Punjab By-Election mein AAPka Kya Hua?

That’s the bad pun I’ve been hoping no one springs on me. Very few friends have, and well, fortunately,very few English and Hindi news channels and newspapers have been asking this question. Amidst the talk about the grand alliance that defeated the BJP in Bihar, what the Congress can learn from the JD(U) and the widespread speculation of the possibility of the Modi wave becoming a gentle tide, the media ignored the fact that the party attempting alternative politics, the Aam Aadmi Party stood for elections in the 2 Punjab by-poll constituencies, and didn’t win either of them.

While most Punjabi news channels and newspapers did report this quite a bit, I was rather glad that there wasn’t a 9 pm show with Arnab Goswami going “HAS THE AAP DIED OUT? IS IT CURTAINS FOR AAP? IS THE CITADEL OF NEW POLITICS BREACHED?” and other assorted nonsense. Oh wait, he already did that. Grrr.

Anyway. Onto Punjab. Srinivasan Ramani at the EPW wrote a really nice analysis of the Punjab elections in Lok Sabha 2014. He gives us data that on an aggregate level for Punjab and calls AAP, the party overcame the rural-urban divide and held aloft the meaning of alternative politics. However, if one looks at the data in individual Lok Sabha constituencies, we see that in places where AAP outperformed the Akali Dal and the Congress (in some cases combined) in urban areas, it suffered heavily in rural areas and vice-versa. For reference, the 4 MP seats won in Punjab were Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur, Patiala and Faridkot.

LS2014, Punjab: Rural Voteshare

Lok Sabha 2014, Punjab: Rural Voteshare

LS2014, Punjab: Urban Voteshare

Lok Sabha 2014, Punjab: Urban Voteshare

This may be partly because of lack of outreach due to paucity of funds in rural areas, partly due to the character, personality and nature of the candidates and their campaign teams, and also due to the lack of a volunteer base in certain areas in Punjab, as is the case in many parts in the country, right now. There is much scope for introspection on this divide. And this is the context in which the results of the by-elections need to be looked at.

First up, Patiala (Urban).
Despite winning the Parliamentary constituency of Patiala, we had lost Patiala (see Form 20: Patiala (Urban)) to the Congress. The votes garnered by the different parties were as follows: (INC) 43238 vs. (AAP) 35674 and (SAD) 16342. The background of our candidate Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi got us most of our voteshare from rural areas, where he is renowned as a human rights activist, a brilliant cardiac surgeon and doctor who has worked for free, for most of his life.

In this by-election in Patiala, Preneet Kaur, the person who lost by just 20,000 votes to Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi was standing for an MLA constituency. For context, Preneet Kaur is the wife of Captain Amarinder Singh, the ex-Chief Minister of Punjab. Also, she belongs to a royal family. There was no way she was losing. And that’s what happened. Preneet Kaur polled 52,967 votes, SAD nominee Bhagwan Dass Juneja got 29,685 votes and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Harjit S Adaltiwala garnered 5724 votes. We lost around 30,000 votes with about 15,000 votes going to SAD and INC each.

Many different hypothesis can be formed about this defeat, including our lack of a volunteer base, choice of candidate and lack of scale in operation. However, there is no way in which 30,000 votes can be explained away by these excuses. It is clear that in this state election, as with many past ones, in Patiala, the overwhelming support is still for the royal family, and Preneet Kaur reaped rewards of the positive image that the people of Punjab have in their state. Secondly, as is clear from substantive reports on the ground, booth capturing, rigging and use of excessive money was used by the SAD to win back their supporters. However, this certainly shows that it is important for the party to re-think our engagement with the people of Patiala and improve on our faults.

Next up: Talwandi Sabo.
In the Lok Sabha election, Harsimrat Kaur Badal won this local constituency with 47305 votes as opposed to INC’s 36051 and AAP’s 15557 votes (see Form 20: Talwandi Sabo). Bathinda, which is the Lok Sabha constituency that Talwandi Sabo is a part of, is a constituency that we lost. So it was always going to be uphill. In the final poll, the local candidate Sidhu polled 71,747 votes, Jassi got 25,105 votes, AAP’s Baljinder Kaur 13,899 and Independent Balkar Singh 6,305 votes. There was actually no loss in our total vote share. There was an issue with our candidate selection wherein our first nominee was Balkar Sidhu. He was then removed, as per party guidelines of not fielding tainted candidates, because there was a case of human-trafficking against him. Professor Baljinder Kaur was our replacement nominee who garnered 13.9k votes despite Balkar eating into, what I would call as the AAP voteshare with 6.3k votes. Thus, while overall support for the party and its ideas went up, this fight cost us votes.

