Friday, 24 February 2012

UP elections: "A valiant struggle in the face of overwhelming odds" - the ARVP President reports from the front lines

The recent famed Grammy-winning song by the name ‘Rolling in the Deep’ signifies a song theme based on the heart. And so it has been in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly elections of 2012 for the Adarsh Rashtriya Vikas Party (ARVP) effort – a valiant struggle of the heart to keep going in the face of overwhelming odds – with a goal towards transformation of the destiny of India’s mostpopulous State. The Uttar Pradesh elections, presently underway is slated overseven phases on 8, 11, 15, 19, 23, 28 February and 3 March with the results tobe announced on 6 March.

Mohan Philip, ARVP President, dives into the deep end of the pool in an epic David vs. Goliath match-up to report from the scene of the battlefield…

"I kicked off mytravels on the 7th, 8th and 9th of January with travels to Agra, Etah, Kanshiram Nagar, Hathras and Mathura. And from 17th January to 15th February I travelled to 100 different constituencies spread over 30 districts. The intention was to get our leadersto focus on strengthening their circle teams and putting in as many volunteers connected to the circle teams as were on the field. We had developed a well-established strategy involving circle team leaders assigned to 20-30 villages with each assuming charge of these villages along with their team. This team was then to visit every house and share the vision as frequently as possible. There are more details associated with this strategy but suffice to say that if they worked alongside this method, then they would not need much money for the campaigning.

My first impressionas I traveled across U.P. to meet all the candidates in their constituencies was an overwhelming need to help them overcome their lack of confidence. They have been so exposed to campaigning of the type that uses an armada of vehicles with hundreds of paid workers crisscrossing each Vidhan Sabha constituency in a last-minute frenzy and bid to outdo each other in meeting the voter. Most parties do not have any long-term vision but focus on local issues and presentday problems or hot topics. Their main focus is corruption, law and order issues, high prices, Mayawati’s statues and farmers’ lands being taken up for development. Parties offer no solutions. It is in this scenario that ARVP propagates a vision that moves away from politics based on the caste and religion divide, away from excessive use of money; towards politics based on integrity and a servant-heart. This calls for painstakingly explaining the vision, focused on 5 crucial areas:

1) To have the justice system transparent, efficient and accountable

2) To have the administration and police enforcing law and order and delivering equitable administration

3) Focus on education as a fundamental requirement for the future generation

4) Providing health cover to ensure a productive and efficient work force

5) To strengthen agriculture and its associate infrastructure as it forms the mainstay of the present economy of U.P.

All of this can only beachieved if we elect persons of integrity and capability whose whole intent ofbeing in politics is to serve the people.

It was difficult to keep the existing strategy going even though we have trained our leaders for the last 3 years. In the end, most of them started to get overwhelmed by the lack of resources and were simply not ready to take their places in this battle. Out of the 130 people that were given tickets, around 40-odd candidates did not press their nomination as they felt that without money they couldn’t fight elections. The balance had to be constantly motivated through phone calls and personal meetings to keep them encouraged and to trust the hard work they had put in. My own impression from being on the field was to partly feel their sense of being overwhelmed as I saw the display of power, money and high visibility of the other parties. It is very easy to get discouraged in facing such odds. As I traversed districts and talked to the candidates, I had to motivate myself into not getting overawed, but to trust our hard work over the last 3 years. As I got back after almost 45 days on the trot, I confess the impossibility of winning even a single seat unless God’s miraculous hand prevails.

Throughout my travels and speaking in so many meetings, people would get so enthused about ARVP and were constantly telling me that this was just the party they were looking for. In a number of places I was encouraged by comments of so many who agreed with the vision and principles of the party. However, in the end I was accosted with a disappointing punch line – “this vision will take some time to penetrate the minds of the people of U.P. They have been so let down, deceived by many political entities and will take some time to believe in this and trust once again.”

Here are however some encouraging stories to warm the heart:

DEVIKA DEVIfrom Beldhara Road, Bhalia, is a small-made waif of a woman. She is a first time entrant into politics and has been a consistent regular at our training programmes in Lucknow. Since her husband stays in Delhi, she had to undertake the start of her political career alone. Bereft of resources, sh ewalked to as many villages as she could, trying to implement the strategy of ARVP. Having no experience in organisational aspects or management skills, she was always weighed down by lack of confidence and diffidence. Until the last moment, she was not sure whether she would actually fight the elections. With constant encouragement and assistance from the central team, she filed he rnomination. The first day of her meeting with the RO (returning officer – the Election Commission representative) coincided with all the candidates for that particular constituency being called in for a consultation. As the electronicmachine has only 16 buttons and there were 17 candidates, the RO made a last-minute request for any one candidate to step down. All the contestants looked at Devika Devi and told the RO that she should be the person to step down, as she was not a ‘serious’ candidate having no experience and no money, and fighting for a new party. Devika Devi was taken aback and felt ‘small’ and belittled, yet surprisingly the RO rose to her defence and stated that after coming to this place, he had heard about Devika and her painstaking walk over the past 2 years to every village in her constituency. He highlighted this as the kind of dedication and heart necessary and much needed in political parties, and tha tshe stood as an example of all that is correct in politics. He rounded up his talk by saying that he would under no circumstance ask Devika to step down. He then allowed Devika to speak out. Devika spoke about the work and the party she represented and the values that it stood for. When I met her a few days later, and after narrating this incident she said that this meeting gave her all the confidence, and she felt assured of herself in this role. She also added that she knows she might lose these elections, but is determined to continue in this role as she feels that this is her calling.

