Published July 31-August 12, 2021
I have written earlier about United Voters of India (UVI), as the mechanism to mobilise the NANVs (non- aligned and non-voters) to build a bottom-up movement to create a Lok Sabha of Independents in the next elections as the first step to transform India into a free and prosperous nation: The Logic of Collective Action and Constructing the Collective. In this series, I want to discuss how we can mobilise a few lakh people in every Lok Sabha constituency to create the collective that can defeat candidates from the mainstream political parties. The big idea: community organising.
I first came across the term “community organising” when I was studying Obama’s 2008 campaign for new ideas in ground mobilisation in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Obama himself was a community organiser. He built a huge volunteer network across the US that transformed political campaigning. In India, we had seen mass mobilisation in the past few decades – Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the 1990s and India Against Corruption (2011) come to mind. Political parties mobilise huge numbers for their campaigns in every election. The operative word is “mobilise” as opposed to “organise” – and there is a big difference, as we shall see.
For UVI to succeed, it will need to be driven at the grassroots level – neighbourhood by neighbourhood. This will require an organising model very different from the top-down approaches that we normally associate with movements. Without a single tall leader issuing diktats from the top, it will require a self-organising approach with a network of local leaders who focus on persuading people in smaller groups.
I had spent quite some time thinking about community organising during 2015-18 when I was working on Nayi Disha. But we never got it right and the project eventually failed. Maybe the ideas of freedom and prosperity did not resonate, maybe I did not do enough to spread them to a large audience, maybe our outreach was flawed. Post-pandemic India will be different – many speak now in hushed tones (WhatsApp and Signal calls!) about the need for an alternative to the current political dispensation – “anyone but them”. But as I wrote recently, the alternative we seek should not be another political party (or a coalition of the also-corrupt-and-incompetent). What we need is a movement that frees India from the clutches of all politicians and their political parties.
This is where UVI as the organising idea comes in. UVI will need an organising model to harness the power of people at the local level – this is where community organising (or just ‘organising’) comes in. It is an idea which is relatively new in India, but there have been variants in the shakha-based approach used by Shiva Sena and RSS. (I had discussed covered this in my series on Circles earlier.) Done right, it goes beyond membership and money; it can be the lever to transform grassroot politics and activism, and deliver the Nayi Disha Indians need.
What It Is
Britannica on community organising: “In community organizing, members of communities are organized to act collectively on their shared interests. Saul Alinsky is commonly recognized as the founder of community organizing. Alinsky emerged as a community organizer in the second half of the 1930s. His thinking about organizing was strongly influenced by the militant labour movement in the United States emerging at the time. Alinsky’s approach emphasized democratic decision making, the development of indigenous leadership, the support of traditional community leaders, addressing people’s self-interest, use of conflict strategies, and fighting for specific and concrete results.”
Dave Beckwith and Cristina Lopez write: “Community organizing is the process of building power through involving a constituency in identifying problems they share and the solutions to those problems that they desire; identifying the people and structures that can make those solutions possible; enlisting those targets in the effort through negotiation and using confrontation and pressure when needed; and building an institution that is democratically controlled by that constituency that can develop the capacity to take on further problems and that embodies the will and the power of that constituency. Heather Booth, founder of the Midwest Academy and legendary community organizer, expressed the fundamentals in this formula: OOO = Organizers Organize Organizations.”
Hahrie Han: “I’ve always thought about the challenge of pulling people off the sidelines into public life in a way that makes them real agents of change, realizing their own interests – as opposed to consumers of something else. And that can happen through elections, or through traditional community organizing, or through unions, or elsewhere.” More: “Democracy is a muscle. Just as babies have to strengthen their leg muscles to walk, we all have to develop the skills we need to act collectively to achieve our common interests. We must invest in the organizations and movements that can equip people in that way. Only then will people become the source of resilience we need to protect democracy.”