By-elections have always been a tricky issue and they work rather differently than general elections. There is no national theme or ideology to vote for, and in general, de-facto evidence seems to show, that the ruling party uses all its collective monetary and human resource might to win these elections at any cost. It has also been seen that the state machinery has been deployed many-a-time with much success. Thus, while AAP has come up as an excellent alternative for the state of Punjab, it hasn’t been able to use this opportunity to convert on the strong anti-incumbency wave in Punjab, through the by-elections.

I think this is a great lesson for AAP and one that it is learning from. Waves of public sympathy, outrage and anger as well as strong anti-incumbency only go so far. Alternative politics can only be a viable alternative with effective and large organizational bandwidth, along with proper command and control to ensure that our limited resources are marshaled properly for victory.

Note: Any views expressed in this article are the author’s own and should not be ascribed to the Aam Aadmi Party.

RS49: My first 49 days with the Aam Aadmi Party

It’s been two months since I came back to India, but today marks the 49th day of work excluding a few days off and weekends, that I’ve put in for the Aam Aadmi Party. For those who’re familiar with Indian politics, this may cause you to giggle. For friends, reading from elsewhere, 49 is a sobriquet bestowed on the party I now work for, due to their first governmental experience lasting 49 days. It was and is used for much comic effect by the opposition. So Meh. Heh. Long story. Go read.

Anyway, I thought it might be a good time to write a descriptive account of my work, in my first 49 days. While I still attempt to do research for two of my professors at Stanford for about 10-15 hours a week, most of my waking hours are devoted towards policy and political issues for this new party. I sit in the 41 Hanuman Road office in Connaught Place. It is a rundown home converted into an office and has as much character as the poverty in a Satyajit Ray film. However, it has the most interesting people I’ve met in recent years, and well, two rooms do have air-conditioning. So, I’m rather content. However, the next person who tells me we are funded by the Ford Foundation and the CIA will get beaten up by the Neelkamal plastic chair that I sit on everyday, and at times is whisked away (read: stolen) for meetings. For those who’re concerned about where I sit in that case, all I can say is that plastic barstools and cardboard boxes provide phenomenal lumbar support. More on our fun start-up like office in my next post!

At the Aam Aadmi Party, I work as the Secretary of the National Policy Committee that is currently working on the Policy Vision Document of the Aam Aadmi Party. Atishi Marlena, an ex-Rhodes Scholar, who is the genial AAP spokesperson English channels love has temporarily(?) passed the baton to me on this effort, as she takes a deep dive in Mission Vistaar, the initiative to expand the party in different states. There has been much work done on this before through 30+ policy subcommittees, 150+ experts who held multiple workshops on policy issues to make specific recommendations on different sub-topics ranging from labour reform to internal security to healthcare to adivasi and women’s issues. The next phase is forming coherence, generating consensus and attempting consolidation, getting buy-in from the different states and their committees and volunteers, and finally, creating insightful policy positions, statements and set of legislative and executive actions, based on the fundamental principles that the political leadership can agree on. Work has begun in earnest, and I will keep you updated. Please let me know if you’d like to help in any way.

We hope that this lull, offered to us by virtue of President’s Rule in Delhi and way fewer MPs in Parliament than we’d have expected, will give time to the party to introspect and define what it truly believes in. The Aam Aadmi Party is a new fledgling party that came into the collective consciousness of people because of the anti-corruption movement and the idea of Swaraj, which involves the devolution of power to the people. However, its ideology and ideas on policy areas is not set in stone. It doesn’t owe its origins to Hindu nationalism or right-wing ideals like the BJP (through organizations like the RSS, BJS, ABHM) or the Congress, steeped in its populist history, Nehruvian socialism and hundreds of years of history. It doesn’t have linguistic, regionalist, casteist or classist origins like any of the many state parties in India. It comes with a clean slate. Which is rare. And it must use this clean slate to devise a policy position, that can truly pick the best from every state, country and ideology. Avoiding the traditional orthodoxies and binaries of capitalism vs. socialism, of pro-market vs. pro-people and of pro-labour vs. pro-industry is something that AAP can do. And it must.

