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Why AAP is not very popular with India Inc

February 14, 2014 10:08 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has to deal with 3 powerful enemies: the media, the political establishment, and business houses. 

Dear Mr Kejriwal,

Every once in a while the world witnesses a non-violent social or political revolution that inspires and ignites the imagination. 

Martin Luther King fought for the empowerment of blacks. 

Lech Walensa changed the face of Eastern Europe with his freedom struggle in Poland. 

Nelson Mandela led South Africa to freedom from white rule. 

Closer to home, we have had our fair share of revolutions and inspirational leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Jayaprakash Narayan. 

Now, that you have launched a successful assault on the corruption-infested leadership of the BJP and Congress - and the regional parties with their own known chieftains of theft - it is time to ask the questions: Are you in the same league as a Jayaprakash Narayan? Can you carry what you have done in one city-state to a country searching for an honest alternative? Will you complete what was started in 1979? 

The enemy outside

As 2014 unfolds, you will need to deal with 3 powerful enemies: the media, the political establishment, and business houses. 

With the astounding rise of the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi and your recent election as the Chief Minister, the talk show hosts on the 24x7 rubbish that pose as "news" channels are in utter disarray. They can now claim to be in competition with the Cartoon Network: the discussions are even more directionless and amusing than before the birth of the AAP as a political force. 

It is laughable to see representatives of the BJP twisting your success by claiming that you took "support" from the Congress. And it is hilarious to see them questioning why you gave water to only 5% of New Delhi and suggesting that you should build pipelines within 48 hours of your assuming office to fulfill your election promises. Behind the mocking laughter of the BJP lies a growing mountain of fear.

Their desire to move Modi from Gujarat to Ramlila has been usurped by an upstart. The BJP's access to sympathetic monetary and intellectual capital from within and outside India, including assistance with Obama-like strategies on the social media has failed to break a response beyond the limited borders of the virtual world. 

The Congress spokespersons look like school children caught with their hand in the teacher's lunch box. One of them has even taken credit for your success by stating that you have followed his advice in taking the step to start a political party. Others want to know what the foreign policy of AAP is: this from a party that happily swings from being servile to the US to hostile to the US with little underlying rationality. 

In addition to the Modi-Maniacs and the Congress-Chamchas, you will have no friends in the media. 

The media will hate you because you are not one of them. 

You are not a creation of their corporate funded and sponsored advertorials that they call "news". 

You are not servile to the material wealth they have accumulated from looking the other way even as they shout with hoarse voices. 

You possess everything they have surrendered and traded away in their search for material wealth and social status: independence, integrity, and relevance. Their craving for TIPS is paramount in their drive to generate noise. 

Corporate India, so firmly planted in the Modi brigade, is shell-shocked by your victory.

Having owned state and national governments and having had access to national and natural resources at will, any "people's will" is branded as a threat of Naxalism to urban Indian readers.

It was easy for Corporate India to label the villagers who fight for their rights as Naxalites in the bendable, corporate-owned media read by the silent urban audiences. But, what do they call an urban movement of such proportions? The people fighting on the streets are also the viewers of the news. 

In 1979, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Mother of 90 per cent of India's problems, lifted the Emergency and announced a general election. Though below the voting age, I was inspired by the public rallies and speeches of Jayaprakash Narayan. There was the possibility of a "free and just" India. 

I recall showing a poem I had written asking industrialists to rise and support the Janata Party to a few business people of that era. They read at it with scorn and contempt. It was, after all, written by a 19-year old child. 

Yes, I was naive then and did not understand the strong link between an industrial house, its connection with government and bureaucracy and the stolen wealth they can all accumulate by milking the system in an unholy alliance. Those links, over the years, have only grown stronger.

The spoils of war have increased manifold. Look at the theft of coal, iron ore, oil and gas, real estate and spectrum. The Congress still argues over "presumed loss" and "actual loss".

Few businesses will support AAP. In fact, to protect their egg nests which are worth tens of thousands of crore, they may be willing to spend a few hundred crore to break your organization and dent your reputation.

They will look for the weak links within AAP and exploit them. Could they pay 100 people Rs 1 crore each to enroll as AAP members and disrupt the organization from within? Can educated people be bought with money? Yes, in the real world of finance, that happens all the time. The souls of those with MBAs from the IIMs or from any foreign branded university are all for sale to the highest bidder. 

But while it is important to identify the external groups you have threatened and who have the money power to strike back at you, recognize that the biggest danger comes to you from within. 

From weak links in the lengthening chain of an evolving revolution. 

The danger is within

The Aam Aadmi Party's plank of fighting corruption and working for the people will win you many volunteers. Yet, as you grow the organization across many cities, it is this very successful people's response to AAP which poses its biggest danger. 

When a successful, small business tries to grow national it needs to "scale up". 
Any such "scale up" requires money and the delegation of authority to a few existing people who now have a larger organization to manage - and must do so within the same inspirational spirit that saw the first success. 

Building a larger organization also requires the ability to select new people at senior levels. And when a new person joins from "outside", there is the tendency of those who are already close to you to jealously guard their positions. That is a human weakness. 

When JRD Tata grew the Tata businesses, he needed to rely on a few people to lead the charge. Over time, the business and investing communities began to distinguish between good Tata companies and the rest.