Michelle Oyakawa: “[Organising] begins with people building relationships with each other and learning to transform those relationships into power to make the change that they want…People are not only struggling with powerful institutions and social forces, they are also wrestling with themselves to find the courage to take action. Organizations can help leaders navigate this and provide them with support and a vehicle to make their voice heard…When people come together, build connections with one another, take action repeatedly and reflect on it together afterwards, they can create a better world for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
A final quote from Marshall Ganz: “Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty. Organizing is leadership that enables people to turn the resources they have into the power they need to make the change they want.”
Mobilising vs Organising
Marshall Ganz explains the difference between mobilising and organising: “Leadership in organizing is based on relationships. This is a key difference between mobilizing and organizing. When we mobilize we access and deploy a person’s resources, for example, their time to show up at a rally, their ability to “click” to sign a petition (or their signature), of their money. But when we organize we are actually building new relationships which, in turn, can become a source not only of a particular resource, but of leadership, commitment, imagination, and, of course, more relationships. In mobilizing, the “moment of truth” is when we ask, can I count on you to be there, give me $5.00, and sign the petition. In organizing the “moment of truth” is when two people have learned enough about each other’s interests, resources, and values not only to make an “exchange” but also to commit to working together on behalf of a common purpose. Those commitments, in turn, can generate new teams, new networks, and new organizations that, in turn, can mobilize resources over and over and over again.”
Here is more from Hahrie Han in her book, “How Organizations Develop Activists”:
Mobilizing [is] transactional activism. A transactional approach to activism focuses on the quantifiable indicators of the numbers of people who take action—how many people clicked on a link, looked at a page, attended a meeting, made phone calls, or contacted an elected official?… Because it focuses on achieving transactional goals, mobilizing conceptualizes the relationship between the activist and the civic association as an exchange relationship. Exchange theory says that the relationship between activists and associations is based on exchanging resources that each has to offer the other… In this framework, the job of an association leader is to maximize transactional outcomes by creating volunteer work that is as costless as possible. Because time and effort are the most valuable resources activists have, the goal is to make the work quick and easy so that more people will do it… When associations are focused on making activism as cost-free as possible for the volunteers, they tend to provide only the technical and material needs activists have.
Organizing [is] transformational activism. In contrast to transactional outcomes, transformational outcomes focus on the ways that collective action changes the affects, outlooks, and other orientations of individuals and groups. Examples include the increasing ability of people to see beyond their own self-interest, shifts in beliefs about their own agency, or changes in public opinion. Organizers focus on transformational outcomes because these changes make it more likely that people will become leaders within the association, working not only to achieve associational outcomes, but also to recruit others to do so. In transformational organizing, the goal is not only to get work out of the activist in the short term but also to invest in developing the activist’s capacity to act… A key assumption in transformational organizing is that the interpersonal relationships activists have are the locus of leadership development and transformation… Transformational approaches to organizing, in contrast, conceptualize participation as the product of dynamic social interactions and seek to create participatory opportunities that maximize the quantity and quality of those interactions.
Here is a nice comparison from Advocacy Iceberg:
Jason Mogus connects organising and mobilising: “Organizing is building your power. Mobilizing is spending your power.”
In other words, mobilising is about transactions and organising is about relationships. Central to the idea of organising is the idea of self-us-now.
Central to the persuasion process that is at the heart of organising and relationship building is the concept of the public narrative. Marshall Ganz refers to it as “an exercise of leadership by motivating others to join you in action on behalf of a shared purpose. Although this worksheet focuses on your “story of self”, the goal is to identify sources of your own calling to the purpose in which you will call upon others (story of us) to join you in action (story of now).”
More from Ganz on telling one’s public story:
Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our values through the language of the heart, our emotions. And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage to act.
By telling our personal stories of challenges we have faced, choices we have made, and what we learned from the outcomes we can inspire others and share our own wisdom. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.
A good story public story is drawn from the series of choice points that have structured the “plot” of your life – the challenges you faced, choices you made, and outcomes you experienced.