I also help write speeches and prepare questions for the four MPs in Parliament, along with Raghav Chadha. They are from the state of Punjab and are as follows: 

  • Shri Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur, a satirist par excellence.
  • Shri Dharamvira Gandhi from Patiala. A cardiologist and human rights activist.
  • Shri Sadhu Singh from Faridkot. A retired professor and poet.
  • Shri Harinder Singh Khalsa from Fatehgarh Sahib. An ex-IFS officer who was posted in Norway when Operation Bluestar happened. He worked as a postman till he returned to India and then joined politics on this return.

I’ll probably catalogue their work from the first session of Parliament in another post, but all I can say for now, is that they’ve probably been one of the best sets of new MPs in Parliament, despite the fact that they’ve had to learn the ropes real-time. Working daily on the issues of the day has given me tremendous exposure in a rather time-bound manner. Research. Analyze. Write. Ship. The only people shipping something faster than this are probably my friends at Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Quora: you know, the tech crowd. My experiences have ranged from from tearing the Delhi and Union Budget apart, researching crop insurance and irrigation, pricing policy of minerals, land acquisition, judicial accountability and FDI bills among many other issues. It has necessarily mandated me to read every bill introduced into Parliament and develop a position on it. Many friends, old and new, have helped with this, and more keep coming in. Write to me if you’d like to help!

Third, I’ve been helping doing research on a day-to-day basis for social media campaigns and for preparing spokespersons who go on television. Learning the ropes of TV broadcasting, news politics and listening to stories of yore from the brilliant media cell team has been quite the experience. Again, this requires rather quick work and turn-around during the day. For example, at 10 in the morning the Cabinet raised the minimum support price, but only by 1 or 2 percent. At the same point, inflation keeps going higher and onions and tomatoes at the mandis across the country are really expensive. By 11-12, calls from TV channels start coming in for spokespersons to debate this issue. As the media team rosters and makes our official statements, I come up with an information primer, factsheet and analysis on the issue, and bring up what points our spokespersons should make. This is prepared by the evening (5-6 pm) so that everyone who goes on television, makes the right points. Obviously, what the spokespersons say, has political rhetoric and repartee to it but hopefully some facts from me as well!

And finally, I’ve taken it upon myself to do a booth-level analysis of the elections across the country, especially in the seats where Aam Aadmi Party gave a tough fight to its competitors. This is inspired by the work of Raphael Suswind, Avinash Celestine and Srinivasan Ramani. This will be rather helpful in future when the party fights local elections in Delhi and Punjab and possibly other assembly constituencies. It is also a tremendously interesting data exercise. As always, I’m always looking for help.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I think, much like the AK49 government, my first 49 days have been quite productive, but I’m sure many things could have been done better. To use an old cliche, the biggest room is the room for improvement. I shall keep trying. Even if I didn’t believe a word about the politics of the party, this has still been as good an out-of-college-first-job experience as I could have imagined. And my personal favourite is that I love talking about my job. It has unfortunately also dominated the conversation at every hangout with friends, partly because I’m a loudmouth and partly because politics is India’s favorite past-time, when there’s no IPL that is. How many of you can say that? 🙂

The Aam Aadmi MPs: Rejecting Unnecessary Privileges

The Indian Parliament represents the interests, hopes, ambitions and dreams of the people of India. The citizens of India vest their moral and political authority in the Parliamentarians of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

It is assumed that the legislative and executive power that is granted by the people to our distinguished Parliament is to be used for public good.

As a consequence, parliamentary rights and privileges are granted to Members of Parliament, collectively and individually, in Article 105, Article 106, Article 107 and Article 121, without which they cannot discharge their functions. They exceed those of individuals, because the MPs work for public good which is given preference by our Constitution, in some sense.

The Aam Aadmi Party believes that, while this present allocation, is necessary for fast and efficient discharge of the duties of the MPs, we do not believe in affording exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary luxuries to the Members of Parliament.

