Published August 16-19, 2022
She stood up to address 542 of her colleagues in the Lok Sabha. All were women, all under 55 years of age, none with any political background, none affiliated to any political party. Just a few weeks ago, they had all swept to victory in the national elections – a historic outcome unseen in democratic elections globally. Individually and together, they had defeated every political party – national and regional, old and new. The resounding mandate for them was for a promise of a “Nayi Disha” for India. And that is what She, first among equals and voted by her fellow MPs to lead as Prime Minister, would speak about.
“Friends and fellow citizens, I thank you for the mandate and the confidence in each one of us. It is time for a new beginning, a new direction for India. For far too long, we have been under the shadow of policies that have kept people poor, politics that have constantly divided us, and politicians who have enriched themselves at our expense – all three reminiscent of what the British colonial rulers did to us. 77 years after 1947, we now have our first opportunity to move from independence to freedom. With a Swatantra Lok Sabha. Free from the clutches of the politicians and their parties, India’s biggest enemies. Because by preventing wealth creation, they weakened our borders. Because by preventing prosperity, they created generation after generation that was enslaved by the state. By restricting your freedom, they gave themselves the power to extract and exploit. It is time for change, a Nayi Disha. For you and for India.
“As promised in our Nayi Disha Agenda which you have voted for, here are the first 5 decisions taken by my government to see you free and on the path to prosperity. First, Dhan Vapasi. You voted for 543 Lakshmis. It is now our turn to make sure your Lakshmi is returned to you. Every one of you who signed up to receive your wealth back will start getting it. And for those who did not, it is still not late to sign up. We will start monetising the public assets and returning the money to you. It was always yours in the first place. You are free to do what you wish with the money that you will receive each year. Our calculations show that for the next several years, every family will get Rs 1 lakh annually. This is what we call Dhan Vapasi. Use this wisely to build your future.
“Second, tax cuts. No tax will exceed 10% — from income tax to corporate tax to GST. This will leave more money in your hands. Money with you is far more productive than in the hands of the government. We believe that together with Dhan Vapasi, the tax cuts will spur consumption, investments and growth – which in turn will drive job creation.
“Third, we will remove all barriers that prevent entrepreneurship from functioning smoothly. From agriculture to education, from manufacturing to services, from gaming to crypto, the government will not dictate what businesses should do. Each of you is not just a voter but also an active participant in the market. Your actions will guide entrepreneurs on what they should make. The government’s job is to be a referee and ensure a level playing field for all.
“Fourth, we will ensure speedy justice and contract enforcement. For too long, the wheels of justice have moved far too slowly. We will invest in creating an efficient legal system, because that is a necessary condition for doing business.
“Finally, non-discrimination. No more pandering, no more special rights and benefits. We are all Indians under the same flag. Freedom in our educational and religious institutions has been hindered by mistakes made in the Constitution. We will change this. Our government will be prohibited from discriminating among citizens. No special status will be granted for any individual or group based on their religious, caste, or linguistic background.
“This is our Nayi Disha, an agenda for freedom and prosperity. India has a lot of catching up to do. Without economic strength we will always be weak on every other front. For the first time, you are truly free. Go out and create prosperity and a better future for yourself and your family. That is the best you can do for the country. Shubh Labh. Ghar Lao Lakshmi. Jai Hind.”
She looked back at the movement that had transformed the political landscape of India. Just eighteen months ago, it did not even exist. There was no face, no leader, no organisation. Just an idea in the hearts and minds of many that the country was not headed in the right direction. It wasn’t the doing of a single government or party. Each one, through the years and decades, had built on the missteps of the other. With a world battered first by the pandemic and then the war, the twin scourges of inflation and recession had made life increasingly difficult. Jobs were hard to come by, especially for new graduates. The government was ill-equipped to address these challenges. Their point-solution approach only made the problems worse. The young, women and poor were the hardest hit. The hope that tomorrow would be better than today started ebbing away. With economic troubles came the increasing political rabble-rousing. While a vocal minority lapped it up and amplified it via their social networks, the silent majority started realising that this was not going to create jobs and opportunities for them or their families.
It was against this backdrop that the Nayi Disha app was launched. It came with a simple premise: if you were not aligned with any political party, you should join the “United Voters of India” movement. Any change in India had to be brought about by the voters. With two-thirds of Indians either non-aligned or not voting, a “vote as one” approach could bring about real change. Not much action was needed; just download the app and join the online community. When the membership reached 10% of the eligible voters, the next phase of Nayi Disha would be made public. Of course, there was an economic incentive: Dhan Vapasi. Signing up for Nayi Disha also made one eligible for the wealth return program should a government be formed. Signing up more people advanced the annual date for the wealth return. This drove word-of-mouth virality. In the early stages. It was just like buying a lottery ticket with the possibility of a big future payoff. Who could say No?
