My interview with Paritrana’s national treasurer – Chandrashekhar.
Ever since this news item was published in the Times of India about Paritrana, I have been excited by the story. Of course, like everyone else I was curious to know more about the people behind this effort and about their ideologies. The TOI article was rather cryptic. The article in Indian Express today is more elaborate but not enough to satisfy the political junkie in me. Paritrana’s website right now is a work in progress and while the blog world has been buzzing with this news the details were scant.
So I decided to call up the number listed on their website to get someone from the leadership to answer a few questions that I had. I was not very hopeful because I was sure that their phone lines and emails must be ablaze with messages from all over and an amateur blogger like me would not get the time of the day. To my surprise, every time I called I was greeted with a very modest and down to earth Chandrashekhar who is the national treasurer of the party.
After a few phone calls from me, he agreed to field some questions on the condition that I make it clear that when he spoke to me, no one else from the leadership was available to answer my questions and that this post on the blog be only treated as a rough draft and if he has anything to add/modify then I’d allow that. I readily agreed and here is Chandrashekhar answering the few questions that I could muster up at a short notice. I spoke with him on the phone with no recording device and I was transcribing his answers in real-time so there might be some small things missing or incorrect. Please do not take these answers as something set in stone or as a formal policy of Paritrana. This was a very informal chatting session. However, the crux of this entire conversation was that these guys have taken a formidable step and now it is upto people to come forward and support them. Even if you do not want to joint the party and help at ground level, go ahead and help in whatever way you can. From technical help in maintaining their website to donating money to providing moral support, every bit will help.
Question: First of all, congratulations at the formal start of your party and the amount of excitement it has created in the media. Indian Express reported today that you plan to contest assembly and parliamentary elections. Are all five of you in the core leadership committee planning to contest for elections simultaneously or would you concentrate on one person at a time?
C’shekhar: We have been working through our personal resources and help from friends. But in the end, the amount of work we are able to do depends upon the amount of resources that we have. In assembly elections whether a person can contest an election depends upon the domicile of the person willing to run in the election. So each one of us will contest as and when the assembly election in his region are held. As for the parliamentary elections, simple policy is to do whatever can be done. If we have more resources then we will do more, it could be 5 people, 50 people or 500 people depending upon our funds.
Question: Right now, is this party your full time profession or are you also working in a regular job? If the party is your full time profession then how are you supporting yourself and the party financially?
C’shekhar: It is full time for us. We have been working on the social aspect of some of these issues for quite some time now. But eventually we have realized that without participation in the mainstream politics there can be no change. This party is a result of a long effort – it is not something that was conceived overnight but ultimately someone has to bell the cat. Efforts at a personal level in social field can only take you so far. If you want to help make structural changes to how things function then you have to contest and win elections. As for the finances, we have been supporting ourselves through personal resources and help from our personal friends.
Question: How can other Indians help you? I know that you have a website and a form for becoming a member but one of the most immediate needs for you if you plan to contest elections would be having adequate funds. Do you have any setup through which people can contribute financially to you?
C’shekhar: Election Commission has archaic rules that require a form to be physically signed by the member on paper and pen. They don’t acknowledge electronic registration. You can use the form on our website to let us know that you are interested in becoming a member. Eventually, we will have a membership drive in your city and we will be able to contact you based on the information that you provide to us on that form. Right now we have no formal setup through which people can financially contribute to us. We have been working on the formal setup of this party since November but we were taken by surprise at the amount of support we have been receiving. We are in the process of having a formal setup through which we can accept financial contributions from supporters.
Question: Have you been contacted by any regular politicians? Any invitations to join their party? Any notes of congratulations?
C’shekhar: No. Nothing from any active politicians.
Question: In the US, a guy called Howard Dean tried running for the post of US President but was defeated fairly early in the process. His big chunk of supporters were young and technologically savvy people who were tired of politics as usual. When Mr. Dean lost his own bid for election, he started a movement where he asked for his supporters to continue donating money for the cause he was fighting for and he supported people at grassroots to run for local elections. It seems that you are pretty much addressing the same constituency. Would you sometime in the future consider a similar move where you encourage responsible students to start running for elections in schools and colleges to not only lessen the hold of criminal elements in grassroots level politics but to also encourage middle class, educated people who usually do not consider politics as a career choice?