An MP is also an Aam Aadmi and should face his private life like any other common man does. Any costs to the exchequer, private enterprises or to the taxpayer’s money should be completely justified by commensurately larger benefits to society at large.

Along with my three colleague MPs from Punjab representing the Aam Aadmi Party, Shri Harjinder Singh Khalsa (Fatehgarh Sahib), Shri Sadhu Singh (Faridkot) and Shri Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur), I, Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi, condemn the recent claims and demands made by some Members of Parliament to get more special rights and privileges to themselves like free parking, usage of private lounges at airports, protocol officers, escort service at airports and other special courtesies.

While functioning of the Members of Parliament should not be curtailed and should be enhanced, the honourable MPs should not lose the common touch, failing which they might lose the moral and electoral faith of the people of India.

Note: This was written as a short note/press release to be used by the AAP MPs in Parliament or the Aam Aadmi Party. However, it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the party and may have gone editing before official release

Another Year, Another Drought: Comments on Indian Irrigation and Agriculture


To be sure, a drought is declared when rainfall for the entire monsoon season is deficient by 10% and the area affected covers 20-40% of the area of the country. With a rainfall deficiency of about 25% in most parts of the country, the technical definition of drought is amply met. India is now drought stricken even if its government doesn’t have, either the courage or the care to admit it. It is important to note that there is no acceptable definition of drought in India.


Irrigation commission in 1973 made an attempt to define drought as -25% deficiency compared to normal. But what is normal is the long-term average which may or may not change. Secondly, this -25% deficiency is for the whole season.

Agriculture Scientists have Penmen method to determine moisture index of an area. ICRISAT in Hyderabad has done good work on this.

States should have moisture index for each Taluka or group of villages which can be used for declaration of drought by decentralizing the measurement of drought.


The management of drought is a State subject though there is no definite entry in the State list. Pith and substance of drought is considered as part of Agriculture, water supplies, food and rural development.

The role of Central Govt is reduced to handing down grants which is permissible under Art. 282 of the Constitution. Even here, Centre has not framed any policy. Decisions on grants are arbitrary and have assumed political overtones.


Punjab may be heading for its worst drought in almost three decades, fear authorities, after  the state’s meteorological department predicted a 60 per cent deficit in monsoon this year. The department has based its prediction on the progress of monsoon between June 1 and June 25.

According to a report sent by the meteorological department to the Punjab government, 17 of the state’s 22 districts will receive scanty rainfall this year. The deficient monsoon will worsen the already serious groundwater situation in Punjab.


The country is reeling under high inflation for past five years. The month of June was the driest in 113 years! The sight of tankers supplying drinking water to more than 12000 hamlets and bastis in Maharashtra has become routine. Farmer suicides continue to occur.

Total estimate of tax concessions given to corporate sector is Rs 5.6 lakh crore per year. Is this necessary? Can some of the stupid tax exemptions on gold and diamonds not be given to our farmers?

We can save more than 50,000 crores by stopping these exemptions which can create a buffer fund for our farmers.

The government has made no proper allocations to tackle the impending drought or planned to combat inflation due to the impending drought.

Immediately sell 20 mill tonnes from godowns of Food Corporation of India to create downward pressure on grain prices.

Remove perishables from APMC. The middlemen (dalals) enjoy near monopoly buying power over lakhs of farmers and also hold urban consumers to ransom. In the states, when the government tried to bring onion and potato out of APMC list, there was hue and cry from NCP and Congress in Maharashtra. This shows collusion between middlemen and politicians.


Sowing of the summer, or kharif, crop has been slowed due to the delay in the monsoon. Overall sowing is nearly 30% behind the normal trend at this point of time. On 24 July, an area of 53.3 million hectare was sown under different crops. This will further increase inflation in the coming months.

As per the Central Water Commission, the water storage in 85 important reservoirs stood at 40.0 billion cubic meters (bcm) as on July 17, 2014.  The storage in these 85 reservoirs is 26% of their storage capacity, against 43% last year and 30% average level during the last five years.  The decline in storage levels is acute in Southern India, followed by Western India and Central India.


