Nishtha Singh, Maharashtra
Politics of Principles
At 4 am in the morning, as usual, I woke up abruptly, finding it difficult to go back to sleep. With my morning tea, I opened my laptop and my to-do list. I was disheartened to see that 'Apply for Democracy Express ' was unchecked and the deadline was over. Suddenly, I saw that the first email in my personal inbox said, 'Democracy express deadline extended'. Without even thinking twice, I filled the really interesting and long application form. The form was followed by an intriguing but challenging interview. It was a conversation which is hard to forget.
Since the time of accepting the program till the last day of boarding the train, I was filled with my internal doubts, especially from the virtual conversations and the state of Delhi. But I think that the best choices are the choices of courage. Although I was entering a world of unknown yet it felt that it was going to be an exceptional experience. And indeed it was!
Democracy Express lived up to its description of an immersive political learning journey with the aim of building a positive narrative around politics by exploring the political landscape and meeting the unsung heroes of India. For me it opened new doors of opportunity for learning, strengthened my conviction in public service, gave me inspiration by showing me the power of the young and principled leaders. It awakened the feeling of being the change I wanted to see and my idea of India. It is hard to summarize your learning of the whole experience when you are ending each day with a spark. However, after many days of long walks, here are some of my learnings :
1. Women are the key to the transformation of the system, the society and the politics.
We shared the same room and listened to the words of wisdom by Atishi, Ritu Jaiswal, Kiran Maheshwari, and Richa Singh who embody courage, grace, and inspiration. They shared their thoughts on the importance of governance, fighting without giving up, and accepting that you will be questioned as a woman but you need to put your head down and just work. They showed empathy and all those values that women bring to politics, how they care for the people and the problem, feel the pain and crisis, think about the children of our country, and want to bring impact to a family, village and a community.
According to Richa Singh "Being a woman would mean you would have to establish yourself despite of contesting against an incompetent man. When you enter politics, you feel more like a woman than ever in spite of the patriarchal society we are used to already." Her words felt real and led to a sense of acceptance of the challenges a woman faces. Atishi's words, "You need to engage with the world view, accept it and move on", showed that you need to accept the reality but never stop. For me, they embodied what change can look like.
2. Before being a politician, I should work with a community, an organization or with people in need
All the people who have been working for decades, whether Sanjay Paswan, Anandiben Patel, Shahnawaz, Krishna Allavaru, Srikant Sharma or Bijal Patel, shared how you need to first think of yourself as a worker of a party or worker for the people. You need to establish yourself through your work. You will be recognized with the amount and quality of work that you do. You need to belong to your work that has served a community, people or a party to be recognized as a candidate.
Shahnawaz said "You need to connect with an idea. Politics are of three types, politics of idea, politics of party and politics of organizing. After travelling, seeing the journey of people I formed my idea of India and connected with people and their problems".
Sanjay Paswan said "There are 4 ‘I’s in politics : ideas, ideology, identity and issues"
Kiran Maheshari believed that " Vote samaj sevak ko milta hai, aap samaj ki beti ban jate hai aur aapka sara time public time hota hai (Vote is given to a social worker you become a daughter of the society and all your time is public time)".
3. Grey is the color of politics
Because of having grown up in a Rajput family the idea of categorizing everything in black and white or right and wrong is carved very deeply in my mind. It has always been hard for me to accept that there is a middle ground or a grey region. However, I realized that when your decisions, actions and work impacts hundreds and millions of people there will always be a time where a decision will be a white or black for the someone and grey for many others. Owing to the diversity of our country, it is next to impossible that any decision or work, for or with millions of people, will have a binary impact. The impact will be grey, complex and layered. So will the entire politics be: grey, complex and layered. Hence, we need more people, more voices, more perspectives, more diversity and democratic ways of working in the grey region.