- Challenge: Why did you feel it was a challenge? What was so challenging about it? Why was it your challenge?
- Choice: Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you get the courage – or not? Where did you get the hope – or not? How did it feel?
- Outcome: How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?
A public story includes three elements:
A story of self: why you were called to what you have been called to.
A story of us: what your constituency, community, organization has been called to its shared purposes, goals, vision.
A story of now: the challenge this community now faces, the choices it must make, and the hope to which “we” can aspire.
This graphic from Ganz captures the interlinkages in the story:
These ideas were applied to great success in Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign.
Obama 2008 – 1
In his paper about the Obama 2008 campaign, Marshall Ganz wrote about the five key elements of organising practice: narrative, relationship, structure, strategy, and action:
- Organizing rooted in bringing people together around shared values, the work of public narrative
- Organizing based on relationships based on mutual commitments to work together on behalf of common interests
- Organizing structure based on team leadership, rather than individual leadership, shared purpose, clear norms, and well defined roles
- Organizing focused on a few clear strategic objectives, as a way to turn those values into action
- Organizing outcomes that are clear, measurable, and specific allowing for evaluation, accountability, and real time adaptation based on experience
Ganz had this to say about the success of the Obama campaign:
Many factors contribute to a campaign as successful as the Obama campaign – fund raising, paid media, earned media, scheduling, targeting, luck, etc. But by investing in an organizing program the Obama campaign departed sharply from what had become the conventional way to run campaigns: marketing. This was a wise choice because for the insurgent Obama candidacy a conventional approach could only have strengthened the hand of the candidate with more conventional resources – his opponent.
… When Obama introduced himself to the nation at the Democratic National Convention in August, 2004, he inspired a nationwide constituency by telling a story of his own calling, reminding us of our calling as a people, confronted us with urgent challenges to that calling, and inspired us to make choices we must make to realize our vision of who we are: a story of hope, a ―public narrative… Obama‘s gift – and skill – for telling this story of hope created the potential for a movement especially among the young, a movement of ―moral reform‖ in the best American tradition. But it could not happen if it were not organized.
…A highly motivated constituency, rooted especially, but not only, in the young, moved by a story of hope that engaged their values and drew them to candidate and campaign was transformed into a very powerful electoral force. To be sure, the financial resources generated to support this effort were extraordinary, but other campaigns have raised lots of money and not used it in this way. This effort was able to combine the enthusiasm, contagion, and motivation of a movement, with the discipline, focus, and organization that it takes to win.
Young (and old) India will need to borrow ideas from the Obama 2008 campaign, unite to kindle hope, and work for change in the coming years.
Obama 2008 – 2
Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han write about Obama’s use of organizing as the model for building a grassroots movement in the 2008 campaign in their book, “Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America”:
Obama for America (OFA) made a long-term, organizational investment in developing the leadership potential of volunteers…Working with volunteers, however, is not easy. For decades, most campaigns relied more heavily on staff because, they thought, only paid staff could be pushed to put in the long tedious hours needed to make voter contact. Volunteers were considered too risky because they could not be depended on to show up consistently or to produce the phone calls and door knocks the candidate needed. As one campaign manager for a 2010 congressional race said, “It is more important that we do field [voter contact] than that we have volunteers do it.”11 In short, many political campaigns did not entrust their volunteers with meaningful responsibilities.
The OFA leaders we interviewed described the gamble they had taken. They bet that if they developed the motivations, skills, and capacities of ordinary Americans to organize their communities, they could win. They bet that with volunteers, they could enfranchise, persuade, and turn out more voters than the opposition. They bet, in other words, that they could do with local volunteers what most previous campaigns had done with staff. One Ohio training document from 2008 read, “Volunteer recruitment and retention is the most important aspect of our field program. We cannot achieve the sheer volume of what we need in order to win without their help.”