A drought in India is no longer about a food shortage. The state has enough buffer stocks of cereals, edible oils and sugar to tide over a difficult year. The problem now is one of the collapse of purchasing power and with many millions unable to provide for themselves. The Modi government has so far shown no signs of being alive to the looming crisis. By now it should have drawn up plans for huge drought relief works. This is the time to build and repair roads, canals and other infrastructure so that millions can be gainfully engaged.

The signs of a purchasing power drought are now increasingly visible all over with increased rural migrations. Only the government cannot seem to see this.

While people can migrate; livestock cannot. A drought exacts a huge toll on livestock. Millions will perish without water. Strangely enough for a government by a party so visibly in favor of gau seva the Modi government is almost entirely inert.

The antidote to this is for the state to embark on huge civil works to restore purchasing power in the rural areas. If people can’t buy food it is a man-made famine.

Note: This short note was prepared at an hour’s notice using research, first-hand data from the Government of India’s Meteorological and Agricultural Department, a policy note from PRS Legislative Research and most importantly taking large sections from Shri Mohan Guruswamy’s note on the drought.

RJs and Mimicry: The Free Speech Tragedy in Parliament

India’s Parliament took the form of a Shakespearean tragedy as the Rajya Sabha held a rather serious discussion on the curtailment of comedy, satire and mimicry. This bodes poorly for the status of freedom of speech and expression as a guaranteed right to the citizens of India. The Aam Aadmi Party doesn’t want to sound alarmist or exaggerate problems without sound reason, but the curtailment of fundamental freedoms is a slippery slope, which we want to flag before it becomes a serious issue.

Today’s discussion began with a question raised by, ironically, Shrimati Jaya Bachchan of the Samajwadi Party, a cinematic legend who extensively used comedy as one of her chosen forms of expression. She felt that the language used by radio jockeys on private channels was extremely objectionable. Her problem was furthered by the fact that there was mimicry of MPs on these channels.

Ms. Bachchan and the Samajwadi Party has forgotten that comedy shouldn’t be treated as an inconsequential piece of art, and that it is not just a means of amusement. It is important to note that it is actually a highly necessary commentary of life, which can still raise the glaring issues of the day, when the media can’t do so due to vested political and business interests.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that cracking jokes on MPs was a serious matter. The Aam Aadmi Party agrees but our intention and interpretation is polarly opposite to what the BJP-led government believes in. Comedy should be treated seriously, but not solemnly: its status as free expression deserves that much respect as any other form of expression in the press and media.

Under Article 19(2), the freedom of speech can only be curtailed by law, which imposes reasonable restrictions in the interests of public order, decency or morality, the security or integrity of India etc. None of those requirements are met in this case. And the Supreme Court has, on a number of occasions, emphasised the importance of political speech in a democracy.

Javdekar said that double meaning words were being used and that the government had received some complaints. The Minister pointed out that there was an electronic media monitoring centre to take care of such complaints.This reminds us of the Orwellian nightmare painted in 1984 where the government monitors and then curtails the freedom of each person.

The nuance that I&B Minister Prakash Javdekar fails to understand is that legislative and executive action that outlaw such speech or comedy can one day outlaw criticism, ridicule, sarcasm or merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy. The Aam Aadmi Party believes that while comedy, mimicry and satire should have reasonable limits like free speech, we should not do anything to curtail it. This stand of ours has been exemplified by our past behaviour. While many funny satirical pieces have been run about the Aam Aadmi Party and its leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, we have never complained against them, but have rather learnt from them when we could, and laughed with them.

The Prime Minister not having a funny bone is acceptable, but intolerance of free speech of others is unacceptable. The present government and Narendra Modi would do well to learn from the last NDA Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had always been the center of mimicry. This didn’t lower his stature in the eyes of the people but rather endeared him to everybody, without compromising his place in history as one of India’s best Prime Ministers.

Note: This was written as a quick note, prepared in under 20 minutes, for party spokespersons on the day, Shrimati Jaya Bachchan raised this issue in Parliament. It may be factually incorrect and may not represent the actual views of the Aam Aadmi Party. As usual, the writing is more flowery and political than I’d like it to be 🙂 But I guess, I should resign to the fact that that’s the world I live in now 🙂

A Short Critique on Land Acquisition

The most important thing to note is that the land acquisition bill affects only the purchase of land by the government or done through the government for public-private-participation projects. It does not affect at all private purchase of land under 50 acres urban or 100 acres rural; which is the vast majority of transactions leaving aside mega industrial projects. This threshold can be circumvented by a private company by purchasing multiple parcels of land, each under the prescribed limit, through other entities.

