How to kill your own movement (Part 2)
A few days ago, I wrote a post criticizing Arvind Kejriwal’s actions. This was something fuelled primarily by anger. Since then, I’ve calmed down somewhat and can approach things a bit more objectively. I still stand by my statements that the IAC needs to get its act together. But today I’m going to specify what exactly that means. Before I begin, I would like to make this absolutely clear: I do NOT claim to be an expert of any sort. Everything I propose is strictly a matter of opinion. As such, any student of history would come to the same conclusions I have.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. – Mark Twain
First things first, the IAC is a movement. This is a movement which has been a long time in coming but like all popular movements of its ilk, it is subject to the same forces of support and opposition that all movements are subject to. History has shown that for any movement to be successful, whether it is by gradual reforms or outright revolution, certain conditions need to exist (general unrest, income disparity, restrictions on freedom etc). By and large, these conditions already to exist within India, if not the world in general. In other words, this part of the equation is covered. The other side of the equation is a bit more elaborate. When the right conditions exist, any successful movement will have to exploit those conditions by undertaking specific actions. It is imperative to realize here that these are not optional. They are not things that can be looked at later. They need to happen simultaneously and with decisiveness.
There has never been a single movement in human history that succeeded without a powerful leader. Nehru in India, Castro in Cuba, Napoleon in France, Hitler in Germany, Mandela in South Africa, Lenin in Russia, Taken individually, there is enough variation in their personalities to think they have nothing in common. Yet, these were more than just people. They were leaders. More than that, they were symbols. Regardless of how one feels about the actions of these individuals, there is no debating the success of the movements headed by them (political or military).
If the IAC has any hopes of succeeding in its mission, they need a strong leader. Don’t get me wrong, despite his missteps, I admire Mr. Kejriwal. He is undoubtedly a well educated, intelligent and brave man. But I can’t help but shake my head when I hear him speak. Where is the passion? The all important charisma?
In contrast, listen to Che Guevara.
It’s hard not be impressed. Even if there were no subtitles, there is no questioning the man’s power. I do not need to speak Spanish to see the fire in his eyes.
Is the comparison a fair one? Of course not. Mr. Kejriwal is who he is. But the movement needs a face that can quite simply, MOVE people. Unfortunately, Arvind Kejriwal is not it. They better find one soon because fair or not, history will not care.
This ties in with leadership. The use of symbols is way more powerful than most people would like to believe. Theres a reason why flag burning is such a popular means of showing anger. Symbolism is one of the cornerstones of all religions too. Think about the feelings evoked by simple seeing a crucifix or swastika. The rationality of these emotions is irrelevant; the point is they act as something psychologists call “anchors”. In other words, they are a very potent means of evoking specific emotions. What has the IAC chosen as its symbol? The Nehru cap. The very thing worn by half the people the IAC is trying to bring down.
I’ll give them credit, it is powerful. At the very least, it is impossible to not be worried by it. To me, the Nehru cap is the ultimate symbol for everything that is wrong with the Indian political establishment. Nehru might have worn with pride in the 40s but it meant something else back then. I don’t know about anyone else but the second I see one today, it makes my stomach turn. At the very least, they should change it somehow. Especially since Anna Hazare is no longer formally associated with the IAC.
The negative connotation of the word notwithstanding, propaganda is integral to the success of any movement. All of advertising is propaganda. As is virtually all forms of marketing. This wouldn’t even be that hard for the IAC to do given the power of the internet. We all know that the parliament is full of thieves; all that needs doing is spreading that message in a more cohesive manner. Exposing scams is all well and good, but placing the IAC as the only effective means of combating corruption is absolutely essential. Think of it at product placement if propaganda rubs you the wrong way. If the IAC is serious about making itself popular with the young crowd for example, it needs to do it in way that makes it seem “cool”. How it does that is up to them. But pretty much everything short of lying is fair game. Celebrity endorsements, ad spots if at all possible, social media, the whole nine yards.
This is a big one. In many ways I can’t blame the IAC for the lack of this right now. The movement has only just started. There isn’t a real office to speak of (that might actually be a good thing) right now and there is definitely a lack of structure. My biggest concern is the lack of background checks on anyone that signs up. This is mind numbingly careless. What’s to keep a bunch of thugs on some parties payroll from masquerading as AIC activists only to set cars on fire at their next protest? Think of the damage it would do to the movement’s image. This brings me to the next important point.
