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If you're listening to this podcast right now, you're one of the luckiest people on the planet and no, that's not because this is an awesome podcast, which of course it is, but because you have both access to technology and the leisure time to listen with so many people who do not. We often take our good fortune for granted, which we should not, especially in India. The truth is that most people who live precarious lives, one medical emergency or natural calamity from being broke and covid-19 was one such calamity.


Millions of Indians living lives on the edge were pushed into joblessness of poverty when the lockdown hit and their work dried up. Our immediate priority then was the virus. The virus could kill you, but you also had to eat to stay alive. What if you couldn't?


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host, Ahmed Varma. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen chances are that most of you listening to this like me, don't worry about hunger. We know where our next meal is going to come from and it should cause a jolt of recognition that it's not like this for much of India. The lockdown made this clear as our cities and public service to shut down the problem of hunger exploded.


People in our slums no longer had easy access to work, no longer got paid, and they often lived from meal to meal. Are migrant workers would in an even more precarious position, finding it important to get away from the city that had abandoned them and also finding it hard to get food. My guest today, Ruben Mascarenhas, has been an activist from his early teens, throwing himself into local causes to make the world a better place when he heard about the problem of hunger.


In March last year, he got together with some fellow activists and started a campaign called Kanojia. It began by distributing more than a thousand meals on March 29 and had ramped it up to deliver 47 lakh meals. That's four point seven million meals. By August, the Fed the homeless on the streets of Mumbai. The slum dwellers who were suddenly jobless set up position in the arterial roads out of Mumbai and in its railway stations to feed migrant workers on the way out.


Rubin also ended up catching over during this time and is still feeling the after effects. I thought it was a remarkable initiative, an example of how the voluntary actions of private citizens can help society when the dysfunctional and parasitic state seems invisible. I invited Rubin to share his insights from this great campaign to feed the hungry and also from his many years in politics. Rubin is one of those activists who believes that clean politics can turbocharge activism. He worked for the India Against Corruption Movement a decade ago and is today a national joint secretary of the Army Party.


Now, I'm not a fan of this party, and I discussed some of my criticisms in an earlier episode with Ashwin Mahesh, one of India's finest public intellectuals and also a member of a I link that from the Señores.


After talking about country and local activism in the first half of this conversation, I brought up my criticism of up in the second half in the context of how the will to power and corrode any principles that a politician may have within this Indian system. To me, the Armani Party is an illustration of this, and when I read this, better things got somewhat combative. Ruban, after all, is a loyal party worker. I'm sure you'll find that part of the discussion.


thought-Provoking, regardless of which of us you agree more with, which doesn't really matter. What's important is that two people with different views can have a fierce disagreement like this while being polite and respectful. If we'd had that conversation on Twitter, a hundred other people would have jumped in and it would have been a dogfight. Before we started chatting about power, though, we spoke about hunger and empathy. And before you start listening to this conversation, take a quick commercial break.


When I first started broadcasting, I had no idea of what a powerful medium this is, over time I realized that podcasting allows you to go both deeper and broader than any other medium. And the insane level of engagement that listeners have with good podcasts is also unique to podcasting. What's more, anyone can start a podcast. You don't need a license from anyone. You don't need a radio voice. You don't even need lots of money. So this is something you'd like to learn.


I'd be glad to teach you. Registration is now open for the February cohort of my online course, the art of podcasting or three webinars. On three Sundays, I shared my high level conceptual learnings, as well as the nitty gritty of recording, hosting, distribution and building your brand. The Couscous rupees 10000 plus GST, or about 150 dollars head on over Houssein unseen dot and slash loan for more details and to sign up. This might be the last month, at least the specifical.


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Ruben, welcome to the Sit in the unseen, an absolute honor to be here after following your show religiously all these years.


That's so kind of you to say that. And I just want to begin the show by expressing my admiration for all the incredible work you've done in the last few months. Not to say you haven't done incredible work before that, but I want to start.


Well, as you know, you've just recovered a little bit and you got covid not being lazy, but being helpful by actually being out there on the streets and organizing food for people who otherwise have food, which is fairly incredible.


But before we get onto that, how are you doing now? Much better. But there is post-Cold War fatigue and there is you know, there are shortness of breath. Even if I walk for about 200 meters, I end up panting. I see the doctor. And that's one of the most covid phenomena which most people seem to be grappling with. And how long back did you get covered up?


So this was in the end of October. And by the second week of November, I was I was out. Well, OK.


I mean, good to see that you're fine. No, you know, what I want to do during this episode is sort of talk about your entire political journey right from when you started. You once mentioned to me in a WhatsApp message to people who built an influence on you have been jumping around. And I me, absolutely. Both of whom are sort of heroes of mine for their you know, their intellectual prowess and who have been guests on the show multiple times, both of them.


So I kind of want to follow that entire journey of yours. But before we do, I want to sort of talk about the last few months and Canakkale, you so covid happened. So Knock-down begins. At what point did it strike you that there is a problem and it needs to be solved?


So I think as the lockdown was announced, we were inundated with a lot of calls from frantic people.


I think I'm sure there are people who are going hungry. And, you know, if if Demonetization was demonetization, this was the so you had your working class, your informal sector, daily wage laborers, all of their livelihood suddenly got balls. I mean, all of them just starting out. They were struggling to make ends meet. And of course, this was also the time that the lockdown was being implemented very, very strictly by by the police.


So, you know, you wouldn't even have people on the road.


So we had a bunch of people we call ourselves the litmus test project. And, you know, I reached out to a few of my friends. And again, Connerty, thank you for the compliments earlier, but that's a team effort. So I have six co-founders. That is Shashank Joshi. That is Rocky saying that is Swaraj. There's is I think there's a restaurant on it and there's me. So it's them. And of course, over 400 plus volunteers, most of whom responded to our call to action online.


And that's again, thanks to Swaraj, who's who I believe is one of the best mobilizers we have in India right now.


But that about we started receiving these frantic S.O.S. calls. So we said, OK, let's do this. Let's try and quantify the demand. Let's see where are these calls coming from and why are they not getting food? Is it that they don't have the apparatus to cook? Is it because they're stuck in distress and they're not being paid their wages, aren't we?


Let's try and understand this better. Let's find deep dive.


So in a few days we saw that, OK, this seems to be more or less around arterial roads in Bombay. So we picked the Western Express Highway and said, OK, let's just make twelve hundred miles and let's start from Bandra and go towards Bhairavi. That's about twenty five kilometers of highway and below every flower and on every footpath we would stop. Then we would talk to people.


And I think it was heartbreaking. It was gut wrenching because you had people who hadn't eaten food in days. But of course, the silver lining in all of this was and I think that's for me, the story of the pandemic, that even though they needed food more than the people with them, they would make sure that everybody has something.


And that's when we realized that the problem is much bigger than any of us who live in our privileged bubbles.


Our gated communities can even begin to comprehend. And we said, OK, we need to do something.


And obviously I don't understand food production and food manufacturing. So we had an idea we had a month off.


And, you know, I told them, your restauranteurs, you run catering businesses, how does the Food Network? And then we realized on the supply side, there are a lot of restaurants which are lying shut.


So you actually had a network of unused kitchen capacity, which we said, OK, so we now have kitchen capacity on the side we've quantified. Demand on the other side can be made either to increase resources for that, and that's when we started a crowdfunding campaign, which was a big effort for good, which was a partner bottom that has been kind enough to support us there. And yeah, I think the response was fantastic. So a lot of people started donating.


Then we realized that we as a team need to expand and grow. I remember I just put up a post on Facebook saying, look, I'm going to do something like this after a year has been like a backbone because we obviously needed to take all the money into an account.


I mean, because all of us are essentially working professionals and all our organizations are not charitable organizations, per say. So she just took two minutes when I called them and said, look, I'm doing something like this and I like to collaborate. And, you know, he came on board.


We then got all of my friends. So we're the same group of people who work with the election commission for this in the last elections in 2017 and increase women's voting percentage for the first time ever by 13 percent. So this is a very interesting bunch of people, which does things from time to time. And I was honestly really frustrated being cooped up at home.


I mean, I really now that I look back, I don't know how else would I spend the lockdown if I hadn't been doing it. So, yeah. So we went to the West Abbey on the twenty ninth of March and we saw that the problem was much bigger than we raised some funds.


We started supplying about 20000 meals a day across the road with. So you had the Eastern Express Highway where the LBJ school, you have the free road, you have the link road, so on and so forth.


And then the good part about working with the team is that now the entire operation got decentralized. There were a lot of learning. So we actually went out to the BMC and said, OK, we know you're also doing your best. How can you do this better? So you tell us what your weaknesses are and maybe we can adopt them and things like that. And and, yeah, I think there was no looking back from that. So I think from a 20000 in the first few days, we quickly reached Arabic.


We were one lakh meals a day. And I think on average we were about 7000 miles away.


So that that's that's insane. Bunch of follow up questions. One is when you see at the start, people reached out to, you know, one who reached out to you and to watch you. And I'm guessing it's partly because all the organizations that you've been part of and so on, you've, you know, built a reputation over time of being people who are actually out there and do things and all of that. So kind of take me through the process.


Was it other activists reaching out to you?


So it was other activists reaching out to me. It was friends reaching out to me because I've always been, you know, that guy who does something about the situation, no matter what the situation is, at least that's the most that's the image that they have with me.


And well, initially, the activists were like, there are a lot of people going hungry. And we know for a fact that they're going hungry. We can't go there because, you know, we've been getting reports of the police was cracking down really badly on anyone who is outside. So even they were concerned as to how should they go about and help people, even if they wanted to. Second is outside gated communities. I think for the first time in, I think, recent memory, we would have seen a lot of people just outside the slums just just there because they didn't have anything to eat.


And it was really, really, really, really sad. So while on one level we could see the dolphins in the Arabian Sea and we could see all sorts of flora and fauna return outside our balconies and our gated communities, you also had so you had empty roads on one side.


You actually had the slum clusters where people were really facing acute food shortages. So so look at it. Let me give you one case in point. The slum right next to my building, which is playmaker in Jihu, I went there and I was interacting with a bunch of workers. These are young people, young boys. I do play football. So that's how I know them. And I just want to check on them as to what's going on.


And they were all laborers, but some of them were autorickshaw drivers. All of them were basically staying on rent and they were just pulling the rent. And, you know, they would just go out to a mass service. And there were a bunch of bachelors and I asked them, you know, how you doing? And they mentioned that in some cases where they were working for the contractor, the contractor was unavailable. Some of them were construction site laborers.


And they just have a few hundred rupees. They don't know how are they going to go back. And it's all chaotic. And this was also the time that I hadn't been as normalises as it is right now. So there was a lot of many unknowns about about it back then.


And yeah, so all of them were just really, really scared as to the disease is going to come and get them.


They're not for family because they had really experienced aphasic of the city that nobody else had experienced or other, you know, they had experienced the most. Outside of the city actually had because at it from their land, their landlord was demanding rent irrespective, it didn't matter, their service was demanding their fees, irrespective damages were positive, not being able to do anything whatsoever. And then, like, you just have like a few hundred rupees and, you know, that's all that we actually have.


How are we to feed ourselves? How are we do you don't help our family, some of whom are young, some of whom are not here, and how we to get back. And that's when I realized that the problem is really, really big. So it's not the homeless. That's just one part of the story. The bigger part of the story are slum clusters, which are entire slum populations, which suddenly are now living in abject conditions.


And this was an initial disaster, which then we saw the migrant worker exodus. And that's another epic saga in itself.


So when I crosschecked what I was hearing and actually saw in the slum, I was convinced that this problem is much bigger than I think anyone can wrap their heads around.


And at some level, isn't this much more than a covid problem? Like I remember I wrote a column a few months back about how I think I wrote it in April about how you're dealing with two disasters. One is, of course, Corbitt, but the other is a failing state, which has been with us for more than 70 years in the sense that, like when I was looking up statistics for that, I found that 3000 children die of hunger every day in India.


One in four Indian children below a certain age is malnourished. So it seems like an ongoing disaster. And yet we normalise all of that and we completely ignore it, especially those of us who are in our elite bubbles. We simply don't notice. And then a disaster like this happens and we say, oh, shit, people are going hungry as if they weren't anywhere, you know? And but what also strikes me is that whereas, you know, people like you and me who have some kind of a safety net, we don't have to earn money next month.


We can manage. Right. But most people in this country, you know, the vast majority, definitely more than 99 percent, I would go so far as to say live very precarious lives. The slightest disruption can just be a personal disaster. Is that something you had a sense of from before or during this time? Do you know what is worse than you might?


I think because we're essentially activists at the end of the day and we work on the ground so we know the precarious lives that, you know, people live, especially when it comes to the informal sector, which makes up a bulk of our workforce. So we were mindful of that.


But the situation would be so bad that people would demand rent irrespective the situation would be so bad that their contractor would suddenly stop responding to their calls. I mean, at one site, we actually had an entire team of construction workers just there and didn't know what to do because the contractor is missing in action. They have not been paid their wages, so they don't know where to go. I mean, it was ridiculous, ridiculous to another level. So that's when we realized that we have to do something.


And I think coming back to the point that you were making about, you know, poverty and hunger being normalized, I think covid just amplified inequality like never before. So while you can argue that state capacity was overwhelmed by the sheer pressure due to a pandemic, and that's true in many ways. But the opposite argument is also equally true, that we had a broken system in a very long time, that we didn't really have functional public health care.


We didn't have a primary health care centres. I mean, all said and done. Why did we have to go around setting up these clinics and why are we sending people to hospitals? What happened to our primary health care system or what happened to our PDS, which was essentially supposed to distribute food for people in need? And then it's only now that Prime Minister Modi has now spoken about one reason, one nation scheme. But you would hear horror stories that we have a nation called back in the village, but we can't essentially get rich.


And so the system has always been broken. But I think Gawad just amplified back to an extent that I think any individual with an iota of conscience can't ignore.


I mean, if you're if you're just going to look out of the window and you're just going to see angry people, how can food rest in your stomach? So something had to be done.


OK, so let's get to some of the fascinating nitty gritty of this. So, for example, you said that, you know, at the supply and we had a new kitchen capacity, which is, of course, true because everyone shut. But, you know, all this little man who actually goes there and cooks in some of the restaurants who were involved were like people like num num who are not cooking that kind of food, for example. What's the thinking process when you say, OK, what is the food we want to give them?


How do we handle the logistics? Where do we get the grain from?


We are all of this what is so I mean, 70000 meals, even in noncombat context is a lot of food and his. A lot of effort, so certainly during overtime and during lockdown, logistics were certainly an issue. The good thing is, thanks to somebody like me to tank something like but I know we're, you know, seasoned restauranteurs. We could speak to UPMC directly. We could speak to farmers directly to source raw materials and agricultural produce.


So that was taken care of on the other side starts right. Because many of these staff didn't really have process. And that's when we approached the BMC and said, listen, we're trying to do good and you need to sort of help us with these passes because these guys are getting backed when they're going to the hotel to cook food and stuff like that. So if my staff doesn't reach hotel or the restaurant, how do they cook?


So the good thing about looking at the restaurant is that they already had a functional kitchen with FCC licenses and they had a clean, hygienic environment to cook in, which was again, a challenge, if you will, stock something on the scratch. So, you know, you put to use a utility which exists and thanks to a bustling staff who understands how food is cooked. We actually approached a nutritionist as to how worked is it that we feed these people?


I mean, we don't want to give something which is not nutritious be given the fact that they may have long intervals of not having access to food. You know, it should not have an adverse reaction on their body. And that's when we realized that's what they suggested, that it should be a rice based, nutritious meals. So we had Kishida, we had Sabzi and we started off with that. But then because our volunteer so called food ninja's, because a lot of them at the end of the day decided to volunteer at great personal risk, they would go to these communities and distribute food day after day.


