The Pulse of India

AAP is definitely a game changer in India. Not a days goes by without the AAP making the headlines in India’s news industry. While Delhi’s political and intellectual elite couldn’t have dreamt of AAP winning the Delhi election last December and rarely gave them any “airtime” – many of them were laughing about AAP efforts only month before their take over – now they blame AAP for riding a dangerous wave, a “wave of anger” as one senior journalist put it in India’s left liberal Tehelka. A wave that could get out of control.

To think about controlling networks and to compare the situation in India with Germany in the late 1920ies reflects a lack of understanding of what the networked world is all about and what its implications are for politics and governance and ultimately for democracy itself. One CANNOT look at AAP WITHOUT looking at self-organisation, participation, connectedness, transparency and complexity. If you exclude this broader view, you only get half of the story.

AAP introduces a complete new system of democracy.
It’s about participation, transparency, openness and empowerment.
Political leaders and political parties in a complete NEW role.
It’s nothing less than a paradigm shift.

Welcome to the 21st Century!
Welcome to the networked world!

For the existing two party system and all its affiliates AAP MUST be disruptive.
Yes, indeed.
But disruption sets the stage for change.
And neither the Congress nor the BJP are capable of guiding the transformation process India’s citizen are asking for.
Both of them have lost their credibility.
Both of them are stuck in the old paradigm.

If India and its elite tackle AAP as a chance and not as a challenge, India can become a role model for the world.
India’s citizen will see the WILL for change and they will take their chance to participate.
Especially the young people.
By 2020, 500 million Indians will be under the age of 30!
This is a dangerous wave if they don’t find jobs and if they can’t feed their families.
For many of them the principles of the new paradigm are like the air they breath – being brought up with the Internet. Which means that they DO understand participation, transparency, openness and empowerment.
It’s them who are asking for a fair share.
Plus India’s new middle class, especially in the cities, which so far has not been addressed by the existing parties.

No matter where you look – politics, economics, society –
fundamental change hardly ever comes from the inside of an existing system.
It always starts on the edge, almost outside the system, and goes mainstream the moment it proves its competency, efficiency and capability.

The political system in India so far has been dominated by BJP and Congress.
They provided plenty of reasons for letting a new system emerge.
Emerge from the edges.
Just as AAP did.
BJP and Congress really seemed surprised when the AAP tsunami hit them.
The AAP tsunami is even going nationwide.
And of course the establishment is scared.

And what do the visionaries and intellectuals who care for the country’s future do?
Just like BEFORE the Delhi election when they didn’t give the AAP any serious thought – they now blame the AAP for making mistakes instead of exploring and trying to understand the ongoing paradigm shift.

Since AAP is something completely NEW it’s pretty much to be expected that mistakes and failures will happen. But what we also see is, that networking systems are much faster in learning than hierarchical and patriarchal systems ever were. And that multiple equilibria can beautifully co-exist.

I’d love to see that the Indian elite which is setting the tone in this context is at least trying to understand what the transformation the AAP is driving is all about!
Even its performance is not yet perfect.
Just think how perfect BJP and Congress are!

Here are three basic principles you should consider when talking about AAP. These principles set the frame of the new paradigm. Basically it’s the move from a container to a network! I don’t mention explicitly openness, transparency, participation and collaboration as the main anchors … all of them are somehow included in the following:

Inclusiveness over Exclusiveness
Let people participate. Respect their input.
From what I’ve learnt in rural India, most of the people are aware of their problems and even know about solutions.
However in the existing system they are not empowered to provide their solutions.
Solutions which will be accepted in their environment because people take “ownership” of their solution.
So we need to provide adequate platforms and forums, online and offline.
Remember RTI?
The idea of writing a manifesto per constituency is definitely a move in the right direction. Include people in the process of finding ideas and defining solutions. Take them into responsibility. Try to figure out where network intelligence is needed and useful and where hierarchy is required. A smooth shift between these two modies is essential.

Emergence over Authorities
It’s no longer about who is “important”, who is the “authority” – it’s much more about the people on the edges and outside the systems (= inner circles) who come up with new ideas and who are disobeying.
Build structures which allow disobedience … only if you push existing boundaries, will innovation happen.
Reputation in a networked world – in the kind of system AAP is trying to set up – is based upon doing things right for the network. If you put garbage in, you only get garbage out. Reputation has to be earned over and over again – it no longer comes with any kind of guarantee. It’s highly dependent on each single project.
The problems we are facing today in each single sector are so manifold and complex that their answers have to equally manifold and complex (see Ashby’s Law).
The patterns and structure will then emerge. The people should be able to bear the complexity, and the system will organize itself.

A 360° Cycle
If you want politicians and parties who create solutions and services that have a use, that can be “sold”, you have to answer the question: Will the citizens accept and “buy”?
And this is what AAP is working on: to close these loops completely – to connect it to each and every citizen. To create this 360 degree. So no matter whether it’s a technology program or an agricultural program, an idea for the water or solar energy – for each of these ideas this loop needs to be closed. And interestingly with many things you can close the loop in the villages/cities/constituencies themselves. This is where politicians can step in. And this makes the system scalable.