As mentioned earlier, the IAC members are new at this thing. This means they are likely to make mistakes (they already have). A little leeway can be given but it’s only a matter of time before something major happens. It could be a misconstrued statement, an honest mistake, a manufactured allegation or a myriad of other things. Mr. Kejriwal is already at the receiving end of these. Yet there seems to be no dedicated team to handle such situations. One of the catchphrases of the IAC is the “The final war against corruption”. As I mentioned before, if this is in fact “final” can they afford to take chances? If anything, I’m surprised by the fact that the government has not exploited this in a major way already.
The nature of the IAC makes it so it is attractive to people from all walks of life. Creed, religious affiliations and so on do not matter. But the popularity of the movement is going to draw the occasional trouble maker. Anna Hazare lost a lot of traction the second he let a saffron donning yogi hijack his cause. It’s only a matter of time before some other idiot tries that with the IAC. Under no circumstances must this be allowed to happen. From all accounts, this seems to be covered rather well by Mr. Kejriwal as demonstrated by his recent treatment of the BJP. Let us hope this continues. Even so, the movement needs more valuable allies to survive in the long run. In particular, the lack of popular support from academics and the press is most distressing. Above all, the movement MUST distance itself from any religious figure. Not doing so will provide an opening that even a five year old could attack.
BEFRIEND THE ARMY
This one is tricky. Unfortunately, it is also absolutely essential. Ultimately, the only reason any government can stay in power in spite of being universally hated, is because when all else fails, they can order a bunch of dudes with guns to “calm” the population. Yes I know I’m oversimplifying. I know it would be career suicide for any high ranking general to openly support the IAC for example. But there is nothing to keep the movement from being appreciative of the armed forces. I would mention the police here but we all know they are little more than hired muscle in most cases. Of the few honest policemen we have, almost none make it to a position of real power. Open support from the army is not needed, but it sends any government a very clear message when its soldiers refuse to fire on its own citizens, i.e., it’s over. This can only happen if feelers are sent early on.
This is by no means a complete list but does cover the basics. These are the absolute essentials that need to addressed and addressed NOW. Every second the IAC delays in this is another second its opposition has to contain the situation. And that is something the country can ill afford.
I came across your blog, looking at some other article. Browsed a bit and came across this article.
It was written in october 2012, do you still have the same opinion ? or is it that the same has undergone some change. I ask because, I am in some disagreement with your interpretation of various events. And also whether he (Mr. Kejriwal) & team is handling the event right.
So before I share my point of view, I wanted to know if you still carry same opinion.
Apologies for the tardy reply. In very simple terms, I have reversed some of my opinions (“some” being the operative word). Kejriwal has certainly grown into his role as a leader and though there are certain aspects of his speech I would like to see changed, he is definitely a lot bolder. This is heartening to see. Party organisation seems to be a tad better but the website is still a joke. PR wise things still need to improve and improve a LOT. There is still no propaganda campaign or a damage control team that I know of. So in short, the AAP is on the right track but I can’t shake the feeling that the only reason they are still around is because none of the big political players perceive them as a genuine threat. And THAT is pretty telling in my opinion.
I have not activated “comment followup email” else I would have got to know about your reply sooner, and replied earlier!
See, as far as Kejriwal is concerned. there are major gaps in his campaign. but here’s the interesting part: irrespective of the campaign, many are still going to vote for this guy, and not other established political parties.
Of course, voters would still need to be wooed. In my opinion, and am sure there many who would differ, but having a website, being a public speaker, etc etc really are not at top of the list.
the main reason being the guy can differentiate himself on simple basis issues such as water and electricity.
Had the political class consisted of people who were good leaders, then maybe such issues, which in my opinion are tertiary, would have come into play.
In the present scenario, that is not the case.
So this guy gets votes as long he shows himself a viable alternative to the present leadership.
electorally, I would be surprised if he ends of winning elections this time around. or even make an impact. but at least its a start. I state so on the basis of success/ failure of first generation self made leaders in politics.