And then again, there is a difficulty there, too, because I than giving to food twice a day, we said, let's give it once, because when it comes to when it comes to the lockdown and the curfew at night, we don't really know what the security connotations of the whole operation would be. So just to play it safe, we would give a large 400, 450 gram packet, which was good enough for a person who could eat that meal twice a day.


But while we were giving them this food, after a few days, we got a feedback that, hey, you know, this is going to be you know, we're going to continue for some time now. We'd like some variety.


And we then went back to the restaurant. Doesn't say, OK, these guys are like family now. So we call them our community mobilizers. And, you know, this is the feedback that we heard. So we started an experiment with Brautigan Sabzi. We've done biology. We've on special occasions giving them giving the giving them some Swedish. We've added Rumsen food packets in Muslim areas so that we change the rotation of the distribution timing so that they could have something all in the morning and have something later in the evening.


And we would put fruits, we would put Kaju that is dates and all of that. So, yeah, I mean, it was it was fairly exciting and certainly not the same operation that the same food is going to the same person for all these five, six months, we managed to get in some variety and yeah, it was fun.


That's fascinating because, you know, initially when I heard about this, I thought, OK, migrant laborers, construction workers and so on, you're giving them food and all of that. But, you know, you would actually eat a lot of places once you've pointed out you would at all the arterial roads. You're on the tunnel in our city road and you're on all those places which people are passing through. But you also had some pockets and people who are actually staying here, you're giving them sort of their regular meals and all of that.


Yeah. So we started with the homeless on one way streets. And, you know, as soon as we started, word quickly got around that, hey, these guys, you know, we don't know who they are, but they show up and they distribute food. So we started getting requests from these slum clusters so we would send our volunteers to do a basic housekeeping check. You know, is is the demand for other people for real? What is the size of the community?


And then depending upon the resources we could mobilize, we would start distributing food. But then the first word, arterial roads, then Denver. The slum clusters after the slum clusters was as close to apocalypse that I think I've I've seen, which is the migrant workers retreat, I think, on the road. And I remember meeting with my colleague, reached out to me and she said that she said the chamber and I senju. But she was like, you know, I'm just coming from the highway and there are hundreds of people on the road.


And I couldn't believe her as to, you know, literally hundreds of people on the road. And I actually went there and it was really, really, really exciting. The scene. You had people just walking. On the roads and, you know, I stopped a few people and I said, where are you going? And they're like, what are you going to do here? Because we don't have anything to eat. Some of them were actually from containment zones, so they were not even getting the regular supply of food, which they otherwise would have got.


So people like us could have maybe gone to the nearest vegetable vendor and got what we wanted. But because they were in a containment, they weren't even being able to access it.


And we said, okay, something needs to be done just as we were distributing food.


But then we realized it's not food, food that they need because they're walking. And we set up our first relief operations at Madiha Junction, which is on the Mumbai Agra Highway just outside of Mumbai in Tunie. And we were distributing fruits. We were distributing water. We were distributing biscuits. We were distributing Tablers dry snacks. Averys something, you know, which would help them along their journey because look at the context of the whole thing. This was still the time that railways were shut.


So there were no trains functioning. There was no public transport. The only public transport which had been announced was extremely haphazard because the state said that, OK, we're going to ferry you from a particular point to the border and you're supposed to cross the border and you're supposed to find something in the next state and you have to continue to hitchhike like this. Can you reach your destination now? You have families, you have women, you have children, you have senior citizens.


I mean I mean, just imagine the extent of the calamity. And I still remember on day one, I remember the police were just cracking down on them and they were running into the mangroves parallel to the highway. And I remember stopping the car and, you know, confronting a policeman saying, hey, why are you beating these people? And if you announced buses from a particular spot, they are obviously trying to get there. So they showed me, you know, they took out a small folded piece of paper from the pocket.


And one of them was like, this is a doctor's certificate that I paid money for because I don't know which doctors were there and what ethics they had. But a large number of them had actually paid for that certificate, which for them would enable them to get onto the bus. And that was the last money that they had. And they just filled up with backpacks.


They don't have food. They don't have access to water. They're worried that the police will crack down and beat them. I mean, it was it was just something which really, really moved us. And we said, OK, if this is the situation on Pommie, then it's also true for Vashi on the Mumbai Bangalore highway. And it is also true for the he said on the Mumbai front, I was on TV.


So we set up these three relief sites and I remember going there myself the first two days. And I think I was I was heartbroken. I remember, I think four images with me. I remember a family. Nearly seven people somehow were somehow accommodated themselves in a small rickshaw and had stopped by saying, we're going all the way to interpret this because we don't have anything, any any transport. This is the only transport that we have. We've carried some additional fuel and we'll somehow, you know, drive past there.


And we want some food because we don't really have food. We spend our money with all of these arrangements and I give them that. I mean, we we give them food. And the second thing was even worse, I saw a few boys. They were riding what seemed like a new cycle. So I stopped them and I asked them the key, hey, where are you going? And they're saying, we're going all the way to Kuruppu, the Nerissa.


And I asked them, are you serious? Do you know that's that's in the other end of the country? And they're like, what do we do? So we were here, sales boys, and this was the last money that we have. And we we've invested in this bicycle. This is something that we've paid four thousand rupees for. And we're going to cycle all the way there. And they didn't have water. They didn't have access to washrooms.


And and yeah, if you ask me, I think it was a collapse off of governance at so many levels. I mean, how difficult is it to food for the administration or for the collector to just make some arrangements on the highway? Or how difficult is it to ensure that people at least have water and biscuits or something?


You know, their children, they just they just crying. I still remember. And then the absolute chaos, these junction's I still remember Montevallo. Sorry, I'm going into the depth of it, but I think it'll help your listeners understand the extent of the problem. And you had these people just squat on the road and I would ask them as to what they were doing. And they, like all the buses, are done for today. We can't possibly go back and come back.


Tomorrow, we're going to wait here and the police don't really have information. Buses were very difficult to come by and this was clearly early days of the administration was trying to get its act together.


And it was just. And as evening. So the deadline for the buses would be approximately six o'clock. So all the people who could get themselves into a bus would basically get onto a bus. And after that, I would see there would be trucks lined up right ahead of my Devadasi going on. That road was going to.


And I remember I remember going to one of these trucks and each of them had like dozens of people and all of them just waiting for the police barricades to be relaxed a little.


And they would just basically get out. And that's how most people have actually traveled on in trucks, hitchhike through buses in the total absence of of support for migrants.


That's when we were working with the BMC administration. So by the time we were really distributing food in those areas, it became secure and distributed food. Sometimes the BMC had sponsors who maybe had the money but didn't really know how to go about the operation. So we set up the operation for them at the most optimally low price and, you know, help them with it and etc.. So this is when Mr. Jaspal, who happens to be the Irish Republican maestro, reached out to us and said, we saw him in Islamic trains.


Can you be kind enough to supply food? And we went to I still remember the first time and train was leaving Kulluk ominous at one a.m. and at night. And I was told that because these trains have no boundaries, there is no avenue for them to basically get their food and some of them have got carried whatever. But let's remember that these are people who already sort of saw their belongings because they were in a rental place. They really were leaving the city for good because they thought that the village would be at least better in the city.


The city had I think all of us, all of us in urban India should hang our heads in shame that for whatever reason, our workforce felt insecure and for some reason didn't really believe in us. And maybe it's because of the way we've behaved with them. And we said, OK, we'll start with distributing food. And I remember going to the railway station at about twelve thirty at night and it was just in time for the first train to leave.


And I talked to a few of these people and they had come in buses from slums and all of them had, you know, signed up at the local police station giving applications as to where they wanted to go. So they were grouped and the police would then call them. And there was a systematic operation which was in place there. So, yeah.


So I immediately got back to Mr. Jaspal and said that, no, we are going to adopt three of these four dominance. So we adopted it, which is also known as the Communists and the Communists and Coddler.


And yeah, to date we have serviced over 284 subway trains.


Each train has on an average anywhere between 2000 and 2500 people that depend upon how many Borghese the train has and so on and so forth. But yeah, I think in all between the relief operations and the transit point and the Islamic train operations, the railway operations, we've supported over six and a half black migrant workers with food while they were going back to their villages.


That's insane. And a lot of this is so heartbreaking. And there are a number of kind of thoughts that come. One is what you just said about how there should be a wake up call for all those of us urban professionals who don't tend to notice this. And I think in many ways, we live in cities full of invisible people. Right. We are in our own cocoon, whether it's you know, we are a guard and we don't notice who's what's happening on the signal around us.


So people in the streets, whether they're homeless people or beggars or whatever, you know, we live in our own little cocoons. Everybody is invisible to us. And we also sort of take a lot for granted, like. You know, one of the most sort of heartbreaking images from the stories I hear about partition, for example, had to do with trains so you'd have a train going from one country to the other. And when it arrives, it's full of dead bodies because everybody's been killed.


And similarly, we heard stories during this time that migrant workers get on a train to get somewhere. And three days later, because we've had no food, they're not.


The government initially in parliament said that they don't have data. It was only after consistent follow up by a few employees. And I remember suggesting our MP had taken up the issue in a very big way, that the government then came up with the figure. But I'm confident that even if they wouldn't have died in the train, you're talking about people in some cases like, I don't know, we did this in Mumbai. I'm sure this was true for every major city in India.


And there were a lot of trains leaving out of the city. So there were a lot of trains leaving from the buses and the Chaldeans, the world that we couldn't even reach there so we could do what we did in Mumbai. And clearly, you're talking about people who've been eating once a day for the last few days. This was the last money that they actually had sold all their belongings. And, you know, they're just moving to the next city.


And now that they don't have food for, like the next three days while they're going to their native place, I mean, just think about it. How more gut wrenching can it basically get? So I think it do with what we see on paper. I am confident that a number of people would have passed away just because of sheer exhaustion, both mental and physical. And, of course, the fact that they didn't get food.


In fact, I saw a panel discussion of yours on YouTube where a gentleman asked you a question and he spoke about how one of his workers actually boarded one of these trains, got fed by guys, but then died three days later because it was I heard that.


And the other thing that also strikes me like when you were telling me stories of these people on the highway who are like one of Goussis, even at a time like this, there is this incredible community where you have doctors taking money to give out these frickin certificates or selling cycles or whatever and making a fuss about them. But what also strikes me is a kind of poverty that we don't notice when we talk about poverty, like when we talk about poverty, typically we'll think about not having money, not having a roof over your head or having enough to eat.


There's also a poverty of information throughout this period. People like you and me, we've got the mobile phones, we've got the Internet. We are informed about what's happening. Right. We kind of know what's happening despite the fact that there is a sort of a fog of war situation. You know, we are not falling for a lot of fake news out there unless it's on WhatsApp and it's about politics.


But for a lot of these people, they don't even have that basic information if they are told that we're happy. Jackie Buspar, good. Hey, you need a certificate and blah, blah, blah. And they have no way of making sense like these kids who, you know, you mentioned were trying to cycle to Orissa like they didn't know, you know, how far we were to say to begin with and the fact that it's virtually not doable.


Did you by any chance take anybody's number? No, I did.


We touch with a few of the people and we're going to come up with a report as to what happened to their lives when they went back to to their villages in the rural areas.


And it turned out to be much worse than what it is here, because at least here there was some avenue of some employment and something they had something going for them in the villages. They had nothing going for them, especially in places like Bihar. We've been hearing a lot of feedback about the families over a period of time.


Tell people about why you come here and you know, you went there to feed us now how we expected to feed you. It's hard. I mean, you're seeing a systematic breakdown of our society. But before we get into, you know, the poverty of information and all that, let's let's look at us, OK?


Average middle class people, we have our domestic workers come to us. My last talked about the way it was filmed, where we were working to make domestic workers financially independent in that region.


Maybe I'll speak about it later, but I know of people living in the prosperous and the plus the Jews and the little Kamala's in the background and the pathways of the world who actually didn't pay their domestic worker kispert up, I'll tell you.


Oh, you've not come to work for. You know, we don't we don't we don't have to pay you.


And obviously, you live in a slum. So you were already contacted covid.


And we basically live an hour or two bedroom, one kitchen flack. So we are obviously safer than you.


So here you can come here and it's just sad. It's a poverty of empathy.


I mean, in my society WhatsApp group, there was a lady complaining that why are you people paying your domestic help? My maid expects the same from me. And what do you even kind of see to that, the other absence besides. The absence of information seems to me in some ways to be the absence of the state, like I've always held that in India we don't really have a rule of law except for the rich that the state exists. But the way people get by is through a kind of jugaad that they've figured out a way to get shit done.


And it seems to me to a large extent, that's kind of what happened here, that the street was just absolutely clueless. And in civil society, people like you guys stepping into the breach. What was the experience like to of dealing with the state? Like you've pointed out, that they were people who were helpful, who cooperated with you guys, wanted to work together with you guys. What was that experience like? Because the interface that the common person will often see is the officious policeman who will just rent seeking, who's taking a bribe because you're not wearing your mask in your car.


What was your experience?


So I think it would be wrong to state that the state was completely bereft of political will. I think that's not the case. People were really concerned.


But what had happened is over a period of time with corruption and the lack of reforms had just robbed the state of its capacity. So while you had some knowledge of the BMC is an amazing woman, we've been working with her and I've seen her in action as is an amazing guy who is, again, solution oriented, focused, all of that. But what happens when it comes to the lower? There is a clear lack of capacity.


So if you have the will to do it, if you have the will to do it, you know the capacity to do it and hence her not being able to do it. Fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, these people, the poor people are left high and dry. And that was the saddest lesson in all of this, like let's take even a ration card, which is functional people abberation. Got people nowhere to go to.


Let me give you a case in point. We got a distress call from Cassandra, who works with the DRC partners in funding on the National Park. Now Decoration Shop is on the other side of the road of the Western Express Highway. How are they supposed to come there? And they're living in, you know, in some place else? No, I went with these people and I went to the central police operation to tell me, first of all, why are you walking in it?


And second is that we don't really have supplies. So we've seen this in shop after shop that you have people go to the shop and the guy just responding that we just have it isn't even reasonable.


So we don't have dollar. We don't have anything else.


How do you really expect people to respond to this? And yes, I would still hold the state accountable because I've seen what happened in Delhi. I was extremely closely involved in how the entire food operation happened. I spoke with my colleagues there and etc. and, you know, they give people the ration cards, the the distribution point. There was a school that anyone could go to a school and the principal had been given powers, discretionary powers to in case there's somebody with or without any documentation.


You do a bunch drama. I you give them the reason that they need.


We didn't see any of that here. So so yes. While there are good people in the system as they are anywhere around, I think this is a problem which is compounded many levels. So I think you're correct in saying that what we see are the symptoms of this larger disease of systemic failure. So, yeah, we see a police guy taking a bribe and, you know, it angers us and we see poverty and all of that.


But, yeah, I think what we need to see and this is why I come back to DEPI, you know, his mantra, which I use in my life, is just as Gandhi's. He has spoken to the governor and spoken about the leader and the most destitute, the most helpless person that you ever met. And if your decision is going to change his life for the better, you your doubts will melt away.


And I think if I would use the same example in the 21st century in a slightly more varied context, is where it becomes and where he says, I don't believe in a God, but I certainly believe in a sin, which is unacceptable. And that sin is twofold of avoidable suffering and of unutilized potential. So that presume that all of this what you're seeing is actually avoidable suffering. People don't need to go through this. If the state would have been a little more vigilant if people really walk the extra mile.


