Friday, April 15, 2011

Should I resign as Mumbai coordinator?

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant".
One Ravi Nair, has been posting in various FB pages, that I should be removed as Mumbai coordinator as me and my family are involved in corruption worth crores. I kept on ignoring this rant for the last two days. But last night, I thought that I owe it to my new friends to explain my position and take their opinion.
I come from a middle class family, who had started his own small business. The amount of corruption, injustice and indignity that I had to face in my life and the similar state of affair for my countrymen, especially the poor, made me get into activism in 2002. To improve the system, so that the next generation does not have to pass through the same travails . While I was active in opposing the emergency as an activist, I had got busy in making my two ends meet since 1979. But in 2002, because of some incident in my life, I vowed to spend part of my life in nation building.
Since then, I have worked with various activities like the Right to Information Bill (was with Annaji in his 2003 fast), Nagar Raj Bill (was working with Loksatta and Dr JP), Transfer laws, transparency measures in Govt etc. But, always at the back end. We had an excellent experiment of direct democracy by electing a Citizen Candidate (Adolf D'souza) in Juhu (Feb 2007). But during that time, the infighting and tussle by some of the groups, made me leave activism. Due to my spiritual pursuit, I could not stay in atmosphere of negativism and pettiness.
The 26/11 attack on Mumbai and the spontaneous public response shook me up and I again re-entered activism and formed the Jagrut Nagrik Manch (a platform of over 60 NGOs of Mumbai) to take on some burning issues. Arvind Kejriwal, whom I know for many years, asked me to take on the coordination of Mumbai for IAC on this 22nd Jan. After that, many NGOs, activists, groups and extraordinary individuals came forward  and we all crafted a well thought out movement to force the govt to form a joint Jan Lokpal drafting committee.
My cousin uncle was the Chairman of a Public Ltd Construction Co in Mumbai. This company is mostly involved in affordable housing projects and was one of the first to go public, to only take cheque payments and similar. The collapse of 4 old and dilapidated buildings in the Island city of Mumbai and the death of around 100 people during the 26/7/ 2005 torrential rainfall shook him. He thought of a scheme for cluster redevelopment of old and dilapidated building (there are around 30000 such buildings in Mumbai housing 25 lakh people, who are living under the shadow of death).
He approached me and asked me to join him in this noble venture, in Oct '06. It suited my temperament too. We started the Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF -a NGO consisting of over 40 stakeholder associations, NGOs and institutions) for the purpose. Then we were joined by some of the most eminent people in India including Justice PN Bhagwati (ex- CJ of India), Narayan Murthy (Infosys), Girish Gokhale (ex- MC of Mumbai), Padmashree Nana Chudasama, Sri Sri Ravishankarji and many others. The local people were involved in this grass root movement with over 17200 members and various associations of stakeholders involved. Global NGOs also lent support to the cause and we prepared a scheme to create a win-win solution for all stakeholders including the city, including change in the urban policies of Maharashtra for cluster redevelopment. (
Because this construction company has taken the initiative for this movement, I represent this project of Remaking of Mumbai in the company as an Independent Director. I am not involved in any of the other business and commercial activities of the Company. With the untimely death of my uncle, last year, it has become my responsibility to take the project of Remaking of Mumbai forward.  
Present position:
When Arvind met me, I briefed him about my status and told him that the movement may become vulnerable because of my involvement in a construction company. But, he insisted that I take on the responsibility, as he knew me and my commitment to the cause.
Now, the construction company, especially after the demise of the erstwhile Chairman, has been in some kind of cash crunch. In one of the projects in Andheri East, it has not been able to deliver the flats on time. There are discussions happening between the company management and the customers. I am not a party to those discussions because I am not involved in the business and commercial side and am only an independent director, looking after RoMF only.
Ravi Nair, whom I know of, started posting strong messages in the FB around a month back, regarding the delay in giving possession of these flats - calling it corruption etc. I told him that FB is not the forum for personal messages and that he should phone me up and gave my number. He called and I told him to fix up the time of the customers and I'll ask the management to talk to them and find a way forward. Nothing. And now suddenly in the last few days, he starts posting these messages calling me and my family corrupt and asking that I be removed from the coordinator's position.
My view:
I am only a tool to serve my nation, and so are Annaji, Arvind, Kiran Bedi and the IAC platform. The bottom line is "India". If my removal from the coordinator's position helps the movement, there are enough excellent people in Mumbai to take on the role.
Friends, please tell me
In the interest of the IAC movement, should I continue as coordinator of Mumbai or step down?
Continue or Step down?
I will be posting this blog on the India against Corruption main FB and the Mumbai one, every day till Monday, the 18th. Mumbai volunteers are meeting on 18th evening and I'll put forth the above to them too. By Tuesday morning, even if over 33% have said Step down, I'll handover the charge to someone else without any rancour or ill-will. Please respond.
"The country is much bigger than each of us, individually and collectively"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Countering allegations,conspiracies and attacks