So Tata Steel and Tata Motors were seen to be run by high caliber men of high integrity. Tata Chemicals and Indian Hotelswere perceived to be different. Being a Tata group company no longer carried the same symbol of consistency and integrity.

JRD was well respected and beyond any personal ambition for wealth. Yet, the Tata group he handed over to Ratan Tata had a range of ethical and business practices that was not befitting of the Tata values.

Think BJP and its range of leaders: some are seen as honest simpletons while others are seen as outright ‘chors’.

When HDFC, the premier home loan company, embarked on its expansion plans it selected people from outside to run its bank and seconded people from within to run the mutual fund and insurance businesses.

For all their monetary success, the HDFC brand name stands diluted in terms of ethical business practices because each of these entities has adopted different levels of "client focus" in their ethical manifesto. Each arm of HDFC chooses its own path. Recall the recent Cobra Post sting operations when senior members of HDFC Bank branches were seemingly willing to help customers break laws. While HDFC Bank has successfully defended its position of claiming these as exceptions, the question remains: have they grown too fast and did they not train their staff correctly? 

Think Communists and the various factions that have evolved over the decades each of whom are willing to adopt various levels of violence and democratic participation to further their cause. 

Infosys, for all its claims to be a leader in corporate governance, still seems to rely on the lala-rule: only a family member of the founding family can be its leader. 

Think Congress and the dynastic rule. 

While even the good corporates such as Tata, HDFC, and Infosys can survive inconsistencies, a political party based on a people's movement cannot. 

A loyalty to a company from its investor base, its followers, is built on its ability to generate profits. Most investors don't care about how that money was made. A quick glance at the wealthiest people in India and how they are worshipped by the media will show you that.

A look at the Top 10 holdings of mutual fund houses will reveal their greed for returns rather than their willingness to assess and price risk on behalf of their many investors. 

But a political party based on a people's movement - by its very definition - needs to be based on a quality that binds, that retains its purity, and is never diluted as it flows across the country. 

Succession Planning

Every revolution needs to move beyond its initial leader, eventually. 

In the case of AAP, with all the external dangers and threats you face, you do not have the luxury of time. 

Despite the historic achievements of AAP in its limited existence, the fact is you are mortal. 

And your success could make you even more vulnerable. 

The fact that you (correctly) refuse any security is a further cause of worry. 
AAP is too precious an experiment, too crucial an attempt to be seen as a one-person entity. 

A one-man army is only strong for as long as the one-man is around. 

You need to demonstrate AAP has a coherent team and - in stock market parlance - has depth, breadth, and resiliency. 

AAP needs to have a deep bench of people who exhibit your qualities, your commitment, and your integrity. 

AAP needs to have a large number of people with varying backgrounds - with consistent and constant moral character - who are good at various things and can run an administration and govern a country. 

AAP needs to survive a potential loss of a few of its top leaders. 

Names of people who will take over the roles of those who may no longer be around in case of "eventualities" need to be known. 

Policies and Programmes...and the Sensex. 

There is a clamour for making sure that AAP makes known its policies and its stand on various issues: Pakistan, nuclear power, inflation, economic growth, subsidies, taxes...and the appointment of the next Chairman of SEBI. 

Your detractors have argued that corruption cannot be the only plank on which to fight a national election. They don't get it. 

As you have indicated, a group of honest people - not influenced by any lobbyists or a need to deliver a pre-determined outcome to political funders - can reach good conclusions. 

But the need for a clear stand on various issues is clear or you get smudged outcomes. 
HDFC was unable to ensure that its culture of doing what is best for the clients seeped into HDFC Mutual Fund. 

HDFC Bank failed to ensure that its desire never to break the law was ingrained in every retail branch. 

The desire to give free water and reduce electricity costs are all efforts that need to be balanced with the need to build a sustainable, long term policy of revenue generation to pay for these services. But forcing more transparency in the system is a welcome move. 
(By the way, when you get a chance, please have a meeting with AMFI - the association that looks after the interests of the manufacturers of Mutual Funds. I am sure you will find them a fascinating group of people who defend the indefensible!) 

Meanwhile, in case you are one of the few remaining retail investors in the Indian stock markets and wish to know what the Sensex will do in 2014, here is a quick view:

If Modi wins the election then a 25,000 Index level is likely,

If Modi loses the election then a 17,000 Index level is likely.

Note there is no Index level based on what AAP does. So, with the markets currently at the 21,000 level there is a lot riding on what you will do in the next few weeks. The Modi watchers are anxiously waiting for your next moves and the Modi-backers are probably planning a few fun challenges for you.

From a stock market perspective, the Congress will have a fairly quiet 2014. Translated into layman's language, it seems that the market is predicting that the First Family of the Congress will be the Last Family of the Congress and will be celebrating Christmas in December 2014 somewhere in Italy.

But we have 365 days in this year and, as has often been said, a day is a lifetime in politics. 

Well, I must let you get on with your mission. 

I wish you all the best in your incredible journey and I wish the support for AAP grows and AAP stays true to what you have started. 

With Regards,

Ajit Dayal

The writer is Founder, Equitymaster. 

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Ajit Dayal