 Basically the entire work of the AAP is nothing but innovative management methods. It’s about imagining what India could look like. It’s experimenting, co-creation, collaboration. Co-creation is done by the citizens themselves. Collaboration takes place with the expertise that comes from technology providers or domain experts in any kind of field.
 We live in the 21st century and I do believe that no single politician or a single party can do it on their own. But all together we can do it! And this is the AAP approach.

There are still some missing links like financing for example – which doesn’t work in the old system either – but this can be solved as well.

Some of these principles can already be found in democracies. Take a look at Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Tunisia. None of them is as far or as radical as the very pragmatic approach taken by the AAP. But they all do point in AAP’s direction. What makes AAP so attractive and complex is the fact, that the AAP provides a path – which might be still unpaved in some sectors – where all of these principles COMBINED co-exist. They aren’t separated from each other. Theirs is a truly democratic system with social responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking at its core (for a discussion of this see theinterview I did with Mehmood Khan in February 2013. Mehmood is one of the founding members of AAP).

It’s high time to have a closer look at it !
It’s much more of a chance than a threat.
Get the people ready for it instead of telling them AAP is “dangerous”.
Find ways to explore and experiment.
Get rid of outdated obstacles.
Explain the paradigm shift.
Open up the doors for a greater WE.
And let the borders of the inner circle become permeable.
Think for your country.
And drive the change.

Even though the AAP and citizens don’t have all the answers yet, India will be much better off riding the wave than staying stuck in the old rutt.
Fail; but fail fast.
Explore possibilities and learn by doing so.
Make the processes transparent.
Accept that you can’t control the entire movement.

India’s democracy can only grow by walking this path.

And the children and grand children of the 70+ today will love their elders for doing so.
So what are you waiting for?
Get ready and walk your talk!

India’s new political party ready to disrupt politics-as-usual

Almost exactly one year ago I’ve had dinner with Mehmood Khan in Delhi. It was November 26. He came from the launch of a new political party: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Common Man’s Party. He is one of the founding members – mostly engaged “behind the scenes”, a strategist and a person who strongly believes in the power of open networks. November 26 – by the way – is also the anniversary of India’s adoption of its constitution in 1949.

The birth of the AAP was pretty “loud” – media wise. Mainly because of two issues. First the formation of the AAP resulted out of a conflict between their current leader, Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, a veteran Gandhian social worker from Maharashtra, who led the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement in India. Both, Kejriwal and Hazare were leading figures in Team Anna, a non-political Indian group that lobbied against corruption. Hazare wanted to keep this movement non-political, Kejriwal wanted to politicise. On Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, 2012, they decided to split and move on on separate ways. The second issue media jumped on was the tremendous financial support the newly formed party achieved within its first days of existence. They raised millions of USD from a broad range of people.

Then they basically disappeared from the media scene.

Now they are back in media.
And how!
Here are a few statements:

“For the first time, Delhi will see a three-way contest in assembly elections, thanks to a political party that is only 11 months old but is already making waves.” (= AAP), NDTV

“Surveys predict AAP will sweep Delhi elections: Arvind Kejriwal.”, Business Standard

“Aam Aadmi Party: The Incorruptibles?”, Tehelka

“With separate manifestos, AAP focusing on local needs”, Hindustan Times

So it’s all about the upcoming Delhi Assembly election in December.

I only know little about Indian politics; I watched the inner circle from a short distance over a few month as a house guest of a well-known journalist in Delhi, but I never felt attracted to it. It seemed just like back home – only the actors were even older and the system itself in a different way corrupt. I learnt about the two big parties, Indian National Congress Party (a somewhat confusing name, I think) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that’s basically it. But AAP – not only because of Mehmood – caught somehow my attention. And I followed them over the last few month trying to find out what make them different. And here are a few things I find at least remarkable – and I assume these points would suit any new party in the West as well …

  • The AAP candidates are young people. They are mostly in their 30s. They are also a mixed bag: a former NSG commando, social activists, a business management graduate, an auto-rickshaw driver and an IT professional.
  • They set up an amazing network of Indian students from universities from all over the world including names such as the MIT,  Berkeley University and others. These volunteers organize google hang outs, they donate money and promote AAP online very authentically. It is NOT campaigning or promoting, it is much more fighting for their causes; meaning fighting corruption and finally giving the youth a voice!
  • AAP is not directed by a program. They are borrowing from the left, they are borrowing from the right or the middle – what ever helps to define a solution. The party seems to be much more solution driven than focused on a paradigm.
  • This together with the fact finding approach of local manifestos makes them really attractive for the people. Together with the people in each single constituency local manifestos are written which define the people’s needs – and those become the program/agenda for this constituency. It’s binding for the candidates. And it’s binding for the people. So it’s NOT a top down approach; no, it’s truly a grass root act. And each manifesto is different in tone and issues being raised. It’s about taking ownership and responsibility.

All in all very interesting to observe.
Are the winds of change tangible in Delhi? I hope so. Time is ripe.
Let’s see what Dec. 15 will bring.