All of this could have been avoided. And I think the sooner that people actually look at it as a core problem of governance rather than all this Band-Aid approach that we go about doing, it's not really going to solve the problem because what do NGOs do and just do something that the government has failed to do. And I think I tell this to everybody that is an NGO can never substitute the government. We no matter how many angels come together, you cannot substitute the government and.


See, if the government doesn't do something, that doesn't mean that I stop doing what I do proactively and start working with the government, which is not basically doing much.


So I'm I mean, I do go and clean the beach whenever I have the time, but I'm not a huge proponent of it because I think the BMC has gotten gotten contracts. It is that citizens should hold them accountable and they should basically go about fixing the system. And, you know, citizens, we, again, confuse action with activity and we are very happy with activity, which, OK, there's something going on. And we put something on Facebook and we get some gratification with a few hundred likes and we feel good at the end of the day.


And I think that's good. But unless and until we look at this as a problem of governance, which is why we are now working on the hunger map where we are actually trying to work on a set of interventions. So we've actually identified about 10000 or some of the most vulnerable populations in Mumbai.


So each each of them is called a micro class that we've used. I should mention this map, unity tool and group to actually make these clusters. And of course, it's heartbreaking to go to them and essentially take that data and not give something to them. Bali has been kind enough where they supported us with biscuits. Again, I take it we've distributed about 12 Blackbaud Biscuit packets I don't quite like almost get back to people in need. And we are now working with the BMC to say, OK, now this is a real problem.


Where are these nine shelters? Because the BMC has eight nine shelters, 18 of which are functional. It's I think the best kept secret. Nobody knows about it. And we are trying to map out these sections to these clusters. We are trying to understand how the Rainbow model worked in Delhi. How do soup kitchens work in New York?


The problem is it's not a uniquely, uniquely Mumbai problem. And if there are funds which are allocated for this purpose, I think we can do a much better job of it right now. And our first focus now is on ensuring that these people actually get ration cards so that they can actually get some support from the state and because right now they're not getting anything.


So tell me a little bit about this hunger map. Does it come out of the thinking that you've dealt with the immediate crisis? But we haven't obviously solved the problem of hunger, which is why it's absolutely so committed to that.


So Connerty was a relief operation. So we understood the distress. And we are not people who would do this permanently. We don't want to just cook food and just distribute that. We'll do it as the circumstances demand sacrifice, because this was truly, you know, something in the middle of the pandemic with a large number of people who are going hungry. And we did what we did.


So we said that, OK, now that we have to get out of these communities for the last six months, can we put all of this on a map and can be geographically say, OK, these people are here, we have their community contact points and we reach out to them and we now see what is the situation there? Are they really that object? Can we take some data as to where did they come from? What is the kind of work that they would do prior to that befell upon them?


So all of this we were to put on a map so that the first layer, the second layer is then see what are the government schemes which are actually meant for them and why is it that they don't reach them? So the last mile delivery of all these public services, both at the BMC level, at the state government level, I'm sure at the government level you have Atal Bihari Vajpayee discovered in the loop there that so can we at least ensure in a controlled manner that this lot basically gets whatever the state has, at least in principle, set out to do so, that there are a lot over a period of time there is something called the National Urban Livelihood Mission, which is, again, something very interesting, that they're supposed to train a lot of people and skill them, so on and so forth.


But again, it's just lying in disarray. Nobody really pays too much attention on that. So we've identified a few of these schemes. And now for the better part of next year is to focus on these communities to actually ensure that they get all the possible state help, that at least the state, at least in principle, has promised to provide them.


Tell me what role the corporates have played in this, like you've pointed out, of this lack of biscuits and all of that you've spoken about. Wipro is stepping in. Tell me a bit about that. Did they come on their own? Did you approach them? What was all?


So I'm part of the yatra, which is the largest green led enterprise, any of its kind, which takes 500 young people across the country. And the idea is to inspire them to become entrepreneurs. And because of that network, I had somebody working in Wipro and, you know, they reached out to me saying, listen, you're doing some good work. Do you need some help? How can we help you? And we actually gave a proposal to them and they were kind enough to support us.


And Wipro was one of our biggest supporters, I must say. At the turnaround time between when they approached us, when we gave them a proposal and when they approved of it was less than 24 hours. And because I think they came from a place with a lot of heart and they, of course, did their inquiries and they would obviously see that the money that they're giving us is well spent and judiciously used. But, yeah, I think they threw their weight behind us.


And I think thanks to Wipro, a lot of the other corporates came on board. So we had PTM, which contributed something. We had Goldreich, which contributed something. We had Redington, which contributed something. And all these companies essentially happened because Wipro basically came on board. So that was a big validation of sorts.


And then I think what happened was a large number of our volunteers work with corporates so they would get in touch with their CSR team saying, hey, you know, I'm volunteering. Can we do something? I remember the vice president of our daughters was already I didn't even know this till later on. I was told about it.


So I think a lot of the good word spread good news spread with word of mouth. And that really got a lot of people to support us. But while that is where we got the large donation comes, also a large number of people who donated were basically a simple millennial's. It's very interesting to see a majority of the people who donated to Assemblyman's. Not the 40 plus generation, but she would have expected, because they have a larger pile of savings, would basically do more charity.


No, I think millennials have much more heart than I think the previous generations put together. I think nearly given up on that generation. And and, yeah, I think that's how we were able to do a good job of it. But interestingly, there's, again, an Engardio residential maturity. And as we did in all of our previous projects, he was in charge of the finances and the accounting, which again was done very nicely because if you needed sponsors coming back.


So Disney Hall star supported us again in a big way. If you want to sponsors coming back to you, you need to give them reports. You need to make sure that this is run as a professional organization, that this operation is is as World-Class as it gets. And that's when I think the focus was on the team, because I think the learning for me in all of this is whatever you do, it has to be collaborative. Like I think early on we said forget about the branding.


I mean, who's going to go about branding something in the middle of a pandemic? Forget it. If there are people on the ground, let them call it whatever they want to. Let them donate it. As long as it's reaching people, that's fine with us. So, yeah, so that's that.


And you also mentioned that there were corporates who, you know, you went to for this year's funds and they said, no, we have to give it somewhere else because I think the cash fund is the closest that any of us humans can experience when it comes to an astronomical blackhall.


I did everything just go there and just disappear because corporate after corporate would tell us that, oh, we've already given it to PMK and we've already given to care.


And I sold the entire NGO ecosystem collapse. So many community meetings, which were started by just some do gooders in their localities, didn't really have the wherewithal to actually keep the operations going. And I think when all of this started becoming apparent after the initial bit of support started evaporating because the pandemic also got extended, I mean, the lockdown was extended month after month, we would see the prime minister extend the lockdown and then the government would extend the lockdown basis, the announcement that they would hear from the centre.


So because of all of that, I had also led to a lot of donor fatigue. On one side, we told that all of this money is going to be okay. We don't know how is it used. And I think it's not even under the RTI, so it's as big as it can get. So a complete lack of transparency. And on the other side, you have donor fatigue, because while people have contributed, people feel like, OK, we've done whatever we could.


And now basically the problem should somehow take care of itself, no matter how illogical that is or sounds. That was the excuse that a large number of people gave us. So that's that's that's actually the sad part. Let's get a little metronome. Right. So, you know, we've discussed that the system is broken, has a crisis, there's an ongoing crisis, but that's a different matter. Here's an immediate crisis. You're going out and feeding all these people.


There are well-meaning people within the system, but the system itself is broken. When I try to get a little better and think about the fundamental flaws that it reveals and I'll ask you for more of them. But the first one which stands out to me and tell me if you agree, is that government isn't local enough. If it was much more local, there would be much more accountability. You would have better information going through to people in the state.


They'd be able to utilise whatever little capacity they have better and everything would kind of work. And that seems to me to be a systemic flaw which would solve so many things, not just this and yet late. It's kind of impossible because the only people who can now make it happen in the existing system are the people who are, you know, enjoying their accumulated power at the centre, whether the centre or state or whatever. Why make it more local?


What's what's your.


No, I think the 24th Amendment, which is about urban decentralization of power, has been in abeyance for the longest period of time. I mean, let's look at Mumbai, for example. We have what is called the ward committees, which were supposed to be the corporate awards ceremony to kind of work there. The corporate awards, which are number two, we have one to 227 one being in the and to bring someone being collabo.


And then you have these eight to be which are your administrative wards, which are basically one or more corporate awards put together.


Now, the idea behind award committee was you were supposed to get more people to participate, but while they claim to be implementing the 24th Amendment, they said, OK, the award committee is now comprised of all these corporate and maybe some members of some NGOs and so on and so forth and the police and electronics. I know that is a complete repudiation of what the community participation law actually was. No, let's again come to. Back to 2005, 2005 was when the Nagarajaiah bill under the Jamala Nehru Urban Renewal Mission was presented as a model community participation law.


And you don't know anyone who funds were like a carrot dangled to them saying, you know, if you passed, the community participation law will basically give you these funds and so on and so forth.


Maharastra passed a ridiculous watered down version of the act, which is which still has not implemented. I mean, they've passed it, but they've not notified it. I mean, that's the level of tragedy, sadly, by our politicians. But that apart, I think the problem is that in a city like Mumbai, your average ward has about 40 to 50000 voters. Right. You add another 20000 people who are below the age of 18. So that's your population in the area.


How do you expect one person to liaise with these people and solve their problems? All of them just operate out of one small encroached footpath, which has turned into some sort of political office, and they just want to mention that somehow supposed to solve problems so there is no grassroots democracy. I think at one level, when we speak about ourselves being a democracy, we think about elections. But again, if you see voter participation, you have more people voting at the local level because they know that the prime minister gets elected.


And so by the election, you have a lot of people voting at the global level. And, you know, the chief minister gets elected in the election. But when it comes to municipal elections, seen as a sort of election, oh, it's a councillor and etc etc, what is what is it possibly going to do to us?


But if you actually look at the things that actually matter, the roads that we work on are footpaths, primary health care, primary education, garbage, water, sanitation, sewage, all of this is VMC. So I mean, it is really far fetched for the person to you don't participate in elections and then not really have a say in the things that actually matter. Right. In his or her immediate vicinity. And that is exactly what the Nataraj bill was supposed to remedy.


It spoke about areas of House, which I like this. So you have one or two contiguous polling booths, one locality which had a narasimhan they would elect in areas of high representative. And so they are 35 polling booths. You would have 35 ESSABAR representatives would be many corporator. So to say they would have a ward committee. The Corporator would be answerable to the ward committee. The ward committee would set the agenda right now. Do you think about it?


How do your competitors go about proposing works? There is absolutely no study, nothing. The contractors come with a list of things and they tell you that, OK, this is what we did last year. This is what we do. This is what we continue. That's it. So there is absolutely no involvement when it comes to the electorate, when it comes to understanding what the issues are, when it comes to correcting something gone wrong. Like let's take the premise for my project, which came after twenty six seven children implemented.


Look at the kind of money that is being spent by the BMC and I think it's almost in Mumbai. If you divide the budget by there are approximately 2000 kilometres of road, so it works out to 50 like Rubisco km.


That is the kind of money that is going there. The entire process somehow leaves the citizenry out of the decision making. And I think that this is all the result of that, because had you had these functional urban panchayats more or less about what I would call it, then all of this would be weeded out because meeting after meeting, if you want to have a public meeting, we are going to discuss these problems.


If there is a problem with the BMC, if there's a problem with the relationship, if there's a problem with the police, there's a problem with the traffic police, all of this would have got weeded out, if nothing else, then by at least benign collective informed discussion, because all said and done, no matter what the systemic problems that we have, I think if you are accurate over a period of time and you have evidence, then things do change.


But we don't even have that. So, yeah. So to answer your question, I think our urban governance is a big disaster in all our Indian cities, and I think that will require another broadcast by itself because Mumbai is an absolute mess. So while we elect our councillors and the councillors elected mayor, the mayor and the councillors can make laws, but they can't implement laws. The implementation is with the municipal commissioner who is directly answerable to the chief minister.


And it's a mess. And if there's not enough, you have. So let's just kick me out, OK? OK, let's go to the highway on the Western Expressway, Highways Management Team Amadei. You then go to that Kiribati fly, which will be managed by the PWP because it's a fly already. And then you go a little further. That bridge is managed by the MSDS, then you reach wordly ceiling and that's management of the organization. So can you see that just within a small set of just a few kilometers, you have like five different organizations and they'll operate and so don't want.


Yeah, I mean, railway's why you sure you have OK, now it's because, well, who coincidentally lives in South Bombay. But I mean, just think about it. You have somebody else elected from somewhere else whose only idea about emancipation is to go ahead and set up set up a coat factory. I mean, can you imagine why is, of course, factory in? Primarily because the great leader who gets elected there, who didn't do anything to solve local people's problems.


So you basically get the minister to basically put something there and that's supposed to solve problems. But coming back to the point, how would you have such indirect accountability for somebody in the country looking at railways? And it just doesn't make sense. Why do you have a shipping minister saying, look at our ports up or trust? You have the shipping ministry?


What we don't have and I think one of the only large cities in the world which doesn't have an integrated transport system and you have so many agencies and you have the Emomali and then you have the collector and then you have the state government and then you have the BMC and then you have Marda and you actually put all these jurisdictions over the map. You know, none of them will actually overlap. You know, none of that will actually overlap because it just is such such a big mess.




So that's that's that's that's that's the image of urban governance as citizens see it. No, no.


That's very eloquent and also very scary. And we will not leave that discussion for a separate podcast. This is a long podcast. It contains multitudes. And we'll talk more about it in the second half. But for the moment, let's take a quick commercial break.


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I can help you, India and clear writing. Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with Ruben Mascarenhas, a man who has many hats, but fundamentally someone who is deeply involved in making our world a better place. And, you know, we've spoken about Canakkale, which I wanted to spend the first half of the show doing because it's so kind of urgent to our times. And so Eye-Opening in many ways, and I normally start my episodes by talking about the personal journeys of what I'm talking to.


And your personal journey is also pretty fascinating because I think the default mode for the citizen in India is one of apathy. You know, that I can't change anything. Let me just, you know, make a good life for myself and blah, blah, blah. And that's kind of the default mode of citizenship. Yet apathetic. And also, as public service would tell you, there is something called the free rider effect. There might be some social good that we would like, but we will let others fight for it.


Why shouldn't we do the hard work? You are the complete conversa of all of this in the sense that you dive into causes that, you know, there was this urban governance activist from Bangalore, we love each other, who once described himself as a patron saint of lost causes. And I think a lot of these causes that to my cynical mind from a distance where we have such an overwhelming dysfunctional state seem to be, you know, if not lost causes, very difficult causes, which, you know, there's no sort of immediate fruit at the end of the line.


But I'm rambling. So let's let's talk about your journey. What made you interested in politics and social work to begin with?


Well, I think two things.


I think I come from a Orthodox Catholic family charity came to us naturally.


You know, we would go to the church and we would do some social work.


And, you know, I would always ask this question as to, OK, how much are we going to do because it's just a drop in the ocean.


So while I still did it, I would I would always have this question in mind. And then I went to see Davis. And I think that just opened up a lot of I mean, that was really grounding because that was an eye opener to a larger world around our immediate surroundings that we would know. And that it was it really took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me. And then, of course, engineering happened. And I studied at St.


Francis. And while growing up, I remember something very interesting had happened. There was a banker who had contested a local corporator election, and I had thought that he would win, you know, and I was interested in politics very early on. My the earliest memory that my mother has of me about the television is me watching look.


So but that a part of I was, you know, because I would play Clay and I would know these local boys because they would live in the locality and some of them were affiliated to a political party.