4. Indian politics is a politics of personality, movements and information cult
During the informative spaces, Pratik Sinha, Shantanu Gupta, Vinod Verma shared that India as a nation has always been finding someone to lead and for the longest time had been a part of a personality cult; from Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi. Shantanu Gupta shared about different feeder lines into politics and how you need to build your financial, social and political capital to establish yourself. Vinod Verma said that social movements, political slogans and campaigns have always changed the political landscape. The examples were Anna Hazare’s 'March against corruption', 'The Rath Yatra', 'Gareebi Hatao', VP Singh’s campaigns that brought significant changes in the politics of the country etc..
Gopal Rai, who has been part of many movements starting with Bharat Chalo, Jan Lokpal Andolan and brought slogans like 'Dange nahi rojgar chahiye (We want employment not riots), said "Today's generation rushes to win everything. They don’t wait for satisfaction and effort. As youth we should struggle for the country and put efforts. We need positive nationalism where there is love for the nation. Acceptance of youth's effort is needed or else it will crack them in today's politics"
However, now in the 21st century, information and data are playing a crucial role in influencing electoral politics. Pratik Sinha shared that with high usage of internet, (close to 1300GB in 2017 in India in Facebook business, Facebook zero, WhatsApp) it's easier to influence people, design campaigns, slogans, create a wave using data and information which eventually influences the news and political landscape of the country.
5. Caste, Religion, Privilege & Identity still matter
In our urban societies, we don't know or care to know the caste of our neighbours or that the building might have the majority of people belonging to one community. It is our privilege because of which social discrimination, divisions based on our identity of who we are, where we are from, doesn't matter to us because we never experience it. Hence, when political decisions are made about caste and religion it barely affects us. It is one of our biggest privileges and ignorance towards the politics of our nation. Sanjay Paswan and Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College resonated with the statement: 'Every act is a political act'.
Women political leaders like Atishi, Ritu and Richa spoke about how their identity as a woman also matters which makes them go beyond caste or religion and talk about politics of issues. Their pitch of playing politics will always be real issues and work for the people as they can feel the discrimination of identity. They can feel the pain of being discriminated against and are aware of all their privileges.
6. Idea of India: Giving myself to the Democracy and the Constitution of India
"Which words written in the Preamble - first page of our Constitution of India - do you associate yourself with and which words or values of it do you live by " was the question asked by Aparna & Asmita from We the People. After a long time, I think I reflected, became aware, adopted and decided to give myself the Constitution of India. Through different discussions, different speeches, the power of our democracy and constitution made me feel like an empowered citizen of this country. Public leaders don't only think about the idea of India but refer to the idea of India that our freedom fighters fought for. There were new words added to my definitions of 'Democracy', 'Constitution', 'Freedom' which also helped me think about what my idea of India was. Now I wonder - What is the idea of India that I want to leave behind for my students?
7. My shifts
An experience can bring shifts in you. This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone to bring certain shifts in me. Even though it created strong conflicts within me, at the same time empowered me in various ways. It instilled in me the belief of doing consistent inner work to be able to do consistent external work. It has challenged my ability to take risks. It has made me question if I'm playing the right 'card' and what is stopping me from taking the risk. It helped refine my self-awareness about my identity, responsibilities, and duties as a human, woman and a citizen. It re-instigated hope and inspiration in me through every member I met within the cohort and the core team who believed in influencing change through principled leaders. It shifted my definition of voice to include silence as a powerful voice. It definitely brought many internal conflicts, challenged me but it also taught me the most important skill that the world needs right now: listening. It taught me to listen to myself.
The journey ended with a sense of both discomfort and acceptance. It was Discomfort through internal conflicts and the thought of ending the journey. And Acceptance of myself, new ideas, new beliefs and a new community.
One thing which Ankur Sarin, Professor at IIM Ahmedabad said which will always stay with me and would be at the core of my thoughts is "Politics is a non-violent management of conflicts". I'm going to choose to stay with this statement, this thought, this journey, this experience and this new self in this new decade. I choose to stay with my new Idea of India, which is based on Politics of Principles.