Ohio field organizer Tony Speare explained, “Rather than trying to do all the work ourselves, the idea was to spend the majority of our time building up volunteer teams and then making them self-sufficient so that by the end of the campaign, volunteers were calling other volunteers to recruit them. They were running all the trainings. They were entering all the data. They were making all the phone calls, knocking on all the doors. And by the end, the last four days we were able to remove ourselves and just coordinate with all of the teams but let them run their own operation.”
The Obama volunteers thus became the groundbreakers who demonstrated the power of an alternative way of running field campaigns in America.
One of the key elements of the organising model was a structure called “snowflakes”.
In nature, snowflakes are six-sided crystals. They connect together to form beautiful interconnecting patterns. The snowflake model in community organising uses the same basic idea of connected units to enable distributed leadership and local activity.
Writes Brendan Tobin: “It is no more complex than each local chapter of an organization which is self-organizing with its own leader and degree of autonomy. The local chapters are all similar in this sense and they relate to a regional head office or national head office.”
The graphic below from Mark Trainer shows how it resembles a snowflake “In the example below, the dark blue figures represent regional organizers who each interact with two green figures (representing community coordinators), who each interact with five community members (light blue).”
Brendan elaborates on the benefits:
- Local organizers know their area better and have better relationships in the community – take advantage of that.
- It is not possible to manage large distributed teams directly from a logistical or performance standpoint.
- Grassroots teams want autonomy in what they do, they may not want to have to set everything up themselves or figure out all the details but they do want to have control over the way things run in their area.
- Chapter management means learning from each other, especially if the head office has the data to compare and contrast performance.
Mark quotes Adrienne Lever: “People — and not just around election cycles — have been able to find power in building numbers by talking to people one person at a time. By working on changing one heart and mind, you build an exponential power base, and that’s how you change your environment and your world, ultimately.”
Aaron Wherry quotes Jennifer Hollett in a column on the snowflake model: “It’s leaders building leaders, so it’s a totally different approach, and it’s a practice of leadership more than anything. I think a traditional way of running a campaign, or a business or any type of social movement, is you have one person calling all the shots and telling people what to do. You have one formal leader and then a top-down structure. With the snowflake model, you do have someone in the centre—in this case you have a campaign manager and a candidate—but by giving people opportunities to take on leadership and then train other leaders, you’re building something much larger, where people feel invested and feel like they’re part of something. In return, you get more from those volunteers.”
This is exactly what is needed for UVI – local chapters with community organisers who tap volunteers via the self-us-now narrative, who in turn cultivate deep relationships in the communities to identify and unite non-aligned and non-voters into a voting bloc to change India.
In their book, New Power, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms write: “Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”
Here is a comparison of old power and new power from an article by them in HBR:
I had written this a couple years ago: “Old Power is held by a few, is pushed down, is commanded, is closed and is transactional. Using Old Power, political parties have stolen our freedom and our wealth. New Power is made by many, pulled in, shared, open and based on relationships. New Power does not need a political party, it needs a technology platform to connect us all together. With New Power, we can make political parties irrelevant…We the people are at the heart of the New Power which can disrupt the political parties. We are the 70 crore voters who are not attached to any of the political parties. We are in the majority, we are 2 of every 3 eligible voters.”
UVI is about new power; it combines organising, relationships, the story of self-us-now and snowflakes. We need to build UVI chapters in every building, neighbourhood and village in India with an aim to win every polling booth at the time of elections. There is going to be no single supreme commander to guide us; we are our own leaders. We have to do it because we deserve better, because we have had enough of our politicians fooling and killing us. We are the alternative, and this movement has to be built by us because we need freedom from our politicians and their parties for our future prosperity.
A new book by Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa shows that the power of successful movements most often is rooted in their ability to act as “prisms of the people,” turning participation into political power just as prisms transform white light into rainbows. UVI must become the prism that transforms our votes into a Nayi Disha for India. So what is it that each of us can do to make UVI a reality?
Let’s start by summarising the key ideas so far.