Eminent Domain has had little or no protection in India prior to the Land Acquisition Bill 2013. Eminent Domain is essentially the power of the state to forcibly acquire land for public use/purpose. Three major questions present themselves in any such action, given that it violates the right to property of affected citizens:

1. What constitutes “public purpose” or public benefit”?

The act aims to address this through the requirement of social impact assessment. The purpose of the assessment in the act is to determine both the costs and benefits of the project, and whether they outweigh the loss of livelihood and/or environment to people displaced and affected by the project. Without this, all you have is a government claiming “This project is in the public interest, so I will take your land”. With the SIA there is a protection that if the report cannot show that there is a clear and quantifiable public benefit, the land acquisition cannot take place. In the news reports that are coming out, the government is proposing the dilution of this requirement for smaller projects. This makes it possible to once again arbitrarily acquire land for questionable public benefit.

2. What constitutes consent?

The bill provides also for the case of acquisition of large areas of rural land by a private player. Here again it provides a benchmark of 80% in case of a PPP project for acquisition. The bill proposes to dilute this to 50%. If 20% of the population of an area is completely unconvinced as to the compensation you are offering as well as the proposed benefits of the project, it seems like a reasonable reason to re-look into the acquisition. If that threshold is only 50% its not even a majority of the area you have to convince before you forcibly acquire land. This dilution will again only make it easier for forcible land acquisition for questionable purposes. Again, one must remember, if we are talking about purchase of land for a private sector player, operating for private profit, it even comes into question whether without 100% consent the forcible purchase and eviction of landowners should be allowed!

3. What constitutes fair compensation for forcible eviction?

The bill contains positive provisions here ensuring justice and compensation. No report so far suggests that these clauses should be reviewed.

Issues of Contention:

1. Eminent Domain should not be allowed for private projects to override the 20% who do not consent to acquisition. If the benefits of acquisition accrue only to a private company, then the government has no business using its power of forcible land acquisition to help such a company.

2. There are too many exemptions in the bill, as it does not include land for defense, railways or SEZs. Given how easy it is to claim something as an SEZ in India and governments hyperactivity in setting them up, it is easy to contravene the scope of the act by locating a project in an SEZ.

3. The scope of what constitutes Public Purpose is too broad for my libertarian liking.

4. For urban area compensation, it sticks to market value which is laughably low if taken as the stamp duty value of the land/recorded sale price.

Note: This was a quick informal email written by Bhavya Khanna on land acquisition issues, the bill and prospective amendments proposed to it, in response to an enquiry on the same. The person who deserves brickbats for typos, lack of editing and absence of description or context is the author of this blog, Roshan Shankar 🙂

Andolanwaaley vs. Buddhijeevi: The Conflict between Protestors and Laptop Warriors

It’s been one month since I joined the Aam Aadmi Party full-time. While there is much to write about regarding politics, policy and Parliament, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts as different observation capsules as opposed to doing long posts, which are rather unreadable.

An observation about the Aam Aadmi Party and politics at-large in India that has probably stood out rather starkly is the following. It is the constant war between the worlds of the “intellectuals” and the “protestors”, or as it was put to me “Buddhijeevi” and “Andolanwaaley”(literally meaning revolutionaries).

When I say “protestors”, I mean the men and women of the masses who have risen literally from the streets, people who have fought for the rights of the people and gained respect by protesting against repression and the establishment. These are the people who can mobilize people and votes, and are the people who will win the election. They receive their popular mandate because they raise issues that people identify with, or can rally the public together, for good or bad reasons. Their education in many cases didn’t come from university, but from the old cliché of life. I think nearly every Prime Minister with the exception of Dr. Manmohan Singh, a large proportion of Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies come from this background.

