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I’ve been following the AAP story closely, not so much because of any political topic they deal with but rather for their new approach on how to “do” politics. I’d like to share with you the following two blogposts I wrote before and after Delhi election in late 2013 and early 2014. I think they are two snapshots which give a fairly good view of the AAP story.

November 7, 2013

Almost exactly one year ago I had dinner with Mehmood Khan in Delhi. It was November 26. He came to meet me from the launch of a new political party: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Common Man’s Party. He is one of the party’s 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 Constitution Day marking the day India’s Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949.

The birth of the AAP was pretty “loud” – media wise. Mainly because of two issues. First the formation of the AAP resulted from a conflict bet- ween their current leader, Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, a veteran Gandhian social worker from Maharashtra, who led the 2011 Indian anti- corruption movement. 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 it. In 2012 on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, they decided to split and go their separate ways. The second issue the media pounced on was the tremendous financial support the newly formed party gained in its first few days of existence. They raised millions of USD from a broad range of people.

Then they basically disappeared from the media scene.

Now, just before the elections in Delhi in December they back in the media spotlight, And what a comeback! Omnipresent in all newspapers. 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),

Surveys predict AAP will sweep Delhi elections: Arvind Kejriwal.

Aam Aadmi Party: The Incorruptibles?

With separate manifestos, AAP focusing on local needs”.

I’m pretty much a rookie in Indian politics; I watched the inner circle from close up over a few month as the 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 just as corrupt but in a diffe- rent way. I learnt about the two main parties, the Indian National Congress Party (a some-what confusing name, I think) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that’s basically it. But AAP caught my attention. And I followed them over the last few month trying to find out what makes them different. And here are the things things I find remarkable.

  • AAP candidates are young people. They are mostly in their early 30s. And quite a mixed bag: a former NSG commando, social activists, a business management graduate, an auto-rickshaw driver and an IT professional. What binds them are much more common values than having the Schulbank gedrückt with the sons of the “best class” families. They are supported by Indian students from universities from all over the world including such grand names as MIT and Berkeley University. 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 borrow from the left, they they borrow 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 to the people. Together with the people in each single constituency local manifestos are written which define the people’s needs – and they become the 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 and the issues it raises. It’s about taking ownership and responsibility.

All in all very interesting to observe.

Are the winds of change being felt in Delhi? I hope so. Time is ripe.

Let’s see what December 15, 2013 – the day Delhi votes – will bring.

The broom became the AAP symbol


February 27, 2014

AAP is definitely a game changer in India. Not a day 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 ridiculing AAP efforts only one month before their take over – now they blame AAP for riding a dangerous wave, a “wave of anger” as one senior journa- list put it in India’s left liberal Tehelka.7 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 1920s shows 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 the story.

AAP introduces a completely new system of democracy.
It’s about participation, transparency, openness and empowerment. Political leaders and political parties in a completely 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 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 fami- lies. For many of them the principles of the new paradigm are like the air they breathe – being raised on the Internet. Which means that they DO under- stand participation, transparency, openness and empowerment. It’s them who are asking for a fair share. Along with India’s new middle class, especially in the cities, which so far has not been addressed by the established parties.

No matter where you look – in politics, economics, or society – funda- mental change hardly ever comes from the inside of an existing system.It al- ways starts on the edges, 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 the BJP and Congress. They gave plenty of reasons for letting a new system emerge. And AAP took its chance.

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 consideration – they now blame the AAP for making mistakes instead of exploring and trying to understand the ongoing paradigm shift.

Since the AAP is something completely NEW it’s pretty much to be ex- pected that mistakes and failures will happen. But what we also see is, that networking systems are much faster in learning than hierarchical and pa- triarchal 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 though performance is not yet perfect. After all, just think how perfect BJP and Congress are!

Here are three basic principles you should consider when talking about the AAP. These principles set the frame of the new paradigm. Basically it’s the move from a container to a network! If I don’t explicitly mention open- ness, transparency, participation and collaboration as the main anchors it’s because all of them are 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 some- thing about solutions. However in the present system they are not empowe- red to provide their own 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.

The idea of writing one manifesto per constituency is definitely a move in the right direction. Include people in the process of finding ideas and de- fining solutions. Take them into responsibility. Try to figure out where net- work intelligence is needed and useful and where hierarchy is required. A smooth shift between these two modies is essential.

Going beyond Authority

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 who come up with new ideas and who are disobeying. Build structures which allow disobedience – only if you push existing boundaries, innovation will happen. Reputation in a networked world – in the kind of system the 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. The patterns and structure will then emerge. The people should be able to cope 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 citi- zens accept it and buy? And this is what the AAP is working on: to close these loops completely – to connect it to each and every citizen. To create a 360° cycle. 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 poli- ticiansand support with government programs. And this makes the system scalable.

Basically the entire work of the AAP is nothing but innovative manage- ment methods. It’s about imagining what India could look like. It’s experi- menting, 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.

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 the AAP’s direction. What makes the AAP so attractive and com- plex 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.

It’s high time to take a closer look at it!
It’s much more of a chance than a threat.
Get the people ready for it and stop telling them the 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 rut.

Fail; but fail fast.

Explore possibilities and learn by doing so. Make the processes transparent.
Accept that you can’t control the 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!

Closing remark from the present: The Arvind Kejriwal Express stopped abruptly on February 12, 2014 when Kejriwal decided to step down as the AAP Chief Minister of Delhi. His decision was discussed in epic detail. He later stated that he had made a mistake in quitting the Delhi CM office early without communicating to the people and understanding what their expectations are of him. He also accepted that being a novice in politics he resigned and promised not to resign in future in any circumstances. However the AAP didn’t go far in the national elections in India in April 2014. Dis- illusionment had set in.

But no matter how their story will continue they’ve been such a disrup- tive force that something positive is bound to stay.

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