And, you know, when the elections came, I thought the banker would win because she was an independent candidate and she was well-educated and had the right resources. But when the results came, these guys won. And so I was really surprised as to how does this happen and can we expect the best talent and the best resourced person to actually end up winning.


So I would go to them and I would tell them that, listen, I wanna hang out with you, but I want to join you. So, you know, they said that, listen, we need somebody to write letters in English.


So I would go to that shackled in court and I would write letters in English, but I would get to see, you know, how the entire system really operates, how do they go about organizing themselves for elections on and so forth. So all this was happening and the RTI movement had just kicked in Maharashtrian RTI in 2003, which I then became the National RTI Act in 2005. And we had sort of filed RTI queries. I still remember my first query was about shifting a garbage dump, which wasn't there when we were growing up, and then suddenly the garbage dump really became the entrance to the ballot.


Also to say and I remember after writing letters of complaint that we actually put some of the formal letters that we learned in school and college to use and I think really happened.


And when I finally I realized that that wasn't there, that was outside the amylase. I was the MLA didn't want the so-called Gundagai. So he got shifted to the LA market and, you know, we had a signature campaign and etc. and we actually ended up shifting the garbage dump to where it was supposed to be and not in a crowded area and so on and so forth. So that was my first win of sorts.


And this was, again, early days. I didn't know activist or activism or anything of.


Were you? 16, I think, OK. And and then I remember I joined engineering college. It to be very hectic because college would be between eight and five. So I would come home really tired. I was not used to working that long. And I remember one day I was asleep and I heard some people screaming and I called my watchman to ask them, what the hell are these people doing and why are they yelling at me? So I went down and I ended up meeting a few activists who are prominent names today, and they said that we are trying to win an election and we are trying to change the way politics is.


And we are going to only spend seventy five thousand rupees and winning this election. So I told them, you are clearly out of your mind and I happen to know something about this. And what you're saying is is impossible. And that was the beginning of the Wartman Babuji campaign where 49 NGOs came together and put up what is called a citizen's consensus candidate.


And I thought this was a I remember I went there and I I was really excited because I always was interested in politics. These seem to be decent people. That was the only reason why I didn't join the previous cohort. So I said, OK, let's let's do something. So I went there and they said, OK, the elections are about four months from now and we are already doing some putout and you should do some press out in your local area.


So I said, OK, so I went to the slum right next door and you know, we had held these people. The deluge was recent. We had, you know, again, giving them food and all that. And these were all boys that I played football with. So I remember it was in the middle of the election. I went to the slum and the slum looked like a war zone.


I couldn't see any able bodied young man or woman. I could only see the extremely old or the extremely young, the toddlers. I asked people, where were these people, these people going? I just know they've gone for they're actually on here. So sort of dumb that they use words. They're basically paid political volunteers and they're going to operate out of this is season time for them. I mean, you're you're essentially come at the wrong time. So I went there and, you know, I got it all these guys.


And I said, hey, you know what? This is what we're doing. And we have a candidate. And it's about clean politics. And, you know, if we we've actually voted for everyone, our lives won't change. This is the guy and there's room for me. So we all at me. And he said, I think you're out of your head. I mean, you're a friend and you're a great guy, but you shouldn't get into this.


It doesn't work that way. So I said, no, no. I said, please do this for me. So I encourage them to call for a Subha. And they said, OK, you normally charge people, but we got gather people for you.


And I remember I climbed onto a taxi and gave a very rousing speech and we were good to 300 people there and everybody was clapping, clapping.


Then I asked them to vote for me and Exeter.


And, you know, they after the whole thing, they began asking me, OK, now what? Are you still as crazy as you were? I said, no, I'm I'm crazy. And I want your help to go door to door and etc.. And I said, but me, I mean, OK, now this with all this was, OK, we're friends, we let this happen. But what are you going to give us? I said, what do you I am not that rich guy, OK?


I live in the building there, but that's about it.


And the short three pipes one was a shining stainless steel pipe and was slightly aluminum. And they said the first pipe has being given by party X, the second pipe is been given by party Y and they're building this toilet block for us and they're doing this and they have promised us this and that. What are you giving? And I said, we know. What do you think? That these people will basically basically do something and they anything like this is how it is.


And you have to pay us if you basically want us, obviously. So I said, OK, I don't want your services, but let me come in and you do what you have to do, but you at least vote for me. So we did that.


And I said, remember, on the day of the elections, we actually end up winning that seat. So we won by four thousand five. We do the walks and we I never expected that we would win, but we did. And I still remember that night I was home. I was truly ecstatic. I remember partying. And I remember my father came up and woke me up, startled, and he said, what happened and what happened? Are you waking me up?


I'm I was I mean, I'm asleep.


So he's like that are there are another 30, 40 people outside of our door.


And I go there and I see these boys and I try and I said, what happened? And they said, no, we voted for you. The results came as per the polling, but they realized that we've not ordered for you. Now they've cut our water with the.


Oh, Jesus. So I.


I saw something. I saw report. We watched the whole thing out. We got the BMC to repair the water and all that and the water connection.


But that for me was the moment of truth, because if you had to. Really change the world for the better in the most effective way. You have to engage with the state. You couldn't have worked in silos, you couldn't have done it without the state. And then thanks to all who basically became the corporator, and he was a member of the proximity to what committee was talking to you earlier about? He was part of the standing committee. I was the head of staff.


In many ways I would draft his letters. And that really gave me a bird's eye view of things. And I and I again, remember six months into his tenure, Shellie's Gandhi, who this is before he became the central information commissioner and so on and so forth, he was an the activist. I remember he had written to all of us over email saying that the Crawford market redevelopment and the redevelopment is supposed to get us X, but it has been given for.


Right. Which is much less than X. So it's clearly there's something amiss. And I'm totally holding here, so to say, and we have to stop it. So I remember I volunteered and me and a few friends actually went to all these 227 carburettors.


And I remember till then we had this theory of the good Congress, of the bad Congress, of the good BJP and the bad the BJP. And depending upon convenience, you know, you would say, OK, some leaders are the good Congress and some Congress, the bad Congress and bad party and the party or whatever.


But I remember all of them on the face of it say that this is wrong and something needs to be done. I remember when the issue came up for discussion, I was in the gallery. By the way, the BBC has a view gallery which is not being used. Nobody should go there someday. The good view and I remember we were all ensconced there and we were looking at what's happening and the proceedings were going on in Marathi and this issue suddenly comes up and not one person stood up to oppose it.


The only person who stood up was that a lot of this was who stood up and he said that this is wrong and I object to it. And because he objected to it, it was recorded and there was some probing. The whole thing was scuttled and got the kingdon to take place at the end of the day. But that day I was convinced that it has to be politics and it has to be long term. And this was around the same time that I was introduced to a generation, Ryan, and then the entire idea of looking at systemic problems and political reform as the as the core issue and also is this phenomenal figure.


I still call him my mentor. I joined looks at that I left, looks at him and he decided to support Modi. But that's a that's a discussion for another day. But yeah. So, look, I was the first party that I joined before my party, so that happened. And I think I thought that this is a great party. You're a great thinker. And we already had one word, Andrew. So we were like the beacon of sorts when it came to the so-called clean politics.


But I saw that while we were doing some good things, we were still a flash in the pan and we weren't really being able to create impacted skill. And that's when the A.R.T. India Against Corruption Movement happened.


And I was one of the few people who I remember and Arvind Kejriwal, who I didn't know, then reached out to ANC and said that, look, we are trying to do something against corruption and why don't you join us in Mumbai?


And we organized Mumbai and we saw that widespread, massive support which again turned into the Amarone party. And, you know, I've been I've been there since.


And also the Amami party actually gave me such an amazing opportunity at my age to end up becoming spokesperson. I am the national joint secretary there. I'm able to work very closely with the Delhi government on a few of its programmes. I'm able to influence policy. I'm able to formulate Pakistan so far. Yes. Well, that's basically been my energy in the political space. And yeah, I think ever since that day in the BMC, there was there was really no looking back.


So let's take a step back.


Like I do want to ask you lots of questions about your sort of intellectual evolution at this time through people AJP and all of that and how your understanding of politics deepened. But before that, I'm very fascinated by the BMC elections for which, you know, you were chief of staff. As you see for O'Dowd's D'Souza, you got 4700 votes or something in 2006. Eighteen thousand and seven and seven.


And you guys won. So here's my question. Help me understand the mechanics of this, that when is a local election like this at the BMC level? Number one, the people who are voting, why are they watching the video? And number two, the people who are standing for these elections, why are they spending?


So in most cases, while the corporate may argue that they can only make laws, but they can't implement them. So while they may be true on paper, the fact of the matter is, if a corporation wants to do something, he can get something done irrespective of whether he has powers on paper or not. We have seen that on multiple occasions.


That's point one point to the way people work is that they are really disinterested in the VMC election. You know, it's seen as, OK, it's just the least important election. The councillor has seen extremely low in the hierarchy of elected representatives. And, you know, people don't think highly of them consequentially and hence that disinterest the toward the people who can best typically are, again, from established parties. Because what happens is you have to give your cadre an opportunity to contest.


You have a lot of competition when it comes to amylase and peace. And because those are bigger elections, you need more funds. But Councillor, election is a small election. And if you are not going to accommodate your party cadre in the council election, then where are you going to basically accommodate them? So most of these people are people who want to make a career out of politics. If you typically see most of the ships and animals today, that evolution started by then be incorporated at some point in time.


And then they became successful after going to the villages, talking the party there and then expanding the party's footprint on and so forth.


So these are people who want to contest. But again, in typical parties, if you have a corporate who becomes an MLA, then he will ensure that there is no corporator winning twice because then he's started a second because of it.


So because of the situation and because of the manner in which the reservations play out, for example, you have 50 percent of all local board seats reserved for women, which is a good thing. You have twenty seven percent reserved for BCU of 18 percent, DFAC and so on. Now, the problem is that because these reservations come only six months prior to elections, OK, it's a good thing that you have diverse groups of people participating in it. But the open so-called constituencies become so-called competitive because all the menfolk who get displaced from their constituencies basically come there.


And that's why you have so much of the city.


So if you typically see most parties actually struggle to get candidates of the particular combination that the reservation is there for, and that speaks volumes about the political discourse itself in terms of participation of people in these parties. So, yeah, so that's broadly how the entire election goes. It's actually but this time around, we expect that there will be more clarity much earlier on so that you can have a long, protracted campaign towards elections. Because also see, prior to this, if you see the citizens movement, they were independents.


So you have to go to people, tell them who you are, what do you do, what do you stand for? And if you get elected, what would you do for them? Sort of what's in it for what's in it for me. But now all of this has to be done just within 15 days or 21 days at max from the time that you got elected assembly, which will be the random, which will be anything random. So politics is about consistency.


It is about perseverance. It's about that repeated attempt to communicate and all said and done. Ten years ago, we were still somebody who was just an independent looking at one particular locality. Now, all said and done, we have a political party doing looks at that. Yeah, we had a political party which results in politics. Nobody, nobody. It's a good party. But now we are all said and done. We have a model in place.


And in Delhi you may argue whichever way, but the fact of the matter is that it has actually worked. And there is the broom which is assembled. There is Arvind Kejriwal, who is a leader and all of those things put together. Now, I believe that these forces of new politics have never been better positioned than they are now. So hoping for a much better election, because I think also what has happened in the pandemic is people for the first time, I've been forced to think about it.


I really that bad that all of us have to just be cooped up in our in our houses. Why is it that the government apparatus has collapsed? And how why are these people on the streets? Why do these people have to go out there and go back to their villages? All of these things have really, I believe, have forced people across the board to ask some serious questions about the government and things like that. And I think this was the elections would be a very, very, very interesting election, assuming it goes the way we hope it does.


I'm wondering if there is you know, before we come back to. Larger questions, I'm wondering if there's a little bit of the availability heuristic here, because the people who interact, you interact with it would obviously care more about all of this and, you know, would be more aware. And even people who are not activists like you would want to come across that way. But my general sense of just sort of looking around is that people have gone back to being apathetic because everything that changed, you know, we've got a new normal now and people are going on with their lives.


And so I'm not sure that that like for me, the fundamental insight which I would like all Indians to have is that our state is a dysfunctional and parasitic state and that we have been treated as subjects, not as citizens. And I don't. And this is another opportunity where you'd imagine that more of us would see that. And I don't think enough of us see that. I think we are just back into the normal kind of groove of that, the way things used to be.


But maybe I'm just being pessimistic.


No, I think at the core lies commonality of which, you know, I always give this example that a mosquito is more socialist than Karl Marx. It makes no distinction while it bites between.


You know, I've got to express a pet peeve here, which is that a lot of people use the word socialist as if it is getting about society. And actually, socialism is extreme caution, as we've seen in. And that sentence is still right because a mosquito is, of course, being coercive. You will never consent to a mosquito taking your blood.


So in that sense, it's absolutely kind of true. Lets you know there are two strands.


I'm fascinated by this complete thought. So the point is, unless and until you have that realization of the commonality of fate, that if today somebody's suffering and beyond working towards solving the person's problem, sooner or later it's going to really come back and impact us. And what better time than a pandemic to realize that? Yeah, so the mosquito can be substituted with the common virus.


And I think slowly and steadily people are really reaching that conclusion. So no matter what jingoism we see on social media and on Twitter timelines and our Instagram timeline is a fact of the matter is that there is an increasing realization that all so-called existing traditional parties have failed. Status quo is unsustainable. We are slowly getting there is just about when you reach the tipping point, because we also see the way change takes place. We think about a Windscale and you have, let's say, 100 grams and one on the other side.


You're just putting one one gram each and it won't tip till hundred and one. So even though there is a lot of work that is happening, even though there is a lot of Mantan, so to say, it's still Silvertip only with that with that 101. So that tipping point is near. And I am a little more optimistic than you are that people will vote. Because coming back to our experience in the 2017 election, when we went to the election commission and we told them that, look, you guys aren't doing a good job of increasing percentages and I think we can do this better than you.


And you should basically trust us. And we did a number of things with them to engage young people. And there was an increased voting percentage. This was the same time that I'm not sure big names, but some prominent advertising firms and some so-called creative agencies came back to me and told me, sorry, but Mumbai is an apolitical city. And, you know, all of what you're saying is true for Delhi, which is a very political you know, we are really stuck into just going to a walk and coming back and not being able to do anything.


But that's wrong. So if you actually engage with people, I think you'll see episodes again that we are as good or as bad as any other people anywhere in the world. So we are all people who respond to incentives if bad behavior goes unpunished and good behavior goes unreported, that is, there is nothing there's no incentive for really doing good. So ought to be the same. I think people are slowly realizing that good governance is an incentive, is a major incentive, and we really want to see that tipping point comes sooner or later.


I hope you're right and of course, much closer to the ground. So maybe you have more reason to be optimistic, but perhaps you are much closer to the ground because you're optimistic to begin with. So we'll never know. But you you speak about people responding to incentives. And I sort of like one of the strands I want to unpack is that that strand of local governance, like I remember Episode 31 of my show was Ricchiuti Rajagopalan, where we spoke about urban governance.


And one of the big sort of defining moments for me was learning that how at the level of local politics, there is a mismatch between power and accountability in the sense that your MLA is relying on world banks from elsewhere, not necessarily your little urban World Bank. So he doesn't really have the incentive to serve you, whereas the people that you do elect and that you have power over your local corporate or their powers are very restricted. Their budgets are restricted to.


You know, most of your taxes go to the center, not enough of it devolves down at the local level. So you might have some local concerns, but you have, you know, no way to the people who are accountable to you don't have the power or the money to do anything about that. And there is therefore this fundamental mismatch, which would also explain what you mentioned earlier, that, you know, people are excited about voting in Lok Sabha elections a little less than Sahba, but at the BMC level, not at all, because, you know, what difference is it going to make to my life?