When I say “intellectual”, I mean laptop warriors, speech writers, policy analysts, economists, ideologues, the great debaters and well, to borrow a phrase I heard from one of the “protestor” kind from Haryana:  “The educated folk who sound lovely on English debates on CNN or NDTV”. So think Yogendra Yadav, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Nirmala Sitharaman. I don’t have statistics but I daresay a greater proportion of the Rajya Sabha might compose of these folk, considering it has been the entry point for those party leaders who haven’t been able to win an election.

The problem I’ve noticed is that nothing has been done to address the friction between the two factions: the House of Commons vs. House of Lords kind. And they’ve been allowed to diverge further away from each other as time has progressed without any attempts at reconciliation or dialogue that helps one side see the importance and need for the other. The fact that they are two different sides is by itself, a big problem. This is the polarisation that people don’t talk about. And for a party like the Aam Aadmi Party, which is still in its nascent stage, it’s rather important to solve this problem at its root before it institutionalizes itself in the organisation.

The protestors call the intellectuals snobs who speak in English, talk in their closed-door meetings and come up with technical policy with no connection or consultation of ground realities. The intellectuals feel that the protestors are interested just in raising hell, don’t raise the appropriate issues in what is known ironically as Parliamentary language or method, have trouble understanding nuances and don’t have the necessary expertise to do the work that intellectuals do. This self-imposed hierarchy of importance that each side pushes on the other is dangerous especially when both need to work together for a common cause.

How do we attempt to solve it? Engage in a dialogue on the work that each group does, give and take appraisals on the issues and problems they face and most importantly ensuring that no part of the party is alienated from the other. If the so-called intellectuals are involved in the process or kept informed about the logistics, issues and difficulties of organizing an agitation or rally or large public meetings, it will develop immense respect in them for the protestors. On the other hand, if at every stage of the policy process, ground consultations and reviews or at least comments can be invited and talked about to build consensus around policy decisions and positions, it will be immensely helpful for the protestors to understand the technical expertise and nuance required to run government. More importantly, it will help generate buy-in from all sections of the party, which will be important in generating support from the public, not to mention make the intellectuals think about exceptions, use-cases and interpretations generated from the ground-up that they might not have thought about.

There will be communication overhead and noise when this process of reconnection is attempted, but it will be worth it, in my opinion.

Hindustani vs. English: The First Fight before UPSC and Mohan Bhagwat

Over the last few weeks, there has been much debate over the UPSC examinations and the use of English, Hindi and other “bhashas” as a language vis-a-vis a medium of instruction, with multiple polarizing views flooding our media. Yesterday, apart from having an overtly religious overtone, Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS gave ample fodder to linguists, constitutional experts, geographers and historians to go to town on his calling Hindustan as a nation of Hindus. From an academic simpleton like me, the following arguments come to mind immediately. The name Hindu does come from the river Indus from where our Vedic society took inception. However, geographically, Hindustan did not include the Deccan and regions to the south of Vindhyas if I remember correctly. And finally, the Constitution of India does begin with “We the people of India that is Bharat”. So, India and Bharat, not Hindustan, I would think. There is also the issue of the manner and position from which he made this comment. However, the details shall be thrashed out {figuratively and literally!} on your national media.  However, in the string of debates that will hit your social, print and electronic media, a debate on Hindustani as a language may also come alive.

The purpose of this post isn’t to critique the UPSC examination or Mohan Bhagwat’s comment, which the media wiill do aplenty. It is to remind you about the first fight that lay at the intersection of these two complex linguistic, geographical and historical issues.

As India framed its Constitution, the issue of Hindustani was brought to the forefront. The Constituent Assembly met in 1946 and on its second day of business(10th December 1946), RV Dhulekar picked a fight with the interim Chairman Sachidanand Sinha on the usage of English in the Constituent Assembly. He went to the extent of saying that

“People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in this House to fashion out a constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this Assembly. They better leave.”

The relevant transcript is reproduced at the end of this post.

I’m not a linguist/historian to offer insight on these issues, but I somehow feel that it is this kind of historical animosity between the languages whose repercussions we’re facing today in many different spheres, and adding to a lack of clarity to the idea of India.

RV Dhulekar on Hindustani

RV Dhulekar on Hindustani

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Dhulekar’s Proposed Amendment

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Sachidanand Sinha’s ruling on Dhulekar’s outburst