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To fell the giant, take the baby steps first

Last updated on: October 10, 2012 17:46 IST

Mahesh Vijapurkar's advice on Arvind Kejriwal entry into politics: No need to squirm at the idea of baby steps. After all, the voter too has to be educated, his apathy eliminated. Had he been, we would have had a better political arrangement that worked for the people.

A lot has been said and written about Arvind Kejriwal's launch into electoral politics. And there is much to be said in support of non-politicians getting into that arena for what the system has been able to throw up is not in the least palatable. Scams and scamsters, it appears, have taken hold of it and sabotaged it.

One thing for sure: there cannot be a more opportune time for this movement against corruption by ridding the system of venality. It needs to be completely dismantled. However, going by the mechanics of cash-driven electoral politics, so fine-tuned with corrupt ways that the Election Commission has barely managed to make a dent despite best efforts, one wonders if it would succeed.

It has less to do with Kejriwal's drive and purpose. It has everything to do with the level at which non-politicians, ruing the kind of people they had elected in the past. Their forays into Uttar Pradesh urging voters to stay off the corrupt on the ballot papers did not yield even a nominal impact. It is harder to make an impact if contesting the polls instead of advising the voters.

Elections, unless there is an Indian Spring on the lines of the Arab Spring, cannot be won on the strength of good intentions, even very lofty intentions alone. The enemy is entrenched, and the new entrants are, at best, a ragtag arrangement. The logistics of a participating individual, despite the support from the part which nominates a person, are mindboggling. People like us would be lost in it.

Manpower, networking and money -- yes, votes are bought and sold, no point in avoiding the truth, in a variety of ways -- is a giant that can topple the amateurs in the first few days. Even established political parties, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are often forced to hire the cogs. The former's 'workers' and the latter's 'cadres' seem so inadequate. For a rally, some even pay a day's lost wages and some to show an impressive audience.

Television studios and news reports may be able to set the mood but may not provide the necessary momentum to take a candidate past the winning post. It seems, going by several examples, that those who support a movement, as the India Against Corruption's, are more agile in clicking on the 'like' button' and burn the twitter-sphere than performing their citizens' duties.

Huge deficits lie there. Therefore, it would be appropriate to start this cleaning up operations from more modest, but not necessarily very easy, levels. Gram panchayat elections and municipal bodies -- described as 'self-government' but not actually so -- would be the stepping stones. It would be a long haul but the base of the pyramid has to be attacked first. In that case, you are dealing with your neighbour.

That would also rid the civic elections of the taint of politics and drive out the contractors who run these civic bodies using elected politicians as proxies. Once that leads to clean, functional, pro-citizen centric local bodies, the next step which is the state assemblies becomes that much easier. There are reasons why this idea could possibly succeed with better results than the Kejriwal idea of now.

If it is working among the neighbourhoods, cash becomes less of an instrument to wage the electoral battle. People, if convinced that their immediate lives are shaped by what a village, panchayats, a town and city's civic body offers and delivers on, would take control of these bodies. A million successes at this level would be able to build a better mosaic at the assembly and parliamentary level.

But these bodies do not offer the same romance as the assembly and parliamentary elections do. There are no giants to topple, but yes, there are the local vested interests to be decimated. These are the guys who offer the brick and mortar for other politicians to run their businesses of politics. Getting them out of the way is crucial to how the entire pyramid is shaped.

However urgent the need to attack the present political tycoons in assemblies and parliament, it has to be ensured that the non-politicians foray does end up as a few unsuccessful skirmishes here and there, with only a few brave hearts elected to those bodies, would not suffice. It would be seen as a failure of the movement and for the crooked world of crooked politicians to laugh at.

Starting small, with the ability to stay the course, adding victories in each locality is how the non-political base would develop and hopefully stay strong. Forcing an entry at the top straightaway would perhaps be counterproductive.  After all, the 'we can' feeling would emerge when the local political bullies are side-lined by the communities.

After all, the telling argument for a candidate to use with the neighbours is simple: where is the need for politics of ideology when all you want is good roads, your garbage collected well on time, and water supply proper? If this succeeds across the country, then the country is yours, not the politicians. Instead of a mere battle, the war would have been won.

No need to squirm at the idea of baby steps. After all, the voter too has to be educated, his apathy eliminated. Had he been, we would have had a better political arrangement that worked for the people.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is Thane-based and takes the common man's point of view.

Mahesh Vijapurkar