armed Forces daughter and wife,[my father was the first Indian officer to head the Indian Navy [1958-62] – and I married another Navy man, who also rose to head the Indian Navy [1990-1993] . For the first few decades, like most of us in the services, we were encouraged to stay away from `politics’. I was a `loyal’ and mostly unquestioning supporter of the government of the day. It was only after I got actively involved with questions of poverty, injustice, illiteracy in urban slums in Mumbai and Delhi from the mid seventies, that I began to look at our governance, our leadership, and increasingly, our politics, more closely and critically. And in his final years my father – totally disillusioned by the loss of values and integrity all around him – used to talk to me about how he would have joined politics had he been younger.
I have already written in a recent post that a major turning point in my own political journey was the experience of being in the frontline of action post PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. In an unprecedented, spontaneous coming together of students, activists and hundreds of others over many months we defied curfews, marched for peace in the face of angry mobs wielding trishuls and iron rods, pushed a reluctant police force to register FIRs, and worked days and nights comforting the grieving widows, mothers and children, while also collating testimonies gathered from traumatised victims in the refugee camps at Nanaksar and Farsh Bazaar.
We had seen up close the ugly reality and the true face of communal and divisive politics of the government of the day and yes, of the opposition too. And many of us were part of a three day conclave in 1985 where we struggled seriously with the possibility of creating a new political order which might forswear the cynical exploitation of caste, religion and community and instead, truly live by the ideals laid down in the Indian Constitution and to which we pledged allegiance.
Alas we did not or could not seize the moment – and allowed the three Cs of Corruption, Criminalisation and Communalisation of politics to become rampant in the decades following 1984. The rest as they say, is history, and it has taken another 30 years, and many tragedies and corruption of unprecedented scale –to get us to the point where there is finally a viable political alternative for us to choose and support.
I speak of Arvind Kejriwal and the birth of the Aam Aadmi party which is providing us an opportunity which we need to seize with both hands, if we don’t want to make the same mistake we made in 1984. We are being shown a tantalising prospect of another world – where honesty, and integrity are valued; where the voice of people might be able to prevail with the revival of the Gram or Mohalla Sabhas, and where the calculations of caste and creed and religion will not be a factor in electoral politics. And it is exciting for all the potential it offers.
Yes, I too, like many of my friends and colleagues, have had a few doubts, and some continuing questions and concerns – be it initially about the choice of the name [where was Aam Aurat?!] , how will direct democracy work? Can an obviously Hindi speaking leadership and North Indian urban based constituency build traction in the south? What about economic policies? And yes – what is your political ideology? Whose side are you on? Can an `upstart’ party jump in the fray at such a late stage and hope to gain a following?
My position today, after a year of fairly intensive and sustained engagement with the party leaders and many who are critical and oppose AAP, through discussions on thematic subject areas, in person and over email, is a quiet, confident and unhesitating affirmation that this is indeed a historic opportunity that we should not lose. Both Congress and BJP for many, many good reasons have forfeited the trust and confidence of we the people of India. Yes – no doubt this will only be proven finally– once in December and then again in the general elections next year. They have been given many chances – I am NOT willing to trust them again – but certainly I am putting my energy, my support and my hopes on the leadership and integrity of Arvind Kejriwal, and the ultimate knowledge that the collective wisdom of the people of India, the Aam Insaan, will prevail.
I am excited and delighted by the sheer audacity and creativity of the entire campaign model – as well the refreshing candour and the direct challenge to the big money bags in all other parties. This will be a true test of whether we really need thousands of crores of Rupees to fight elections – or whether indeed people will rally around to support genuine candidates without expecting sops and incentives to do so. This then could herald a true, functional democracy.
The transparency of their fund raising and Donation drives is also refreshing – I love to see the humble donor of Rs 1, sharing the same space and importance as the person who sent 50 Lakhs, on the web site.
How I wish I were twenty years younger – that I could join the volunteers as they go from door to door in Delhi – talking, persuading, convincing the people that they should vote for the “jhadoo “– convincing them that this is our best chance to bring that fresh breath of clean air to Indian politics – and to give voice to the genuine aspirations of the Aam Aadmi and Aurat. But alas I have been unable to do so for a number of reasons.
And so I do the next best thing – which is to sit in my village home and call up random people in Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad as they go about their work and during their leisure hours asking them if they vote in Delhi? Will they vote on Dec 4? And may I ask if they might consider voting for AAP?
This has been one of the most educative experiences in a long series of many experiences over the decades – and there has been times in the phone calls where I have almost blessed the 73 years plus that I can bring to bear as I speak to so many about why their vote for AAP is so important.
I have had a few people who banged down the phone when I announced that I was a volunteer calling on behalf of Aam Aadmi Party —–but they were too few to bother about. By and large many who spoke English – told me that they would vote for the BJP – and Modi in particular because India needs a man like him at the helm. By and large they were also more impatient and certainly less civil.
In contrast about 60 -70% – mainly men, who have answered their cell phones and spoke in Hindi, were courteous, patient, well informed and ready to support AAP – and when they heard I lived in a village far away, they decided to take a few moments longer to tell me more about why they were excited about AAP !!
The women I was able to reach were relatively fewer in number – almost making me wonder if mobile phones were more likely to be owned by men? The women by and large also tended to be much more guarded in their responses and reluctant to divulge their thinking, or to come out openly in support of any party. Clearly the Aam Aurat will need much more engagement if she is to truly feel empowered and confident that she can and must take a political position – either as a voter or as candidate. This is a huge and critical challenge. And only when women are equal and strong members of parties, of parliaments, of assemblies and of Aam Sabhas, can we hope for a truly strong and vibrant functional democracy.