- Organising has the potential to harness the power of people to change minds and channel votes
- The public narrative via the story of self-us-now to create a sense of purpose, community, and urgency
- The snowflake model enables distributed organisation building by leveraging relationships each of us have
- This requires each of us to step forward to lead. We need multiple leaders and not one person at the top
- The community that is thus organised works for what is important for them and the larger goal
Let’s also understand what we need to do in UVI.
- Our objective is to free every Lok Sabha constituency from the political parties and politicians to form a government that prioritises freedom and prosperity, as opposed to keep us caged and poor
- To do this, we need to create a voting bloc big enough to prevail over the mainstream party candidate in the constituency
- There is a pool of 67% of eligible voters to be targeted – these are either non-aligned or non-voters
- From this, we need to persuade half, giving us a coalition of about a third of the voters who commit to vote as one
- This united voting bloc will win over any other candidate in India’s first-past-the-vote system
Community organising is the mechanism to make these voting blocs happen and make UVI the most powerful force in the next elections. A combination of in-person persuasion and digital coordination is what is needed. Each of us who believes that Indians deserve a different and better future – free and prosperous rather than caged and poor – need to participate in some way to bring UVI to life. There is no single commander who will tell us what to do. We need to learn from each other and create our own hubs which, in an emergent manner, make the whole larger than the sum of its parts.
What is needed for each of us to act?
- We need to understand that the status quo of the current set of politicians will not put Indians on the path to prosperity
- We need to realise that the Nayi Disha we seek will not come from another politician but the alchemy of a united people
- We are running out of time: successive generations of Indian leaders have kept chipping away at our freedom, continuing on the course set by the East India Company and British colonial rule; soon a point of no-return will be reached where it will be almost impossible to even fight; this is the urgency of now
- Each of us needs to make this choice: freedom or serfdom, prosperity or poverty, now or never
- We need to recognise it is only our voluntary servitude that enables the politicians to exercise their arbitrary and absolute power over us; should we decide to rise and act in accordance with the principles of community organising and UVI, there is no force that can stop us from winning and setting a new course for India
India’s Nayi Disha will not happen on its own. We have to unite to make it happen. Our individual actions have the power to transform India. David has to defeat Goliath.
David vs Goliath
A colleague recently recommended watching “Sarkar” (Tamil; available on Netflix). It is about Sundar, an NRI who comes to India to cast his vote in the Tamil Nadu state election, only to find that someone else has already voted in his name. From there starts a series of turns and twists as Sundar unites the voters against the incumbent politicians and parties. The movie is replete with song and dance, and many unbelievable action scenes and plot elements. But there are some ideas (the “one vote revolution” – similar to UVI, a government of Independents) that stand out. The key theme: change is possible if the voters unite and vote as one. David can beat Goliath.
UVI may seem mission impossible – just as the likelihood of Barack Obama becoming President did in 2007 when he began his campaign. Conventional approaches will not get us to the outcome we want; we need to think and act differently. In an India where people are increasingly wanting better but are deeply disappointed with the options on offer, UVI and Nayi Disha can be the alternative India seeks. It will need a million leaders to rise across the nation – each a David against the local Goliaths.
In an essay, “Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements”, Marshall Ganz writes: “Leadership is accepting responsibility to create conditions that enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. Leaders accept responsibility not only for their individual “part” of the work, but also for the collective “whole.” Leaders can create conditions interpersonally, structurally, and/or procedurally. The need for leadership (a need often not met) is evident when encounters with the uncertain demand adaptive, heuristic, or innovative response: past practices are breached, new threats loom, a sudden opportunity appears, social conditions change, new technology changes the rules, and so on.”
Ganz writes about the power of the David vs Goliath story: “The story teaches us that a “little guy” with courage, resourcefulness, and imagination can beat a “big guy,” especially one with Goliath’s arrogance. We feel David’s anger, courage, and satisfaction and feel hopeful for our own lives because he is victorious. Stories thus teach how to manage our emotions, not repress them, so we can act with agency to face our own challenges.” He adds: “David committed to fight Goliath before he knew how he would do it. He knew why he had to do it before he knew how he could do it… David did not know how to use King Saul’s weapons, but he did know how to use stones as weapons… David could use his skill with stones because he had imaginatively recontextualized the battlefield, transforming it into a place where, as a shepherd, he knew how to protect his flock from wolves and bears.”