C’shekhar: We don’t have a structure right now for those kind of things. As I said earlier, we have limited resources and whatever we get we will throw it in the field. People are giving a lot more support than we expected. I don’t make promises that we can change the system but it all depends upon the support of the people.
Question: Are you in general a supporter of globalization or your ideology more in tune with the “Swadeshi” line of thinking?
C’shekhar: I’ve been writing about it, for instance the theory of justice. This is a topic that requires a more nuanced explanation and I have been working on preparing some formal documents on this topic which will eventually be available through our website. But in short you don’t have to stick to a theme. On any issue you do what is good for the people regardless of being an ideological demagogue. For example Indian industry will need some protection but we also need foreign companies for the latest technology and to encourage competition.
Question: What do you think about people who oppose any sort of relocation of people for industrial growth (for example Arundhati Roy)? Are you against any kind of industrialization that leads to people being removed from the land that they have occupied for years?
C’shekhar: Relocation of people for supporting growth is a fact and cannot be wished away. What is important is that there be justice and transparency in the manner in which government interacts with the people who are getting displaced. Growth will lead to conflicts in the society but they need to be dealt in a fair manner. Some people will never agree to change but we cannot stop progress for them. For example, the road that leads from my village to town is U shaped because the farmer refused to release the land. But interest of a few people cannot be used to obstruct a dam or an industrial development that will help the society as a whole. Bottom line is that you cannot set a fix policy without taking into considerations local parameters.
Question: People in India usually hold politicians responsible for holding India back. But it is also true that people get the leaders that they deserve and that decisions are made by people who show up. Middle class Indians are notorious for not showing up. Not only do middle class Indians don’t consider politics as a profession, they also as a demographic, vote less in percentage terms. Is your step a wake up call to the educated in India to take up the task of cleaning up politics on their own rather than playing the blame game?
C’shekhar: Of course people should be responsible. But people are less interested because they have lost hope. We have been observing this pattern that people don’t come forward because they have lost faith. It is not a question of class. If you’ve not been on the ground it is hard to understand the level of hopelessness. You don’t get the information from media. The facts are distorted and missing in media. Popular voting is constantly going down, people are losing faith in democracy but media does not always report it.
Question: You say that people are losing hope but then what about the rapid economic growth? With 7-8% economic growth, all the multinational companies in a mad rush to set up centers in India, it seems to me that an average college graduate has a much better chances of getting a job compared to five years ago. Why should they be hopeless?
C’shekhar: On the ground there are still people who need to be taken care of. People who can speak English are the ones getting most of these new jobs but are they representative of India? That is a miniscule percentage of the population of India. My classmates from the school village school are still hardly earning anything. Call center and outsourcing opportunities are limited to people who can speak English. Media tries to highlight just this success story and not talk about people who don’t speak English in villages. For the media, the story is people getting jobs in call centers or outsourcing industry, going to new malls etc., but is that population a good representation of Indian ground reality?
Question: Politics in India can get violent and Tanmay himself was roughed up sometime ago in Udaipur by local police. If your party starts winning elections, you can certainly expect some kind of violent reaction from the entrenched political class. Are you mentally prepared for that?
C’shekhar: We are aware of that kind of activity and inspite of that we have entered this arena so we are psychologically prepared for this. We are prepared for such outcomes. I do understand that there are risks involved but something has to be done by somebody.
Question: Finally, with all the media attention focused on your new effort, you must be overwhelmed by the emails and telephone calls. I am sure many of us would only be too glad to help you out as much as we can. If people want to help you with things like maintaining your website or creating a donation channel through an online service like Pay Pal I am sure that you just have to say the word. If anyone wants to help you out, should they just send you an email at the address listed at your website?
C’shekhar: We are preparing the structure on how we can receive all the help. People should keep visiting the website. We of course welcome any kind of help that we can get. Right now I am taking care of maintaining our website but if we can get a professional website developer to take the responsibility of maintaining our website and/or setting up an online donation system as a way to help us then I would certainly welcome that.