Participatory democracy = a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems.
Citizens are not just voters. Democracy does not just come once every five years. The participation of citizens in the daily activities of democratic functioning is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy. And any democracy without a fifth pillar - a powerful and responsible civil society, would be lame duck.
A demonstration of a powerful civil society was visible when Anna Hazare and the citizenry of the country used peaceful coercion to kickstart a process of reforms. After 42 years, 6 rounds of rejections in the Parliament and complete ignoring of the entreaties of some of the eminent people of India - all avenues of normal democratic engagement were exhausted. There was no way except for Anna Hazare to stake his life for the nation, as Gandhiji had done before independence. If columnists and political leaders call this act as premature and blackmail, so be it.  
Anna Hazare's demand is for participation of the civil society in the formation of a committee to draft a strong anti-corruption bill. After the Bill is drafted, it will necessarily have to pass through all the democratic institutions including Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. It will not bypass any of the democratic structures.
You may go to Azad Maidan in Mumbai any day of the year and you'll find scores who are sitting in hunger strike, unheard and unseen. The only reason, the government took cognizance is because of the moral stature of Anna Hazare, the right cause and tremendous public support. No government is going to listen to people who fast, without these criteria. Therefore, to assume that Anna Hazare's fast has set up some precedent is incorrect.
Annaji somewhat irrelevant remark on the grass root development in Gujarat and Bihar has been twisted to mean support to Narendra Modi's communal action and being pro-RSS and anti minority. Suppose I praised someone's shoes- does it purport to supporting everything that he does, including wife-beating? :)
Finally, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan are both eminent lawyers and were part of the drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill, along with Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal. They needed to be part of this technical drafting team as they had originally drafted the bill and would know the relevance and justification of each clause as they negotiate with the government.
Finally, here are some people trying to work on nation building in an organized and selfless manner and some of the media and activists are doing their utmost to scuttle their path. Why can't we ever think straight, for God's sake?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sowing seeds of doubt....Anna Hazare

Machiavellianism = employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft.
Today, crores are convinced about the Jan Lokpal Bill and have put their all at stake. The government has been forced by the public mood to agree for the joint committee.
If the Jan Lokpal Bill with all their provisions comes to force, the entire government machinery lubricated by corrupt money will be at stake. Do not underestimate the impact it will have on the present political system. The Jan Lokpal bill will not come about without a much bigger fight.
How will the establishment fight? Within and without?
Machiavellianism Within : In line with niggling and petty quibbling that has marked the government's capitulation, the senior government ministers will keep on nibbling at some of the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill. But Annaji's stand on live televisation of every meeting might checkmate some of the moves of the government. The readiness of Annaji and the civil society members to leave the committee and restart the public protest may put the dampers on the designs of the political establishment. The fight within has concrete people and definite ways of countering them.
Machiavellianism Without: This is the unknown element in a game played by the powerful interests. Attacks coming from shadows, lies and half-truths masquerading as public service, negative words thrown in the public sphere, no one that can be seen and countered, just allegations, mudslinging, smear campaign, whispering dark rumours emanating from nowhere and leaving questions in everyone's minds. Soon, people will start wondering if Jan Lokpal is really a good thing or not. Civil society will be divided and people will be left confused. When the next round of rising up for the Jan Lokpal campaign will arrive, the unanimity of the people will be gone. Doubts, negative campaign will have sapped the enthusiasm of the people. That would be the plan of the establishment.
A few columnists, some journalists, bloggers, FB pages, government NGOs, some well meaning NGOs who have not been part of the core movement and feeling left out and party workers would be the tools of spreading this negativity.
How does one tackle this?
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Counter lies with truth, expose half truths, train activists in handling debates, distribute lakhs of copies of the salient points, open up the Jan Lokpal bill for more and more suggestions and objections, involve people at all stages, get the best experts to vet the bill and maintain openness, fairness, objectivity and honesty in all our responses.
Anna Hazareji today praised the village level administration system in Gujarat and Bihar and asked other governments to emulate the same. Now this will be twisted to mean support for anti-congressism to pro-BJP to pro- Narendra Modi, to support for the riots in Gujarat to pro-Hindu and pro-RSS stance to anti-minority and anti-Muslim attitude and then finally creation of insecurity and animosity for Anna and the movement in the minds of the minority. This has already started.
We need to use truth as our weapon. Counter the lies and the twisting using all tools possible. In my next blogs, I shall write about the other attacks and the reality, so that all right minded people can counter the Machiavellian tactics.