That is our challenge. We have to channel our latent leadership abilities towards the task of reclaiming our nation from the politicians and their parties, and building a free and prosperous India. We are not alone even though we feel isolated. We are not weak even as the opponents seem strong. We have the ability to lead even if we have not done it before. What we need is the courage to act with the determination to free our nation. Together, we can.
Action Plan – 1
What can each of us do to make UVI and Nayi Disha a reality?
Obama’s volunteer-driven 2008 campaign offers the best parallel. While there was some centralised planning, the campaign was powered by over 2 million volunteers. Here is Hahrie Han in her “Groundbreakers” book: “Unlike previous campaigns, the Obama field model did not rely on the party infrastructure, the labor movement, out-of-state volunteers, 527s, or a last-minute GOTV (get out the vote) blitz. Instead, in 2008, OFA (Obama for America) cobbled together an electoral-organizing strategy, one that embraced the gritty but necessary work of recruiting local volunteers and testing their voter contact capacity well in advance of the election. In so doing, OFA revived elements of the shoe-leather politics that had characterized older campaigns, even as it built on the cutting-edge mobilization research and technology that had emerged from the 2004 election… Entrusting volunteers with great responsibility is risky, however, because unpaid recruits are notorious for being unreliable. Even those who consistently show up may not have or be willing to learn the skills the campaign needs, or they may have narrow personal agendas that differ from the overarching electoral goal. How could the campaign build and maintain motivation among volunteers? What kind of support did volunteers need to do their work? How could campaign staff hold volunteers accountable?… Community organizing practices have been largely absent from modern field programs because…campaigns were often viewed as temporary machines created to get voters to the polls—not to build their capacity for leadership and collective action. OFA, by contrast, did want to build the capacity of volunteers, originally out of necessity… The campaign’s motto, “respect, empower, include,” gave OFA an aura…of being more like a social movement than an electoral campaign…The story that unfolds shows how the campaign learned to transform volunteers into an asset, and in so doing, transform the volunteers themselves.”
This is what we have to do with UVI in India.
We cannot wait till the next election to try this out. We therefore need to use the idea of primaries and a parallel government to create versions of UVI, with each new generation a leap from its predecessor. This is where the idea of Sabhas comes in. Think of Sabhas as the precursors to the actual 2024 election campaign. Versions 1 and 2 of Sabhas can be done in 2022 and 2023, offering learnings and opportunities to improve and perfect the game.
The core of UVI will need to be the Circles. Each of us has to create our own group of 10 or 20 people we inspire and recruit. They in turn can fan out and do the same, thus creating snowflakes. Each of us becomes a field organiser – tell our story of self-us-now, build relationships in our neighbourhood and communities, do small meet-ups in our homes, recruit volunteers and then make them into the next set of field organisers by helping them with the planning needed to achieve their goals. A sentence from Hahrie Han’s book captures its essence: “Tell your story, build relationships, learn to lead house meetings, build volunteer teams, and then teach people how to strategize to meet their own goals.”
Action Plan – 2
A chart from the “Groundbreakers” book shows the organising structure of the 2008 Obama campaign:
Another graphic shows how the process worked:
In Hahrie Han’s words: “After identifying prospective volunteers, the [field] organizer had to cultivate the commitment and skills of these prospects through relationships. In a one-on-one meeting, organizers would meet with volunteers in person to get to know them, identify what values they had in common, and ask the supporter to commit to taking on responsibilities within the campaign. While they took on many forms and struck a variety of tones, one-on-ones were intentional and structured conversations. Organizers were trained to use personal stories as a way of getting to know the volunteers and communicating about shared values. Once they found volunteers willing to commit to taking on responsibility, organizers would support those volunteers in hosting house meetings or leading voter contact events. These volunteer-led events were opportunities to test potential leaders to see who followed through and also identify additional potential volunteers. Once someone successfully led a voter contact event, the organizer would, ultimately, ask them to commit to a leadership role.”
