FACE TO FACE: Anand Teltumbde

‘It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.’
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

Eminent scholar, writer, political analyst and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde is a professor at IIT-Kharagpur. He has authored many analytical books on Leftist and Dalit movements, including the acclaimed Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop. In this interview to Hardnews, Teltumbde analyses the emergence of the AAP from a civil rights movement to a party in power, and claims that its unprecedented style of functioning, not unlike a new-age management firm, will throw open a new chapter in Indian democracy. 

What do you make of the AAP’s meteoric rise from an anti-corruption movement to a full-fledged political party?

One thing should be squarely admitted, it’s hard not to be impressed by Arvind Kejriwal. Unlike numerous youth who knew far better what ailed India and took to radical politics, Arvind started an NGO to fight corruption, which is at best a symptom not the disease. However, it’s so pervasive a phenomenon that it affects every person some way. But two decades ago, around the time Kejriwal formed Parivartan, his first NGO, babus taking bribes from ordinary people to do their job was a petty phenomenon. There was not much class distinction between the taker and the giver. But post economic reforms, the middle class grew in size and strength and the opportunities for big ticket corruption for politicians and top bureaucrats grew alongside. Corruption had increasingly become ‘breaking news’. What Arvind did would not have been possible a few years back. The last five years, there has been a spate of scandals breaking out in public, exposing the collusion of entire political classes across parties. The middle class that was so euphoric to see the GDP growth zooming close to double digit (it never went close in fact, but in public, the propaganda was already there) that it had begun dreaming of India as economic superpower during the UPA I, but became disillusioned when the growth was punctured during UPA II and were feted with a series of corruption scandals. Being the beneficiaries of neoliberal policies, they were inherently incapable of suspecting the latter for this malaise. It was easy to view the political class as the culprits. This is when Kejriwal stepped in, when he raked up the issue of corruption in 2012, by demanding a Jan Lokpal.

As a strategist, he has done commendably. From seeding a movement, to cornering the entire political class, to picking up Anna Hazare to play a Gandhi for mass appeal, cobbling out an amorphous outfit of people of his ilk in the form of ‘India Against Corruption’, sensing the signs of ennui and impending deadlock, deciding to plunge into the ‘gutter of politics’ to cleanse it from within, floating a political party in the name of ‘aam adami’, the identity indicative of the growing alienation of common folk during the neoliberal era, declaring to fight the elections in Delhi, and eventually forming the government with the unsolicited support from his bête noire, the Congress Party, comes out with its strategic brilliance and masterly execution. The entire episode probably does not have a parallel; not even in the pre-Emergency movement of Jay Prakash Narayan. After its dazzling performance in the Delhi assembly, AAP no more remains a maverick player and has become a palpable threat to the political biggies at the national level. If Kejriwal plays his cards well, he could emerge as the contender of power in 2014 elections as many analysts predict.

 

What is your assessment of the Assembly results wherein they managed 28 odd seats? How do you dissect the
election campaign?

Everyone thought without any substantial material resources, the AAP would be incapable of competing with parties like Congress and BJP. Therefore, it strategized to harness human resources in the form of hundreds of students in the capital. Almost 500 students from IIT-Delhi volunteered and worked round the clock for managing social media accounts, creating websites to promote the party and going door-to-door for campaigning. Even students from Delhi University and JNU joined in large numbers, many of them even forsaking their affiliations to BJP or Congress. Besides, thousands of IT professionals, engineers, businessmen, from outside Delhi, volunteered. Some were so inspired by the idea that they left their jobs and worked backstage right since the formation of the party. 

The party had reportedly drawn up a six-step strategy for the campaign. It included booth-level strategy, for which a team of local youth along with a party volunteer as coordinator checked the electoral rolls, reported bogus voters to the authorities and enrolled the missing people. Another feature was creating a network of sthaniya prabhari (local in-charge) who would manage party communication to 15-20 homes in the vicinity, clearing doubts in people’s mind about the party. A team managed a calling campaign, in which people could call back from anywhere, India or abroad, and some way connect with the party. Another team managed ‘Play for Change’ campaign, performing street plays, singing patriotic songs and informing the audience about the party’s objectives. Another team carried out ‘Metro wave’ in which the volunteers created a buzz among the commuters against corruption. In sum, the campaign was creatively strategized and passionately executed like some campus election.

 

Their campaign was largely centered around corruption and still they managed to garner such massive support. What does it signify? 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014