How much is that an accurate impression in the sense specifically at the level of the BMC or the municipality of whichever city? What can the local government do and what can it not do?


Well, I think a lot of things. So when we speak about decentralization of power, we can cure a lot of noise, but we should focus on three things fund functions and functionaries. And I think if you look at urban governance from that lens, you what you realized is that you've seen the legislature metamorphosing into the executive. You can't make out the difference. So the net result is that the MLA that you elect, you expect him to be the face of the government.


He's basically a lawmaker and maybe because he's an elected representative, he can hold the government accountable, but he is not the government. So in a situation where you have reduced avenues of participation, B, you have these indirect accountability and you have the not so subtle framework of India, and that's the framework of they're operating and even more usted framework of the lower bureaucracy operating. The whole thing is one big mess. And on and off you can have a good IAS officer who is a genuine guy, a nice guy who is well-meaning, but all said and done unless and until you do not have that local participation, the grassroot to ensure last mile delivery, nothing really happens.


So let's look at VMC for that matter, that his No new project, which is a capital expense project taken up for a long time, the coastal road was the first such thing done in a long period of time. All the bulk of the thing is maintaining all projects. And I mean, you have the same road that you would have expected is the same the same roads dug on multiple locations. How difficult it is to set up your what is called ducting to ensure that each time there's a new line that the road is not dug open and stuff like that.


So the reason why you have this mess is because status quo benefits the existing economy. Here you look at the contracts, the way it is operated, blacklisted contractors get awarded the contract if they're blacklisted one more day, applying in another ward. It's one continuous set of people who are actually beneficiaries at all levels, whether it is tenders, whether it's contracts, whether it is it's poor execution, whether it is it's repeated execution of the same set of things without giving much thought.


I mean, it just lies in tatters.


Let's take the DP, for that matter, the so-called DP twenty thirty four, which took place, which got cancer twice. And, you know, everybody spoke about all we should speak about zoning and we should speak about sharing out. I mean, Kinsolving our open spaces. You know how much of that gets implemented? 17 percent. So why go with this entire exercise of only 17 percent of it basically gets implemented. But the point I'm trying to make is much larger, that in all your cities, you basically do not have direct accountability.


B, people do not have a C in the agenda that the council basically takes.


So basically people aren't able to hold people accountable from the time that they've elected them till the next election. And also then we'll get into the kind of democratic system that we have. So we have the first past the post system, which clearly incentivizes Waterbank politics. You just need a combination of whatever lens you look at it cost or maybe linguistic groups or maybe socio economic groups, which basically give you the threshold of thirty 31 percent depending upon the number of people in a particular constituency.


And that's why you have the results that you do.


But that said, I think when you have a directly elected mayor and you have a directly elected chief minister, which is a model that we should slowly go towards. So there is at least a distinction between the executive and the legislature then what we have right now.


But the answer to your question is that unless you don't have these avenues of participation, no matter what you do, it's still going to remain the same. But if you have these ward committees meet, I have four, four, five years into who we had this committee. We had this group of 35 people, plus people from the local commercial establishments and shopkeepers associations. We would need month after month and discuss issue after issue. So over a period of time, things do sort themselves out.


I mean, they will certainly not be as great as we expect them to be, but they would be much better than the situation that we're in.


Does it really make that much of a difference? Because I came across a 2011 article where you are expressing disillusionment with others and saying that he he didn't really do anything at the end of the day, nor so.


So there is nuance there. So in 2011, I saw I think it also was a great corporator when it came to him working on the ground, but when it came to his utilization of his funds, when it came to getting US projects, but when it came to him raising questions in the house, I saw that that was really sad. He just raised one question. So now, of course, we realized that there is I mean, he had an issue with public speaking in terms of what we were learning afterwards.


But the reason why that happened was because there was no institution to support him. So while people like us supported him with the goodness of our hearts, he was still not. Part of a political party, there was no formal process to basically support him. He was clearly overwhelmed with the kind of credit that he would get. And I still would say I would still give him attention during all of all of those things. But I would certainly call him a failure when it came to him being our back in the house.


So we had this expectation that he would be at. So the only question that he asked was that Crawford marketing. So I would expect a counselor to look at me and not basically be a ruban kind of a personality. But at least I told him that, you know, you don't have to be eloquent when it came to corruption because when somebody is robbing in your house, you don't really think about the crime. You can just directly go out there and say and do whatever you have to say and do.


So I think that is the only disillusionment. But again, that comes again to this model of political intervention that it can't be citizen candidates. This is a romantic concept which maybe was done as an experiment at that time, was a good experiment. But the future has to be political party the future, because the sad part is that we look at political parties only in the pursuit of power. But the goal of a political party is not the blind pursuit of power.


It is the evolution of leadership. It is to basically not leadership in its ranks to be able to support that leadership when it comes to decision making, when it comes to their participation in the legislature and which somebody is all said and done, actually have a system which more or less functions. Now, we can argue as to whether what the standards are and etc. and etc. but that is my answer to the adult thing. So, again, just for the record, I still think he is was phenomenally honest.


I, I am willing to put my neck on the line and say that he didn't take a single bribe in five years. But yeah, when it came to him basically being the largest spokesperson in the city, it was problematic. Fair enough. And I guess at some level, it's also, you know, you evaluate someone against a certain set of expectations and you might realize later on that, you know, maybe these expectations were not.


Yeah, because because let's see if right now I'm involved in an experiment called the Indian School of Democracy, an environmental strategy, which is, again, something interesting. It's about training people for the job that they seek to aspire for. So if I want to be an elected representative, do I actually have the right training, the right skill set, the right exposure, which prepares me for my job? I don't to have that. And we thought that he would learn on the job, but that didn't happen.


So I'm going to take issue with something you said that is, you know, almost delightfully idealistic, where you say that, you know, the job of a political party is to build leadership and it's not the naked pursuit of power. Wait a minute. It is a naked pursuit of the first one.


I am I am totally impractical. Of course, whatever a political party does is to please to pursue power, but that can be done in a way that do not show leadership.


Let me sort of continue down that line.


You know, people keep lamenting that the quality of our leaders today is so bad and look at the independence movement. And we had, you know, but Dylan Hero and Roger G. And all of these people and what do we have now? And I'd written a column arguing that it comes down to incentives that that generation of leaders, they became leaders not because they lost it for power, because there were no rewards to be had for them. They were animated by principle that we want to make this country a better place.


We want to do something for people. And therefore, we had that quality of leadership today and they were responding to those incentives. But, you know, if you think about what incentives opposed post independence politician is responding to how your principles don't matter anymore. It's about you've got a parasitic state. They want to have the levers of the parasitic state and the monopoly on violence and so that they can use some of that power to, you know, power here is not a means to an end for them.


It's an end in itself. Right. And therefore, the question is and therefore my sort of cynical take on Indian politics is that even when people get into politics for the best of intentions, they will inevitably get corrupted because there is a fundamental clash between the will to power and whatever principles you may believe in, that ultimately you cannot achieve anything without coming to power. You know, and especially in the big elections, you need money to come to power.


So first you need to think of which what banks are going to appeal to. You are funded by special interests who will want their pound of flesh. And you can rationalize all of that and say that it's you know, I'll make these small compromises as long as I can, you know, for a higher cause. But ultimately, you know, politics is corrosive because power always corrupts.


That's so many liberatory in a nice argument to look at. But the way I look at it is, no, I'll tell you something.


It's not a libertarian argument because the are. It is not against the state. The argument is against this structure of the state, if the state was much more local and if politicians were accountable and if the only way they could, you know, stay in power was by actually doing something for people, you know. So it's a response to the dysfunctional nature of our state. And we can come to specific examples of how that kind of corrosion of character also happens.


But sorry, broadly, what?


No see. So there are two ways of looking at it. One is, if you're looking at change, you can either do a big ticket reform and hope for the big ticket reform to make all these changes. Or you can do many small things which are not equal to the big ticket reform. But when done synchronously together, they are much bigger than the big ticket reform. Let me give you an example. So the playbook that you give, which is OK, you need money to win an election because you get money from some interest, you are beholden to those interests.


And that cycle continues as soon as you get elected to power and so on and so forth. But you can change that all. And and I talk about me, but I'm part of the fundraising people. We consciously go after funding, which is crowd sourced, which is small. So and also we don't have that culture of political funding in the country. I mean, when I go to my friends and say, listen, I'm in politics and we're contesting the elections and you should find them clean and honest, people ask me why people are just bewildered with they're in power in television.


We have to work something out. So in that culture, that political culture be, you can certainly you can certainly disrupt the playbook. So if you have existing set of cost and languages and various other groups being brought together, you can disrupt that. You and people do respond to that disruption. Look at what has happened in Delhi. The Arvind Kejriwal playbook of winning election was basically that disruption of of politics that he suddenly said that, hey, I am the advocate of the poor, I'm the voice of the oppressed.


I knew you had a new kind of a Waterbank being created of people who felt disenfranchised, people who felt disempowered, people who felt cheated. And and you've now been able to disrupt it to the extent that you got elected three times. So something is possible if you if you change the playbook, disruption is possible when it comes to the will to power the road to power. So I totally grant that Arvind Kejriwal, as a political entrepreneur, sheer genius, got the job done.


But he also claimed to stand for a new kind of politics and certain principles. Now, for example, what we saw last year, 370 was abolished. Not a peep out of him this year. Protests happened, you know, not a peep out of him. And I understand that at one level, your rationale is that, listen, we are doing a lot of things when it comes to, you know, water and electricity and all of that.


And to be able to do these things, we don't want to get into these controversies. But that's exactly what I mean, that your will to power is so strong that you are saying, what about principles of individual? That learning had to apologize to the gentleman because he Waterbank. So where are your principles in in other contexts? You speak about free speech, but then you make your guy apologies.


No, it's there are too many. Look, I'm sorry.


I hope you do. Sure. One by one. No one I this week when it came to 370 be he supported the abolishing abolishing of 370, but he's never supported the disruption of DMK or the complete suspension of the Internet and the crackdown that the state has on its population. No. One. So he's spoken. It's not that he hasn't spoken on CNN. He's spoken. So let me use this example. We as a country are a very religious country.


If you typically see lasting census, just 33000 people have basically identified themselves as atheist. So whether people practice religion in the convention centre or not, they certainly identify themselves with religion. So if you have an Arvind Kejriwal come up with an alternative version of religion, which is tackling the religion of hate, bigotry, which we have seen so institutionalising normalised, then why are we being penalised for being smart? We won that election. I mean, we also we also what happened there, Jianyu, we had a government which doesn't have control over the police force.


Let me just interject with one thing that we won. That election is not a defense of this point. Even Modi won an election. Right. And we are both against the point.


So what does that even prove?


Nor so the point that I'm trying to make is that had we had the police, we would have certainly did whatever people were expecting of us. An election where you are contesting with a limited amount of resources when you have the complete might of the BJP machinery in the state, you have to be smart. You have to be nimble. You have to control your narrative. He did that all said and done, and that is what delivered us the new.


But you don't understand. I accept that reasoning as a reasoning for winning elections. I admired his political. Woman, I'm not arguing on any of those, we are not disputing his political acumen. What I am saying is that he has mastered the will to power bit, but he has no principles because, for example, let's go back to how we started working with the poor.


Tell me something. Let's go back to, for example, the apology that we showed that money was forced to make. Now, would he have made the same apology if it was a saint who was sort of the BJP person?


One second result, that money is an individual in his own right. He's a friend. And I think he is best suited to comment over that. Had it been a political party functioning, I would have responded to it. This is a private individual. What happened? There was a decision that he took and I leave it at that. I think it's the wrong example.


So I didn't ask him that. Anybody say, sorry, these I'm I'm not that high up in the party to know what transpired back then. OK, so fair enough.


It's an unfair question for you and I. You are right that he is a private individual and a great artist. Whether it's a rational decision, what you know, for a moment to have told Michel that if he did tell him that and for Michel to actually take it's all rational. But I'm saying that in that case, it's irrational in the pursuit of a certain practicality which leads to your winning elections. If the question is, do we ask that you stand for a new kind of politics, what principles do you stand for?


And, you know, honestly, everything that he said with regard to 370 and see, it was very weak. You know, he did not take the sort of I know.


So I'm surprised. I mean, suddenly Shiv Sena seems to have become the darling of the liberals not. Well, maybe I'm just speaking terms with the narrative. Yeah. We not only passed the resolution in the House, we voted against it in in the Lok Sabha. When it comes to every issue of national importance being demonetization, he was the first person who called it a national.


This is this is a national interest international of what has happened when it comes to the migrant worker crisis. He's been the first person to speak when it came to the families. But but here's the thing.


Here's the thing. What I'm pointing out is that in each of these aren't principles. No, no, no, they're not. I'll tell you why. Right. Because in each of these cases, he's responding to rational incentives. Let me go to each of them. Farm Bill, you're speaking for the farmers because I'm on my party wants to win elections in Punjab at some point. Farmers are a big WorldBank. There's your word, bankrupt farmers in across the country.


I just went up. I think because that's how much bipartisan. Just one that is is one of the many challenges and we would only speak for our families. We had an agreed inventory at the end of the day. So why is this?


Look, you know, I kind of like my job.


I buy because it's the farmers of Punjab who are mainly protesting right now. The farmers are marista aren't, let's face it. And moving on from the you know, as far as I disagree with that.


But yeah, sure. But as far as Demonetization is concerned, and I'm not taking a stand with or against a farm bill, nor am I saying that Amami party is, you know, out of all the parties are probably the I shouldn't use a phrase least evil or you will get offended.


But in all those other cases, Vimont, Patika, because there's no danger in speaking against Demon or all of this. But when it comes to sort of the 370, when it comes to see a you know, he doesn't want to piss off certain world banks. And the unfortunate truth of Indian politics is that every mainstream party, including the Congress, of course, is very wary of pissing off what they perceive to be the Hindu WorldBank. So I don't think so.


I think everyone has redefined in the World Bank around in whether it is his personal display of religiosity or a very simple aspect of an all embracing, communitarian aspect of religion, whether it is the developed world or anything else, for that matter, has redefined to this this Waterbank by saying that you can be a Hindu and that can be one of your identities. That may be the primary identity for a lot of people, but there is a better way of basically being Hindu than the standard playbook which is being peddled by a few people.


That's that's being intelligent as being smart.


Give in. I don't want to litigate this too much. I'm also sort of reminded of what one of your early mentors, my own Gandhi, once said about him in his book Up and Down, where my uncle wrote, quote, Let's recall the event I had first befriended. He was a man who cared for the poor and the underprivileged. He was a man committed to changing the nation without any desire for power or any inclination to engage with messy politicking.


Yet by 2014, the same man had surrounded himself with unsavory people, built a coterie and abandoned all that. We stood for God.


And in my mind, you know, this is a classic example of how the will to power leads to the abandonment of principles in a system like ours.


No, no, please understand. Please look at the context of this. We were literally the victims of a witch hunt of a government which put nearly twenty two of our families in jail, all, coincidentally, have been thrown out by the courts.


We are the only government in the history of this country which had control of an anti-corruption bureau.


The paramilitary forces were sent in and in the premises of the ECB to take physical control of it.


So the kind of a witch hunt and a kind of a crackdown, the way our donors were basically harassed because they basically supported us in multiple instances.


So you happen. You need to run a very tight ship and all of this and are basically taking control, making sure that we do the right thing and we do the right thing in the right way. So the political entrepreneurship of it, because one slip you're in there with the kind of you have a media which just looks towards just amplifying propaganda of, you know, who.