It all may sound easy, but it will require hard work and commitment. Whoever said building (or reclaiming) a nation is easy! Nayi Disha, UVI, Sabhas and Circles will need training at multiple levels, continuous improvement, sustained time investment from many, and of course, funds. UVI will thus need different contributors – some can give time, others money, a few can create the tools. We have 1000 days to make it all happen; this first 100 days will be the hardest – as one has to work with a blank slate and imagine something which doesn’t exist. This is where entrepreneurs have to come in and lead UVI.
India has seen many movements and mobilisations. The 2014 campaign for Modi was one where many volunteers came together to rid India of a corrupt Congress government. But all of these past efforts have been short duration campaigns. What we need via UVI is something that will touch the core of our hearts and minds, and therefore endure over a longer timeframe. That’s why it’s not about transactions but relationships, it’s not about mobilising but organising. Done right, UVI can only lay the groundwork for change in 2024 but also beyond as we embark together on our Nayi Disha. We have to start now. There are many unknowns, many mountains to climb. One of us may not be able to do it, but together, we can. We have to. Because the next election is for the heart and soul of India.
I will end this series with my personal story. Why am I on this path? What is my purpose? What is my calling?
My journey began in late 2008 with a question a friend, Atanu, asked me a question: “Rajesh you have everything. When Abhishek (who was then 3 years old), grows up, and asks you a question, ‘Papa, you saw all that was happening around you in India, all that was going wrong. You had the time, you had the money. Why didn’t you do something about it?’, what will you answer?” It was this search which started my journey into the political space. Friends of BJP in 2009, Niti Digital from 2011-14, Free A Billion which morphed into Nayi Disha from 2015 until its closure in early 2019. Ten years in various (and eventually failed) efforts to transform India. In my early years, I thought that just getting the right leader would put India on the road to prosperity. It was a mistake. I did not understand then that politicians are all the same – their self-interest lies in power and winning elections, not in dismantling India’s anti-prosperity machine which is still intact and continues to deliver perpetually planned poverty. We need to change rules and not just rulers if we want out outcomes to change.
In the past two years, I have had time to reflect on those years and also what I want to do next. One option is to just give up because it is mission impossible; 250 years of serfdom and mental conditioning cannot be undone in 25 months. And then I remember my blog post I had written in early June 2011 – outlining a roadmap for the BJP to win a majority in the 2014 elections, an outcome none believed possible. All it took was 25 months. Which is where I come to the second option. We have to try. We have to give it our best shot to make the Indian Revolution happen so a billion Indians have the opportunity some of us have had at creating dramatically better lives for themselves and their children. And for this, sitting still and staying silent is not the answer.
I have been an entrepreneur for the past three decades. Through these years, I have attempted many ventures. A few have succeeded, many have failed. I keep looking for the next big idea. And for me, in today’s India, there is no bigger idea than a future where every Indian is free and has an opportunity to pursue a life of choice. And what I can do as an entrepreneur is to create products which offer alternatives in the political marketplace. This is where ideas like Nayi Disha and UVI come in. I am not yet prepared to give up and call it quits as a political entrepreneur. The next 1000 days will determine much more than the fate of a few politicians and their parties; they will decide whether the India our children inherit – caged and poor or free and rich.
Nayi Disha and UVI are my answers to that question from 2008. And I hope I can one day tell Abhishek, “I did it. I transformed India. With millions of others like me. So you can have a life of liberty, prosperity and infinite opportunity. Not in America, not in Singapore, but right here in India. And not just you, but every child, born or unborn, now and for times to come. This is the New India I helped create.”
This is my story. What is yours?