In normal circumstances, the app would probably not have got any traction. But these were getting to be extraordinary times. People were looking for alternatives, but unable to articulate what they wanted. Nayi Disha offered such a hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. And so, the app spread. Person-to-person. It took about six months to reach the 10% threshold for the next phase: the unveiling of the five-point Nayi Disha agenda. Dhan Vapasi, tax cuts, freedom for businesses, speedy justice, and non-discrimination. Each one of these ideas was contrary to the direction: a hapless government was increasing taxes and taking away hard-earned wealth, interventions were making it harder to do business, the law and order system was being compromised at many different levels, and discrimination continued to be rife as political parties played games to stay in power.
It wasn’t long before the 10% user base for Nayi Disha rose to 20%. The curiosity levels in people were increasing. What would come next?
The final phase of the Nayi Disha power roadmap was made public when the membership reached 20%. The rules of engagement were put forth. With 20% committed voters, there was still a lot of ground to cover to win elections. But there was enough momentum that the possibility could be imagined. When the membership hit 30% in a constituency, primaries would be held to decide the candidate who could represent the Nayi Disha base. What was unusual were the criteria put forth. Only women could contest; they had to be under 55 years of age; they had to have minimum education qualifications (12th standard completion); they could not have contested any previous election on a political party ticket. There would also be term limits: no person could serve more than two terms in the same position.
At first, the constraints freaked out some people. Women only? Education requirements? Age bar? This was discrimination! For an agenda which spoke about non-discrimination and treating all Indians the same, this was hypocrisy!
It was then that the Nayi Disha Papers started getting published. Modeled on the lines of the Federalist Papers written in the US to garner support in favour of the Constitution in the late 1780s, these papers explained the logic of each of the criteria. They also went further and laid out the roadmap for a future Nayi Disha government.
At the outset, it was clear that to win against the formidable incumbents needed a very different strategy. Playing by the existing rules of the game and creating yet another political party would make no difference. Instead, every contestant would be an Independent. This way, it was a bottom-up movement and it would stay that way. Once elected, the Independents would choose their leader – much like many political parties do. (The late 2022 example of the British Conversative Party was put forth.)
Women made up half the Indian population, and yet were barely represented in the Lok Sabha – just 1 in 7 MPs was a woman, and many among them were there as members of a political family. Women had an equal vote share and yet were ignored when it came to governance. An extreme idea to only have women candidates could potentially galvanise women voters.
The age criteria was put because India is a young nation. The average age of its citizens is 25 years. To face future challenges, it needed MPs who could relate to the problems faced by the youth and then work to address them. Politicians in their 70s who refused to let go were not what the nation needed.
Education is important because it makes one think independently. Without the ability to read and write fluently, an elected MP would always be dependent on someone else – and that would not be right in the Lok Sabha. Of course, less educated leaders have reached high positions in politics but their narrow world view has been the bane of Indian politics and economic decision-making.
The decision to ensure no political baggage amongst candidates was taken to eliminate turncoats. Nayi Disha needed fresh thinking – not an opportunistic switching of career politicians who saw which way the wind was blowing.
As the persuasive explanations made their way to people, support started increasing even further for Nayi Disha. It was seen as a real disruptor with a real potential to transform India. Women matching the criteria started applying for contesting primaries.
The primaries process for candidate selection was all digital via the Nayi Disha app. As candidate after candidate was announced, even the laggard constituencies caught up, and very soon and much before the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, all 543 candidates had been identified. These were women who until a few months ago were leading their regular lives. The excitement and opportunity to do something about India’s future had brought them to the forefront. As their profiles started becoming public, even the naysayers started coming around. Here were qualified Indians (who just happened to be educated women without a political background) who stood a good chance of transforming India – provided they could win the elections against the established national and regional parties.
She was one of those 543. Till mid-2023, she had been working as a marketing executive in one of India’s fast-growing startups. Her dream then was to become an entrepreneur and build her own company. And then along came Nayi Disha’s app. She signed up. Her love for reading since childhood and public speaking in college helped her rise through the ranks. She came into her own in the digital debates. Her sharp intellect and calm rebuttals shone through, and she made her way up to win her primary. She won people over with her distinctive articulation of the Nayi Disha agenda. “This election is about you and your future. You are capable of a lot but have been chained by government rules. Politicians and their parties kept you poor. They make money in your name. They take away many times more than what they give you. You don’t need the government welfare schemes as a crutch. You need Dhan Vapasi and the economic freedom that the Nayi Disha agenda will bring you. For the next few years, the single focus we in India need is wealth creation. Not A vs B, not India v China. It is not a zero-game. For you to get more, you have to work so others also become better off. This desire and drive for betterment is what should drive us all.”
She was one among the 543 candidates. Similar stories of passion and persuasion were played out across the country. This was a new kind of politics. There was no single leader, no God-like face. But hundreds of local leaders, each supported by thousands. What had started off as an app had become a movement, an irresistible and unstoppable force for change and good. It blew away everything in its path – every established leader and party was soundly defeated in the 2024 elections.
She won the internal battle for leadership to become Prime Minister. She had just made her first speech in Parliament. The agenda was clear. She represented the hopes for a billion Indians – hungry for change, seeking jobs and opportunities, wanting a tomorrow better than today. She was going to make it happen. She, with her 542 colleagues, would transform India.