So all of this basically comes from that fact when we were being brutally attacked from all sides. We are a small party. We have to stay relevant. We have to win elections. We have to deliver on that promise. And we have to create this new governance model and this new political culture that we keep talking about. But that said, I disagree with Benghazi. I mean, he's my mentor and I have a lot of respect for him. And I will continue my mentor for the rest of my life.


But I disagree with this and also do not mind Gandhi doesn't speak anything about I mean, not once. If you say he has surrounded himself with Yassmin. No, I don't think so. I think most people expect that most parties are going to be transparent to their strategy. That's not true. I know I haven't personally. I have engaged with him at multiple points in time. And he's somebody who surrounds himself with people who tell him the truth.


That may not be perceived as people telling him the truth. And it's very easy to label some people. Yes, but that's that's not true at all. He's somebody he's a politician who has this. He also the ground and. He has he's always open to new ideas and new people all around, and they're going to continue this argument that my in case of and I've read the book and I mentioned in the book that three or four instances. So it all sounds the IAC Park sounds as though it was extremely romantic.


And Hudis Arvind Kejriwal, who is exactly become the villain that he led a movement against, that's that's not true at all. And I say this with a lot of responsibility. If you're a member of a political party, you're expected to conform with some discipline. Are you saying that all of us agree with everything that our leaders say? Of course, there are moments of disagreement, but there are party fora where that has to be discussed. If you have a disagreement with some decision or some policy, you can raise it in a particular way.


I think what Michael needed was not just opportunistic, but he said what you're going through rather than pressure on and what what would what to do.


You know, I remember the moment there was a documentary made on the Amazon party, and there's one moment in that which I found very telling and correct me if I remembered it wrong, but at one point or you know, Alvin says that, listen, all our candidates will be elected by primaries. And at another point, he says, I don't care about the primary. This is a person that I want to remember that moment. And I am I'm remembering.


No, so no, no, no, no.


So please understand, when you when you put it in context for this, when you actually did an experiment of a primary, you had two people participate such that the worst candidate would have basically become your candidate. So when you are setting up an institutional system. No, no, no, no. My point is all of this should be done. All of this will be done. All of this is being done in some measure. But it is it will take some time.


And it actually done here is basically have a primary. But I will only accept it if you pick the guy. I think is.


That's what that's what you just said. Pick the wrong guy. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


This this experiment comes from a looks at the experiment doesn't come from a family party experiment where they actually had a primary and everybody participated. More people participated, ended up because it was an open primary and there was basically an exclusion with basic income who had a not so so-called ideal candidate would end up becoming the candidate.


So I'm seeing that we are a political party, which is a work in progress after independence. Which political party has basically built itself brick by brick without so-called money, muscle power and divisive, which I know I already granted that political spin out of the political culture.


But political culture about people participating, people selecting candidates and selecting candidates is a complex decision. It is not as simple as people just voting for a particular person. It has to be the person's ability to be able to raise resources. It has to be the person's political maturity. There is a lot that goes into it. And I think over a period of time, if you're really looking at us from since we were in existence since 2008, 13 years now over a period of time, if you look at it from twenty, twenty five years, all of these things will basically come in place.


This is a matter of fact, we had a political startup. We are struggling. And it was all said and done, as you said, in the political entrepreneurship, in the most elusive ideal conditions. We are still after the Congress and BJP, at least in the mind of public imagination, we exist. So if you look at it from a reality kind to us, and I think all of all of what we hope in terms of that new political culture, in terms of these institutionalized mechanisms, you get to see it in in something.


No, I realize and I'm feeling bad now that I'm being very unkind. So so I shouldn't maybe clarify that one thing. I mean this not as an Indian, you know, let me let me finish. I mean, this not as an indictment of his people or among me party. I mean this as an indictment of politics, especially in India and the way it can corrode principle. So I'm just talking sort of it seems to me to be an illustration of that abstract point.


The other thing that I you know, just to sort of express why I feel strongly about this, because when 370 happened and Osier happened, it's part of a continuing pattern of our society basically constantly being fractured, being torn apart by this dirty, divisive, communal politics that is happening around us. And you expect people in the opposition to stand up against it. And instead, what we saw in Delhi was this very rational politician saying that I won't go too deep into this.


I am not going to speak in support of the SHEINBERG protesters. I am not getting you know, I need to win the next election to continue to do the good governance that I would like to do.


He's not sorry on this one. Your words, I'm guessing, has to say he's very clear. He's very clear to voters here. You see what Arvind's interview. He's extremely clear about this here. This is wrong. This must be stopped. And we had a political party which voted against it, as opposed to a Senate which voted in one House voted and ordered in one House in. See if you see how we have responded on Bodos point, please see what we've done in the assembly, we see how our employees have responded.


See what our witness basically said. And while in terms of the popular narrative, there is this so-called narrative being woven, that is that is not how it is.


And anyone who knows anyone who's seen what we've done, anyone who's seen the kind of work that we've done in minority areas with our minority families, we clearly say that it's completely contrary to what the troops on the ground look for, what is there for all to see. So hopefully we'll have some feedback from people that your work is there for all to see.


But, you know, you can cherry pick those parts of the work which someone like me will agree with. But there are other parts of the work which I don't agree with, where I can see you responding to incentives. For example, you are against FDI in retail, and that is obviously because a significant part of your outsourced funds must come from small retailers. They are an interest group over there. And to me that is a form of corruption, obviously not a form of corruption instead of you know, and even if I don't want to use such a strong term, you are responding to those incentives.


And the core of it, like I remember many years back, I had written a column saying something good about gives you all. By the way, I did the column arguing how sociopaths and sociopathy, by the way, is a medical condition where a certain part of the brain that is damaged, you don't feel empathy and whatever. And statistics show that sociopaths are overrepresented among prison convicts, which you would expect lawyers and politicians or bankers and politicians, whatever.


And my argument was that if you look at most Indian politicians, like, you know, Modi was the example I took and I said that, you know, a classic sociopath politician will do whatever it takes to come to power and not have any principles. So I must allow that. Maybe Modi might even be an atheist. For all we know, it doesn't matter. He'll say whatever it takes to come to power. And in that case, the world doesn't seem to be a man who's a sociopath.


He seems to be someone who is has a lot of heart, who has a lot of heart, genuinely believes in all of that. And instantly, one of my friends who, you know, lives and works in Delhi and a woman whom I respect a lot, called me up and said, admit you are wrong. He's because I don't know.


I think I have known Arvind. I have known Arvind for the first time. Coincidentally, Arvind came to Mumbai. It was in 2009 when we had this experiment. After that, all this was a win in Jihu. We tried to do something and here we didn't succeed. So I know I was scared. Alvera and I have known him. I see. The thing is, in politics, you have to be extremely headstrong, just like any entrepreneur.


That's your personality type. And all of whatever Arvind has done, it certainly comes out of empathy. I mean, imagine to be able to work for the voiceless and the people who come from some of the most vulnerable and politics in society, who don't make it, who don't want represented on the Twitter universe, once represented on the Instagram universe. And then you have all kinds of judgment calls being made and all kinds of aspersions being cast, such as politics.


So when I mean, even me sitting here, I think when you take a decision to be in public life, you have to be open to public scrutiny. And Aravinda is a human at the at the end of the day. And I think as a politician also, he's avoided. If you wouldn't agree with all the last years.


I think he's an outstanding politician that I'm not arguing at all.


OK, let me make a case against myself making him sound as though he is he's immoral.


No, no, I'm not true. I'm saying he's responding to incentives. But let me let me come back another way. And because we contain multitudes as a cliche on the show goes on now argue against myself. Let's say that you're a politician, you're getting you into politics because it be because of certain principles you believe in. But you realize that along the way you have to compromise. Now, you have two choices. Either you don't compromise and you're out of politics because you cannot win elections and therefore you don't make much of a difference to society.


You're doing piecemeal things or you say that, OK, I'll make whatever small compromises I have to and I'll come to power. And in the end it'll be better then somebody much worse being in power. And it seems to me that the best way to rationalize the journey of the Ahmadi party is that those compromises have been made for a larger, better cause. I thought you'd agree with this party.


At least you don't say let me explain. So I think I think you're confounding two things. One is that irrespective of what your ideology is, irrespective of what your philosophy is or what the framework of parties, irrespective of all of that, just to bring governance to an acceptable level of governance is what the Amami party is focused right now. What you see, what we are focused for the last five years, you see a focus focus right now.


It is about giving dignity to the common man, the common woman, so that they have equality of opportunity, so on and so forth. That is one part. The second part is that I think we can expect and it's a good thing to expect so much of us. We a political party, at the end of the day, we are India's fastest growing political party. We are an opposition in Punjab. We are making an offering to go on to Tarakan.


We recently won over 140 seats in Maharashtra out of the 350 300 we contested. So we had a growing party. It is we we do we do speak on all these issues. But there is a narrative being created. The opposition, the present opposition is the opposition that the BJP wants. Clearly, they look at us as an existential threat and see the whole thing right. When there was a witch hunt against our MLA, the so-called Congress Eco-Systems, the world didn't have any problem with it.


It's fine because they were, you know, the OP and it's OK if they're getting obliterated and so on and so forth.


So you are basically against a lot of resources. Your your you're no longer a flash in the pan.


You basically build a party. You you are now slowly evolving that discourse into taking that from taking that from an acceptable level of governance to actually looking at things as a party is avoidable suffering going out now, speaking about houses, you are you now speaking about about higher education and scholarships and and things like that to give it a little give it give it time for them to be able to lift the political discourse and that will take time.


That is not going to happen overnight.


You know, I mean, you know, first of all, I must clarify that I have less respect for the Congress and Europe.


I think this is this nation really needs a proper opposition, which hopefully and I hope you guys can proceed in that direction. But to sort of continue with that abstract question, let's see that as a politician, you are in that position where, you know, a politician doesn't have the luxury. I do. You sit on the outside and you say whatever you want and you have purity of ideology and whatever politician doesn't have that luxury. You have to compromise.


You have to figure out how to back because without compromising and reiterating that for the tenth time.


So my question to you, which, you know, you've you've perhaps answered is that at what is that baseline level where you say, I will not compromise on this?


What are those core values? And to sort of elaborate one thing that it is very clear that Aam Aadmi Party stands for is that will provide good, clean governance, that as far as water is concerned and electricity is concerned and all of those sort of local issues will provide good, clean, good governance. Fine. That's what you guys stand for. And granted, that's what you're looking to do. Beyond that, are there any principles that you will not ever compromise on?


Of course. Why do you think we are focusing on education? Is it just education as a means to get a job? Is that the only so-called metric that we are looking at? Of course, what we are looking at a much better idea, much more empathetic society, and all of that will happen over time. I'm saying that your expect is good, are good expecting that.


If I just interject, since you brought up education, people talk about Aam Aadmi Party is great work in education in Delhi and all of that. Again, I've heard stories about friends of mine, about what is happening to private schools. For example, there is this private school which was started by this idea of the partition for children of refugees function perfectly fine all these years. And when the Armani Party took over, they took over with this ideological aversion to private schools and they came out with these price caps that you cannot charge more than this.


And that became an existential threat to the school. When I last heard about this from a friend, the reserves had been wiped out. It was an existential threat. It was like this distrust of the voluntary action of people. No, no, no, no, no, no.


Not at all. Not at all. It this mind just basically be one one of chaos. If you see generally as a rule, you typically have private schools which charge a lot of money for not basically giving the kind of facilities that the government gives. And at the end of the day, what is the incentive for the government to fix the public schools if a large number of the politicians typically run the private schools, which is typically how it works across the board, we have worked towards fixing the public education to the extent that it's quality.


And this is something which will get to us, to my eyes. I have gone to these schools. I have interacted with these children. I have seen the learning outcomes, which is which is there for people to independently measure. But that's orthogonal.


I'm not arguing about the public schools, granted, but the bottom line is parents need the choice. Now, what has happened over the last couple of decades especially. And and what? Gone wrong is the fault of all other governments, not your government, and you're not even in power at the centre, is that constantly? First of all, the impression that all private schools are expensive is rubbish. There are budget private schools all over the place, including the slums.


Let me finish where, you know, poor parents, rather than send their kids to a free government school, prefer to be a little bit and send them to a budget, private school and all of that. And they've been hit hard by regulation. That's a story of the past predates Aam Aadmi Party. Not your fault. But what I would expect is that while you're fixing public education, let private schools continue to operate. Don't get in the way of the voluntary action of people.


If a parent wants to send a child to a school, let the parent also. It's a parent's choice. This ideological dogmatism that we have seen from I don't I don't happen to have enough of information.


Sure. Sure. So I'll make a comment on that kind of.


Yeah. So let's sort of leave that aside. OK, fair enough. So let's move on from the other party, you know, and again, we come back to the ARMANDE, but it is the second level of my life after my mother.


So we can speak about it as much as you want. OK, let's let's go back to your political journey. You know, initially you get into politics because you want to do good things. You realize that at the level of private charity or whatever, things are happening in a piecemeal way.


And you decide that if you want to do more fundamental good, you have to enter politics and you into politics, not beyond this initial urge. How does your understanding of Indian politics evolve, like you've said, that you played a part in that and all of that? What are the big sort of learnings that you took, you know, through your years of political activism once you got into it?


So I think politics is basically a full time vocation, though I'm sadly a part time politician who has to juggle with a corporate job. Second is that we do not have a culture which basically supports political aspirants. I still remember I was in college and, you know, I took an aptitude test and the person asked me, what do you want to be? And I said, Oh, while I know I'm a good engineer, I mean, I, I would want to be an engineer and I would always want to be a politician.


I always knew that I really had a lot of clarity on important public spirit.


But it wasn't just one of the things that people would factor in. I remember I went for my first job. It was on campus placement. And I remember after I joined the political party, I went to the car and I said, listen, I've joined a political party and now I'm in office. And these are the details. And my activities are in no way going to harm the company's interests.


And we're not doing anything lawful. I mean, I nearly lost my job.


I had to argue against interests. I had to he tried to tell me that no, how can we basically encourage such a thing?


And I tried to give examples because that was an MNC.


And there are, you know, people who who are part of political parties in Europe and in America.


And that that's fine.


And by counting down upon it in India and I think that is a that is a problem when it comes to India, that you even even right now, if you if you are a member of a political party, nobody would want to write down the nation. I, on the other hand, have always been extremely clear because I don't want people to view this view, my association, the political party. So there's no culture in that. In that situation, what does a person do?


How does a person on his livelihood, if he is not the traditional entrepreneur, if he doesn't really come from a very affluent family, which is why you have so many lawyers, as you just gave the example of in both the categories, our entrepreneur. So when you look at the Jeffersonian model of democracy, which is that the more you have a more small businesses you have, the more entrepreneurs you have, the more meaningful the participation in the political discourse.


So, yeah, the answer to all of this is entrepreneurship, because then you can work for yourself without being answerable to so-called whims of these structures, which we are at a point in time doesn't really make sense because we all know in our corporate life that we are working 24/7.


It doesn't really matter.


And now with working from home, you know, work life balance is certainly been tossed out of the window.


So, yeah, I mean, in that it's it's it's about where it's been difficult as to how do you I mean, luckily I've been able to pay my bills and things have been fine, but I know a large number of people who would just succumb to some incentive for corruption here and there because just because they don't have their basics taken care of, you look at the remuneration that councillors get. You look at the remuneration that families get. And to pretend that that is somehow enough for them, for functioning, for running a back office, for their legislative performance, their intervention.


When it comes to the plethora of committees that are part of this is ridiculous. Yeah. So one takeaway has been that you have to be financially independent. You have to be able to raise resources. And that is still a fight in corporate India. That's something that I experienced firsthand, too.