RAM NARESH TRIPATH is from Gorakhpur Urban, an old man of close to 80 years of age. He has been coming for the training programme for the past one year. In all my encounters with him, I was doubtful of his capacity and capability. He was loud and seemed to have difficulty in understanding the strategy, leave alone the capacity to execute it. During my recent visit to his Vidhan Sabha constituency, I was surprised to hear story after story from people who narrated instances where Ram Naresh had helped them and fought for them, and in many instances looked after them. He told me he had no resources to fight these elections, but was determined to use whatever we had taught him over the last one year to the best of his ability. Even at this age, he is energetic and testified that the only reason that he wants to do this is because the vision of ARVP so matches with what he aspired for in political parties.

ABHAY KUMAR SRIVASTAV is a young lawyer from Khalilabad Santh Kabirnagar. He has been coming for the training program for only the past 4 months. He had no desire to be in politics, but was prompted by one of his friends who had heard about ARVP and had come to Lucknow for a training programme. He told me he had committed to come for one meeting because he did not want to upset his friend and had planned to leave the meeting in half an hour. He told me he is a person who cannot sit still for 10 minutes and was dreading the possibility of staying for a full day. When he came for the training, what he heard and the methods and atmosphere of the meeting was so different that he didn’t move from his seat the whole day. He was thoroughly impacted and spoke to his parents. His parents were taken aback as he had earlier professed no inclination. After he explained the vision, they gave him their blessings. At the meeting in his town, I met about 60-70 professionals who had been working with him over the past 2-3 months for the elections. They had all joined him after he explained the vision. After I spoke to these young men in the evening, most of them stayed back asking questions and soaking in the need for such a movement. Many of them told me this is the kind of political party they had been waiting for and this would be unstoppable if we work for the next 5 years. They believe the youth of U.P. will be the first ones to join this movement.

RATHNEESH MISHRA from Menhdawal Santh Kabirnagar is a young man who has been coming for the training program for the past 2 years. His father has a political background and hence Rathneesh’s interest here. In my recent meeting with him he started crying. He said, for two 2 years we had been teaching him on fighting elections without money, through hard work, genuine commitment and an attitude of service, not lording it over people. He said he did not initially believe that such a strategy would work – however in the past few months he has been frantically trying to execute the strategy. As he travelled from village to village, he found that people were so eager to hear about this Party. The amount of interest and felt need that people were looking for a choice other than existing parties, made him realise his lost opportunity. He felt that if he had started earlier, he would have been in a strong position. He felt he hadn't trusted the strategy and had wasted an opportunity. He says he has learnt a hard lesson. He has now committed himself to the strategy and to working hard for the next elections.

VIMLA DEVI from Tirwa, Kanuaj – is a first time politician. She has been coming for the ARVP training for the past 2 years accompanied by her son Hari Om, a passionate young man. From the time they joined, they have caught the vision and have implemented this straight off. They did not have any resources or political base, but resorted to hard work, walking to villages, cycling and sharing the vision to as many people who would listen. Over the months, as people have been attracted to the vision, they found volunteers joining them. Against all odds, Vimala Devi is now one of the frontrunners in this constituency. She has become a threat and hence been exposed to all sorts of intimidating tactics. When everything else failed, they offered her large sums of money to withdraw. This poor woman who finds it difficult to put together money for day to day requirements, refused their enticements. She told them this party stands for integrity and that she will stay firm with her commitment. Word of her defiance has galvanized her workers and the stage is set for an interesting battle.

RAJA RAM SRIVAS from Naraini, Banda is a man of modest means. He started his life as a cycle and motorcycle tyre repairman. Over the years he has graduated to having a small shop and running his business. Because of his temperament and taking a stand for the poor and oppressed, he has gained political space for himself. On a number of occasions, he was pushed to stand for various political positions. He told me that most of the time he was reluctant and he would continue with his work while all the other people would volunteer their time to campaign for him. He said that he won these positions by not stepping out of his home – just with the goodwill of people. When he first heard the ARVP vision, there was an immediate affinity to the vision. He believes that this is where he belongs. Politics was for him a means to serve people and nothing else. The vision of ARVP thus matches his aspirations.

These encouraging testimonies highlight the resolve of a growing mass of people that so desire this kind of movement based on integrity, justice and working for the poor without consideration to caste, religion or social standing. A start has been made, a movement for change has emerged, the impact is being felt and lives have been touched, with whole localities transformed. It is what a vision does. This first test will separate the men from the boys, while offering encouragement to many more that one can succeed on the back of hard work, belief and a big big heart. Thank you for Rolling in the Deep with us, we appreciate you.

-- MohanPhilip

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