If you want more people to participate in politics, you have to you look, you can't frown upon a person's political affiliation.


A political affiliation in India, sadly, in a corporate sector is seen to be unionization, which everybody has a problem with. But that's not the case. And again, that comes to the political culture. So that the second learning, the third learning is that.


You always prepare for an election, so an election is like that exam you've always been preparing for, you know, everything that you do, every person that you reach out to, every person that you engage with is part of it's part of that effort that you are putting into for your election at some point in time between preparation typically meets opportunity. And you have to be active and you have to know the constituency. It's all OK to basically be all around the place.


But if your local electorate doesn't know you, you know what? All these all these things don't matter.


So it is like a GP is a great guy, but at the end of the day, he is a gentleman.


I can't imagine GP claim over an electric pole and connect, which is a great act of politics back to politics.


And everyone's brilliant because he he waited. He waited symbolism with that, with that narrative. So people people actually felt that they could participate in something tangible.


But I think all the over over a period of time, it's it's it's I think politics is by far the most competitive business that anyone can be in. I mean, think about it. I think every aspect of every aspect of human knowledge, whether it is management, whether it is finance, whether it is psychology, whether it is fashion, whether it's history, geography, politics, political science, all of it, you know, are needed. And also the next thing is that many times, because politics doesn't have a set trajectory yoku you joined at this age and you became the citizen and you became like I always when I, when I when I was on the arm of the party and when we saw those hundreds, when I, I mean, when I joined the party and when we saw those hundreds of thousands of people on the road during Vietnam, when I talked, then I'll get elected in the next election that it was just a matter of time.


The people were prepared and we need to basically go there and tell them that we exist and they'll vote for us. But they are the answer to that is sadly not true and that people's people do vote, but people are exacting. You have to build a party structure brick by brick, and they don't want to do that because you don't have existing precedent in India so many times. It's really the domain of the unknown, but you just basically have to be added and lost.


And most importantly, we need to make a distinction between people and their ideas. We fight ideas. We don't fight people. Now, first, my best friend are the people who disagree with me. And he would tell me that people's ideas are an extension of themselves and sooner or later they become that. But that said, I think in politics, I have always I always believed about the distinction between ideas and people, which is why I am I have some very good friends in the BJP, in the Congress, across the aisle.


And I've always said that if our generation doesn't bond together and if we aren't friends and if we can't really, irrespective of whatever the political compulsions may be outside, then what have we even achieved? Right. So so, yeah, these these broadly basic learnings where politics is at the end of the day, being a member of the looks at the party and seeing as we defeated election after election has been heartbreaking.


But look at it from the a long haul. Look at it as a long journey. Look at your political career from a long lens and you'll have you have to be thick skinned. People will call you out all sorts of things on Twitter. You'll have all sorts of trolls that will have an impact on your mental health. And then you have to choose that because you have very little energy and very little time. How do you best utilize it? And in all of this, these are life choices like I sometimes do end up being being lonely.


I have a great mother and I have a great set of friends and accept it.


But so far I don't have a life partner who would be OK with my life choices and the lifestyle that comes with a politician who is also very social work hard and who also dabbles in policy and does this and that. So so, yeah, it is, it is extremely complex, but you just have to be accurate and yeah, hopefully all will fall in place at some point in time.


So much admiration. And I'm struck by, you know, what you said about ideas, not people like when I used to do a policy magazine Pragati my principle always was that don't criticise parties or people just speak about ideas or policies, which is kind of what I would try to do. But how hard is it that is right to do in this framework? Essentially in our discourse, you have what is a race to the bottom. Everything is so toxic, everything is so incredibly personalised.


You know, I've been attacked by two thirds of both BJP and Congress, maybe if I'm on the party as an IDL. And we will come after you will come up to, you know, I would imagine you wouldn't. And so in this discourse where it is a race to the bottom and shrillness wins, where everybody is shouting all the time, where everybody is out or not being not in a sense. How difficult is it then for you to kind of tailor your message or do you just say that all discourse hold our hair, the shrill shouting that's happening at a different level?


It doesn't matter. We have to reach the people directly. What what is your approach to of many things?


One is I think it starts with this belief in yourself, and that is this line in the party and it goes something like this. Nick Eradicable told me that I actually had the ah, no Amadei and that you are doing the right thing.


And maybe in the initial sense of I mean, in the in the not so foreseeable in the in the immediate future, maybe you're not getting traction and maybe it is difficult, but you're doing the right thing and and maybe you might lose an election and maybe people will laugh at us because we lost an election and we we couldn't garner public support and fame.


And there'll be multiple, multiple views about it. But you did the right thing and you stood and contested that election on issues that actually matter. That in itself is one way to look at it. One one aspect. The second aspect is that your existing set of distribution mechanisms for the media is slowly taken over by what we see via other media, whether it is your content creators on YouTube where you see the kind of engagement on Instagram and things like that, especially when it comes to this generation.


So there are two levels. Two ways to look at it. One way is that you need to consistently come up with an alternative narrative of things and deliver and over a period of time reach that position to be able to influence the kind of things that that you want in terms of the shared narrative. The thought is that you see, which is why I come back to my think that when it comes to these so-called IDL who have a lot of Half-Truth that are doing the rounds, that can give you an example.


Most people conflate dislike with hate. It's OK to dislike a certain set of people for whatever your reasons are, but there is something certainly wrong in hating them and actively discriminating against them and wishing them that. So that distinction is lost. So it's difficult. You have people who were being poisoned, were being conditioned. There is this feeling of victimhood, of somehow some historic wrongs being righted and etc. So one way is to basically say that, OK, these people shouldn't be engaged at all in that or that audience.


The other way to say is, OK, if for whatever the reason, we acknowledge that they exist for you, in your view of the world, real or imagined, but you engage with them and you engage with them over a period of time, they will change and they will vote for you.


So it starts with who can we talk to? And when we came to power, I should remember we would typically have everybody thinking in any if you want to vote for them, in a word, they're nice, the NGO people, but they will not win the election. For me, we had that narrative. Then we realized that people are ready. We are ready or not. The first election in 2013 when we won, 28 people were ready.


But then I think we basically live in binaries. We expect people to either like Modi or either like Arvind. But that's not how real life is. Real life is complex. You have a lot of people who, for whatever reason, like Modi, but they also like Arvind. Now, how do you over a period of time talk to this audience if for some reason they have a primary market of Hindu identity? How do you come up with something which is more egalitarian, something which is more natural and people might call Arvind whatever you have to call him?


But the fact of the matter is he's redefined Hinduism with you call it personal display of religiosity.


You call it that. That is not meant for it or whatever, but that is basically being smart. You are engaging people over a period of time when you have a bunch of poison people that we hope that with the right education in a state like Delhi, with the right focus on culture, with the right involvement of various communities, actor mohalla level and all that actually change. But I'm saying this is a this is a really long term.


So why we are at it while while we know and we are course a product of our movement, a lot of what we are is still a work in progress. That is, while we may be responding to incentives which from the electoral lens, we certainly want this country to be a better place. And we certainly look at it as not just counterproductive, but has to be shunned at all levels. And we are working towards that. It is just that in the foreseeable future, we may not see the kind of results that we expect to see, but in the long run, it will fall in place.


I know Arvind is a very empathetic, deeply concerned, concerned human being. You just see typically what he does. So long story short, if you ever see him talk to his constituents or talk to anybody that comes to meet him, the first thing that will strike you is, is your empathy for the person's situation and the person's problem. If you see all that we have that we've done, you can certainly argue as to is this the role of the state?


Should the state be doing this? But his argument has always been that, OK, the state may or may not have to do this, but they. Right. What do we do? So we need to step in until things are better. We need to do what it takes to ensure that things are better. So this is a long project. It's a 10 year, 20 year project. And I think we at the end of it, will be able to make Indian politics a less a less hateful place.


Let me be very hopeful. And the answer was, let me try to kind of unpack this what you just said and tell me if I understood it correctly. What you are basically saying is that we cannot think of politics in simplistic terms as in so and so is a Modi supporter. So-and-so is a casual supporter. You're basically saying what I keep saying. I'm sure that everyone contains multitudes and therefore there could be a person who supports Modi for this and this reason, which could include bigoted reasons or whatever.


But at the same time, that person also wants good governance. And therefore the challenge is that without necessarily, you know, attacking him on the front on the basis of what he supports money, can you appeal to the part of that voter who wants good governance and say that, listen, alright is fine, but, you know, do do want your local government to function?


So that is good governance? I think it is our policy, our our good governance is is basically what will lead them away from this politics of hatred, which right now is a substitute for that good governance. It's that palliative that that they're on. So it's really a much more nuanced engagement of the electorate because he at some point in time said, we believe very strongly that the Congress is in a state of freefall. Right. Now, with a very large number of young voters coming to the fore, and you really have a lot of disruption happening at various local elections, we believe that people will come to us.


And over a period of time when you have the will to fight, it is not with Mauric or not to say something in an environment and be foolish by saying so you do the right thing. You don't give up your principles at all. I mean, the fact of the matter is what the Amami party has done in Delhi. I'm reasonably confident no other government has. But this is a 10 year project. It's a 20 year project. It will it will take time and trust across the aisle on me that you'll see to that.


So I almost know your answer to my next question is going to be the hopeful one out of the two broad options. But here's the thing. What and I'm just thinking aloud here that I often talk about the distinction between the abstract and the concrete, that when it comes to hatred, everything that is divisive in our politics comes from abstract notions, notions of nationhood or us versus them or whatever, a nationalism, all those toxic things. But the things which actually make us liberal and bring us together are the concrete things that every day shared experiences and so on and so forth.


Now, what I see here is that in a sense, the appeal of this larger, divisive agenda that is dominant in the country today is an appeal to abstractions. And would it then be fair to say that what you guys are trying to do is radio focusing on the concrete, Kaepernick, Juniata, Bijli Kamanga, you know, Hamady, schools in particular. So one, is that an accurate summation? And two, if that is to be the case, can voters be weaned away?


Because in this age where of, you know, narrative dominance matters so much, it would seem to me like narratives built around these abstractions seem to matter because people seem to think they take bad governance for granted so they don't even care about what could.


Exosphere status quo is unsustainable. People realize that people, irrespective of whatever the chest thumping that they may engage in slowly, we are seeing that people are increasingly irritated. People may come up with one bogy after the next and after XStream and go to away. But I think slowly that will change because while all these things, abstract concepts, the ordering of a particular people, the discrimination of particular people, the unsustainability of people with a particular surname in a particular area is a real concrete phenomenon.


The only way to fight that is through better governance so that you make the narrative itself irrelevant. Not that the narrative will disappear, but the narrative then becomes becomes irrelevant. Fair enough, let's let's kind of move on to talking about your political journey, like one of the sort of as an activist, one of the causes you took up was the laws against sexual harassment. Laquinta Keenan and Reuben case happened, for example, in 2011, in 2011.


Tell me a little bit about that and the change that you managed to win.


So I think what had happened was the moment I did an article on me and my brother, my brother had lost his phone. And because the police wasn't able to find it, I traced it singlehandedly all the way to Gujarat and brought it back. And it featured I was on the front page, but very interestingly, they Bangalore up with my own name and called me Reuben Fernandes.


And the Keanna Ruben case happened very immediately on the heels of this article appearing to a lot of people thought I had died and people started calling my mother and etc. and people were asking around and my mother would basically say that, you know, you should do something about this.


I really didn't have the mental bandwidth at that time because I still very clearly remember in 2011, the A.R.T. fast got to work in August and after 11, 12 days, I had fallen sick and I needed, you know, some time just for myself because it was just so much that was happening. And I initial my initial response was something would have happened. And I remember one day I was asleep at home. And, you know, my friend Seiger was also a member of the litmus test project, comes to me and says that that is uncle related, uncle was Kenan Start and he's standing down and he wants to meet you.


And I looked at the water and I said, it's 130 candling. He's like, no, he wants he wants to me to sit down. And he tells me to do so much for anti-corruption. Can you please do this for me? And I said, what happened? And this is an open and shut case. There is so much of media scrutiny, it'll fall in place. And the guy broke down and he said, no, I'll take you to what happened and reconstruct the case for you.


When we went to the airport and this was in this area and Amberly and he wished I was there and we were I was looking at. The surroundings we're looking at the scene of crime and tell it just gives me goose bumps even now and basically two young men were basically hanging out with their friends after a cricket match outside a restaurant, as most of us would. And there was somebody, a group of boys who came and molested one of their friends.


And they obviously asked the guys to, you know, scram. And they came back and they killed both those people. And I mean, it really is broad daylight.


And the sad part was that not one person amongst the hundreds of people who were spectators, people in the past, not one person even called the police. OK, I can understand, if people are moving around with knives, you'll be scared for your life and maybe you would not want to get yourself involved. And I think I just completely I mean, it could have been me. It could have been anyone else. And a lot of people thought it was me because it would it would be something that I would have responded to in a similar situation if somebody would have done misbehaved with one of my friends.


So we took that. So again, maybe me, I did some research and then we realized that there is 354 and five 09 and both are victims of the IPC, the 354 awards bailable offense, which is essentially people could basically just meet 100 being a stable male and walk out after molesting women. So we said that we should change that. Let's let's speak about justice for a little bit. But let's let's see the bigger cause as to why did they have to give up their rights to begin with.


So we launched this campaign, the zero tolerance campaign. We got aurillac signatures at that point in time. Our party was the home minister pretty much on the chief minister. Then chief minister invited us. They passed the amended and Myroslava. And then you had the justice. One more report posted by which then has the 354 ABCDE and implemented it across the country as one of the so-called reforms. But yeah, I think that case in itself, the fact that despite media attention, uncle was still threatened, despite media attention.


I mean, all kinds of things happened. I mean, we asked for a hostile court. The trial took six years, excruciating years. And I remember Keenan's grandmother just died right now and she would just cry and they would reach out to me and they would not have closure because they lost to two young men.


And and, yeah, I think that the case really taught me so much that beyond all these statistics that are really human stories and if even such high profile cases have so many impediments when it comes to justice, then one can only imagine what's happening with other.


So on that not just for the record, we managed to get a conviction where the perpetrators are now convicted for life. So not life imprisonment for 14 years, but they will basically be in prison to their deaths. And we managed to get the scenes in the law.


And of course, now we are working on the preventive aspect of things so that you have more people being educated, more people being informed of consent, culture of what is appropriate behavior, what is not working with the police. So that's that's that's something that's something else. One of the most important projects of the PC is to set up the Exodus committees. So you have your local police stations, the local police stations, where, again, a product of a post mutiny legislation.


So that was a moment to look at Indians as collaborators with the state and the government to uphold law and order. It was always meant for crowd control.


It was always meant for systematic suppression. And I think that is somehow even there right now where you do not have a say in what the police station does.


So you have these things which are local member groups who come together like I'm part of one citizen's group in Juhu, where we meet month after month and discuss with the police, bring up issues of law and order of robberies or whatever illegalities that happened.


Then the police respond. So we want to have these meetings, these where we call it the general, the committees. Let's see, that's a that's again, a proposal with the police that that we're working on. But, yeah, that's that's if you do call it the activities that we put into.


You named it after herself.


And we'll come full circle in our informal conversation in the middle of this recording. You were talking about the Bando School of Activism and the Georgia School of Activism police.


One of those activism in Mumbai started with the early movement. And the Ellum movement is basically it was locality management. That's. The acronym for Elum, Not All Lives Matter. It started off with people segregating their garbage and because people were segregating the garbage, they were interfacing and interacting with a large number of elected representatives, BMC officials. And they said that, look, if you look in garbage, why can't we walk about and work on other issues and stuff like that?


And you had this activism which was born then you had the RTI and RTI became like this most important tool with activists to essentially get their problems solved. And there was a way to file these articles and so on and so forth.


So activism started by people who were retired largely had time on their hands.


It was a young thing. I mean, I still remember people would really say, oh, you're extreme, you're you're tired. And this was even when I was 18 or 19 and all of that.


So I think it started off with a bunch of retired people who want to do something on their every time. And they seemed like an interesting thing which gave them access to power, which gave them access to BMC and which gave them access to one of these administrative mechanisms in the area areas. And they also was a little vanity there. You get some recognition except that so broadly that's been how activism started. Then you had what I call a divergence in the Bandra School of Activism and the School of Activism.


Now, the School of Activism led by the India and all of this was after the world said that nobody should contest the election and it is blood and they got elected. So now they start talking about accountability. So it's not about, OK, engage people, because if we engage everybody, we engage all levels of government to engage all elected representatives. But you are ultimately working that, OK, at some point in time, can we get our guy elected?


You know, that is the school of thought, the Bangalore School of Thought. He that, oh, we are apolitical and we somehow need to keep ourselves like that. And we should not we should not join a political party and do something about. But slowly, the Bangalore School of Activism has reduced Audibert of pain. And I have always basically believed that. And I tell this to the Afghani people and the entire activist brigade that, hey, man, you guys are old and you need to pass the baton to young people and you need to create this problem solving community of young people.


If you right now, this problem solving community is a very small community. It's the same people cleaning the beach to the same people saving the micro and the same people saving oriented, the same people doing whatever next problem that the city faces.


So unless and until you're not going to expand it and get young people, all that progress over the last 20, 25 years in Mumbai would just basically be lost. So that is something that I am presently working on. First is an RTI portaloos. We are trying to create an Arctic portal using E.A. so people can solve problems.


Lobectomy by asking better question. Well, yeah. So that's basically how we launched sometime this year. Of course, it's still it's postcoital, so everything's disrupted. So we don't know when, but we'll hopefully be better dead. The second is Mortel BMC, which again is about and doing a model United Nations. You speak about model, so we speak about you take five aspects of BMC, speak about water, garbage, health, education, water and sanitation, and you actually go in communities and solve these problems real time.


So rather than somebody giving a presentation, you actually go there and say, OK, you go to that particular community, you understand what their problems are and solve that problem. So you actually see the lifecycle in real time. You actually get an orientation. OK, how does the city work and how can you engage with the city so that you at least know how the city works, where you can get it to work for the community. So that is, again, something that we wish to launch this year.


That's like a flagship.


How do you juggle all this year end in January? So when you have a job right now? I have a job. I have a job. I consult for a consultancy firm. Well, OK.


So moving on to the you know, the next big project that one associates you with. There is this common notion in India that, listen, one of the reasons why politics cannot be reformed is reporters apathetic. People don't look at the numbers and you fundamentally don't agree with that. And we're one of the people who started this Jaghori campaign. Tell me a bit about that.


So Jaghori was started by Djanogly in 2008. I was still in college. We were part of the looks at the movement back then. And this was a movement far ahead of extremes, because I remember in the name of it back then, they would just have five computers. That is like an idea college.


And obviously you don't have online voter. So there's a spotlight we have right now where you can just go online and you can just put everything there and you can actually track what happened to that application. So this was this was just like a black box, right? You would just fill a full of homosex, which is what the form for first time registration is. And you would find it and you don't know what happened after that either hit or miss.


So, Jagoda, you said, OK, there is a problem, because while most people don't even, you know, want to run to basically get a license, nobody wants to go and get registered.


So so that's that's that's that's a problem. Can we at least get young people interested in politics? So that was something back then, though, even then, I would still get the question as to, OK, we got ourselves a truly awful. So, yeah. So in many ways was like a precursor to politics because yeah, you have to engage young people, you have to tell them that they had to register and that that would actually be registered quite a few people.


I, I think that is still the record in Maharashtra and in Gujarat. And have you saw that. And that was 2009. Yeah. So it's almost like building demand for the supplies that.


Yeah. But something but interestingly, I remember during jaggery you had the 26, the 11 terrorist attacks and on the website we saw traffic this increase. So we had a lot of young people who are otherwise apathetic saying that at least now there is anger. And of course, all of this is a manifestation of a systemic failure for a long period of time in capacity. Exactly what that was like, as bad as it can get like 300 hours of life, terror.


And and, yeah, I think jaggery was in many ways a registration problem, which is a first generation problem right now. What we did with the election commission was a second generation problem. But now that people are registered, how do we mobilize them? Because the assumption that just because what I just heard you were because you were active enough to be involved enough to register, you will also vote is not true. Most people, according to our studies, we found that people looked at it as an identity card, like a very interesting Khutor Sakar civil rights lelo kind of attitude.


But I think that sort of dovetailed into what we did with the election commission, and that's the results are there for all to see.


So before I kind of go to my next question, a brief digression, you know, you were part of looks at to start with, you know, you were with gyppy and you've said before in the past that you even try to bring G.P.A. to bring together so many people did. But that never worked out. Why didn't they work out? Like, what were the fundamental problems?


Oh, no, I don't think that I when I said work out, was bethought that I looked at our margin to ANOP. But I think right now JBI has taken a decision that he wants to continue with the policy advocacy way because he feels that he'll be able to create much more impact there than the political will, which really requires much more than just a logical argument for that fact. So that is the reason why it didn't didn't work. But all said and done, I think that it's not true that they don't work together.


I think they'd be very closely involved with the policy team. The last I the last I heard.


So his feedback from somebody as nuanced and with such experience as him is is definitely important. And I think we had already already working on that front.


But yeah, politics requires a short version of that is a lot of the looks at the people thought that change will suddenly happen one day because suddenly people will have this moral impulse and people would recognize that we are the right party and people who work for us. But that's not how it was. We saw what happened in Hyderabad, where there was a lot of a lot of love, and I use the term love and not respect. It was a lot of love and respect for AJP across the board.


But when it came to replicating that, so the only person from looks at everyone was because nobody else has ever won anything bought at the consumer level and bought at the state level or multiple states that might be before we made into the position of were first being made into Maharashtra, etc. and it was heartbreaking at a point in time. But Peaker, you, you moron, you need not just a leader who is charismatic, but you need a leader who is able to get large talent and be around you.


And then you have to have that DOGOOD approach over a period of time and you have to basically.


Like a decade, JP would not believe in symbolism. People would basically say that, hey, I can just sit down and I can just have a conversation. But the common people are not like that. They want some symbolism to be able to associate with abstract concepts of governance. It's all good. You know, when we talk about governance and say you work for us and we will get elected and if we get elected in the right number, I mean from the government and then we'll formulate policy and then we'll implement policies that policies implemented.


Well, then your life will change. That's a little far fetched. But if you do that with with the right symbolism and say the right things because it still has to be symptomatic. So OJP would say that I wouldn't get involved. Running after corruption is symptomatic of the problem. But I guarantee you, I would say the common people understand just that. So you start by saying that you know why your bills are high. It is because of corruption.


And if if you do X, Y and Z, we can do this better on finance. So I think that is the fundamental difference between a GP and an urban. But I think that both are phenomenal slums of India. And I look up to both of them as some phenomenal leaders.


And my dreams, if you ask me, at least when I started, would be, you know, and I went to the Oval Office and I did the assembly. And I think some people achieved it to some extent. But I hope that it happens completely sooner or later.


Yeah. And would it be fair to say that if you are sort of pursuing a part of clean politics, part of your mindset has to be to forget about the results and think about the process that, you know, you just focus on constantly going through the daily grind of politics and not focus too much on the results as in or change will happen or we will win elections or whatever know.


So it is very clear, he says, that I'm not here to be an Also-Ran.


I want to contest elections. I want to contest elections by disrupting the space, by doing the right thing was already done.


And I have demonstrated that anybody can win elections with the least resources without resorting to the tactics that our competitors resort to. So it is extremely important to look at it as a no nonsense game. We are ready. If I am contesting the upcoming elections, I will contest to win. I am not here for four time and sometimes that gets that gets difficult. Given the fact that you have limited resources, given the fact that not many people are even willing to, you know, keep their get out of their comfort zones and actually take to a life of politics with the kind of uncertainties that they are.


So the answer is that you need both. You need your eyes on the goal. It's important you can't.


And Arvind is that leader who I still remember when the Lok Sabha results came, we thought that all was lost and Arvind actually calmed everybody down and went booth by booth and set up an organization and we won that election.


Everybody thought, that's actually what I meant when I spoke about the hard ground in the process was exactly what you guys are doing, that you have to go through the process anyway.


And others might get disheartened and you have to have your eyes on the goal so you can't blindly go to the process. And you don't say that it would eventually yield results. It has to yield results if we're not dealing with that issue. Basically, you need to it's like a startup, right? If you have to be nimble, you have to be agile. If things are not working, then you need to change the strategy. Know and I understand I understand his thoughts on sort of symbolism as well, because, you know, when India against corruption happened, I remember writing a column and at that point where it struck me that the whole campaign misunderstood the fundamental cause of corruption.


Corruption, of course, was a symptom. But what was it a symptom of which was too much discretion given to the state, which will obviously then lead to corruption. So the way out is to reduce the discretion of the state. But what I he was asking for was audit committee Pitofsky painting.


And that's not what I was asking about. I what I was asking about was basically the Lokpal Bill was a much more effective mechanism to tackle corruption. But you not using the discretion. No, no. Let me explain. Let me explain for you. This is the example that he always gives, that 10 percent of the people will always give, 10 percent of the people will always go back. And the remaining 80 percent of the people who will follow those 10 percent who are being rewarded.


So right now, you have 90 percent of the country being corrupt because you have an incentive for corruption. You will save time. You will save energy.


You will save money if you choose to resort to corruption, that if suddenly you make it easier for people to do good and difficult for people to do back, which is what the Jan Lokpal Bill in essence, was, and suddenly the country from being 90 percent corrupt, the 80 percent would follow the 10 percent who are being rewarded, which in this case, I think the only way to do that is actually to limit what I just said.


No, I agree with the theoretical point that a mechanism like this would be great, except that it wouldn't work because you'd be giving another layer of people more discretion. I think the only. Way to reduce corruption is to reduce discretion, the state has too much arbitrary power, and if you reduce that in all the areas where there doesn't need to be there, then, you know, we're like needing 60 licences to open a business. For example, you automatically reduce corruption to say that, no, let the state have all this power and we'll have another committee of unelected people.


On top of that is to give power to another bunch of people that this is in the context of general politics. But I think look at what we've done when we don't we don't have control over the ECB. OK, so technically, we don't even have the police force that, you know, we can actually get vigilantes to follow up on cases. But what we've done is right to services, which we've now said that certain services are deemed. We've been able to revamp the whole system, that right now we're able to provide free health care, we're able to save money on.


Project extensions for large projects and make sure that medicines are free right now, if you are not able to get yourself an operation that is set by your doctor within a little bit of time, you can go to a private place and get it done free of cost.


So all of this is is reducing corruption. Just the manner in which these reforms are being implemented should and I don't want to litigate that.


I was in the site of my final question to you. Actually, my second last question to you. I would ask you a few questions. I've taken enough of your time. My second last question is this, that, you know, one of the things that kind of. Saddens me is that he left politics because, you know, in the sense that he is one of my intellectual heroes, and when someone like that is in politics and you can look at politics and see that there is hope to do good, but OK, I understand it happened.


So here's my hypothetical question to you. You've chosen politics as your life's work clearly.


Is there any hypothetical situation in which you would seek and he could not vote or, you know, that is just not an option because that's that's that's the easier option. I mean, I could have in life I've had to take a lot of decisions which have to be life choices, which a lot of my other friends would basically disagree with. But it's something that gives me satisfaction and you have to be committed to the choices that you make. So this is a life choice which will continue and do matter.


Right now we are on the ascendant and it looks good. Maybe at some point in time it may look bad. But, yeah, this is this is something that I will dedicate my life to.


You're on the other end and I'm not sure the country is. But more power to you. I hope you can actually make the difference. You want to make and my final question is that given the range of possibilities before us, because, again, none of us are in a simplistic way, only optimistic or pessimistic, we recognize that there is a range of possibilities in that range. If you look at the India of the year 2030, what do you think is the best case scenario and the worst case scenario?


I think the worst case scenario is if you typically see what happened to the last minute and tried to move the zone to whatever next thing, I leave that to the imagination of our listeners.


So that's the worst case scenario.


The best case scenario would basically be, I would say, a coalition of a lot of regional parties coming together, even right now, the mood of the nation. Paul basically said that Arvind is the next most popular leader against I mean, after nine a.m. or so.


And I've always believed that a coalition government, even historically, has done much more work on reforms than I think by the government. If you studied all the government especially.


So I think the best case scenario would basically be a coalition government with multiple regional parties. And I think that is much better than where we are right now. I think anything is much better right now.


Nationally, I reached that stage late. Anybody but Modi and I think everyone else has reached that stage. So, yeah, between best case and worst case, fascinating.


But the best case for us would also be sending much more ambiance to the house. I think slowly down the line, we are being able to make inroads in a few states. It would be also controlling a few more state government where you would have a full state as opposed to Delhi.


And maybe then your criticisms were in hold because we'll be able to demonstrate much more.


I know and make criticisms, I have to say comes from a natural skepticism of politics, not of a particular politician.


So that's going to that's. Yeah. And, you know, you're standing for you're probably standing for elections in the upcoming Mumbai municipal elections. So best of luck for that. And also why the municipal elections like in 2014, you went all out and said, OK, we'll just stand everywhere and be assured that planning plan. And that was a mistake in hindsight. But is this a new kind of bottoms up approach or is this one way you say individually as individual politicians, it's better that to play the Congolese first gender and geography and then in show district?


No. So I think it's a mix of both parties. From a political party standpoint.


You have to see you can't have a of people vote for you and then in the next election, tell them, hey, we're not contesting, so you better figure out whom you want to vote for. It doesn't work that way.


You are a member of I mean, you had a political party. You started something people will expect you to give candidates, number one. So you have to have continuity, understand how the Shiv Sena is where it is. They contested elections time and again and there were various experiments basically increasing their wheelchairs and so forth.


So that's one second is most people think like you don't like all my friends told me why I running for councillor. I mean, I'm a little at least twenty and style politics last year. Hoo hoo hoo ah.


And I would buy in response to that is that it's it's it's OK to be to be humble, to stock something where the possibility of you winning of the screen board is actually working is higher because typically you just need about seven to eight thousand words to win, which is a much smaller number than a 65 or 70 thousand votes at an assembly. So so yeah. So I think we start small and we can test all elections. And in Mumbai, we had at one point in time a very large support, I think even now internal surveys put us at a reasonable number.


So, yeah, it is about consolidating all that goodwill, building a structure, building an organization, because without an organization, all this goodwill exists. But it's not convert to work. So, yes, it's waiting for the long haul. It's maybe I might become a middle aged family. Hopefully I may not be a young family, but it'll happen.


It's important to listen as long as Rahul Gandhi is in Indian politics, you will always see eye to eye on a 55 year old young man.


So, Ruben, thanks so much for coming on the scene in the ANC. And I know we've been a little combative, but I have enormous respect and affection for you. And it's such a joy to have you on the show.


Thank you. Thank you so much. I hope I've made myself amply clear and thank you for this opportunity.


If you enjoy listening to this episode, head on over to Twitter to follow Ruban at Rubenesque. That's are you Ben MASC. You can follow me at Amitava Amitay we automate and you can browse past episodes of the scene in The Unseen and Seen Unseen Dot. And thank you for listening.


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