Hi there. Most of you would have landed on this page because of this video:
Before I get into the technical details of the video, let me just tell you why this video was created.
Life in India (in my case Bangalore) has only gotten progressively worse year after year. I’ve been in Bangalore since Feb 2003, and in these past 10 years, I have seen five chief ministers from all three big parties of Karnataka (Congress, JDS and BJP) come and go. All amid the usual ruckus of Indian politics. Corruption charges, party agitations, backstabbing, mudslinging, and the usual nonsense our netas spend most of their time doing. All this, while the city and its people suffer from their ignorance post election victory. Not to mention everything getting more and more expensive despite this ruckus.
While world-class apartments, IT parks and malls have come up, stepping out of these privately built constructions, reality hits you pretty hard. India is still a messy nation – in practically every aspect. Poorly implemented infrastructure, disorderly traffic (although I place most of this blame on our drivers), garbage everywhere (again, not entirely government’s fault) and of course, lack of safety.
We Indians now seem to live in perpetual fear of some wrongdoing – be it expressing one’s own freedom, or our women fearing for their safety. Why should it be this way? Who can make this better?
Although I blame our cultural mindset to some extent, much of the powers that can make a difference lie with our politicians and their sub-ordinates. And we know what a mess they are! The institutions that come under their control dictate the policy matters, rules, and how our money should be spent. In reality, as we find out to our dismay on a regular basis, the abuse of power and access to the public funds often ends our netas in the press for all the wrong reasons.
Where there is money, there is greed. Which evolves into corruption. It’s a fairly universal rule, but in India, it’s ALWAYS the case. It’s reached a point where Indians absolutely loathe our politicians and the very word ‘politician’ equates to corruption and ill-gotten wealth in our minds. Which is quite sad to be honest.
Because not every politician is bad. I like and often listen to quite a few ministers from the all the major parties – namely the Congress and BJP. But would I vote for any of the major parties today? No.
Why? Because I came to the realization a few years back that for every one good politician in the Congress or BJP, there are ten others who deserve to be behind bars! Watching our MPs behave during a parliamentary session on TV is an infuriating experience as it is. I can’t imagine how annoying it would be to attend one in person! The few that behave themselves are usually among the few good-intentioned politicians who don’t have it in their character to be so uncouth. But their silence is also due to the fact they are constantly reminded of the ‘party whip’. Yes, the party whip. The one that keeps every member in check — for right or wrong. Speak against a crooked minister from your own party, there’s every chance the crook (if wealthy) will remain and you will be out instead.
Speaking out against one’s own party leads to them being branded a ‘traitor’ or reprimanded in one form of the other. The big political parties of India live by the principle of “the party way or no way”. And it is this party politics that has ruined democracy the world over. In theory, democracy sounds great. What it has evolved into today is a system where by deals needs to be struck with the house in order to get anything done. A “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach. Passing important laws, bringing drastic changes to a flawed system, etc. Any large scale project a ruling party knows is beneficial for the nation can be purposely thwarted by the opposition party. Yes, the opposition party. The part of a democratic parliament that exists to keep the ruling party in check, in theory. Now they exist to prevent the ruling party from looking good, at any costs. Because if anything the ruling party passes in parliament and does well for the country means it only improves their chances in the next election. The opposition party can’t allow that now can it?
It is party politics that has ruined democracy everywhere. More so in India because of how many parties exist in this land of a billion people! While democracy in theory is a system where a politician represents his people, India’s reality is that we wish otherwise. There are times I feel India needs a dictatorship for a few years. Just until the dust settles. Wishful thinking, but then came the realization: the answer to bad politics isn’t no politics, it’s giving good politics a chance.
I hate politics in fact. I consider it a time waster. And what I’m referring to is what gets the most coverage in news media. Those in the commercial news business who wait for some neta to say or do something foolish just so they can get a panel together to “discuss” it. Discuss is in quotes because I rather refer to these night-time debates as the “9pm barking session”. More of a contest on who can shout louder to silence reason.
The participants along with TV news pundits love it because to them – and those who religiously watch these so-called debates – consider this politics. Throwing accusations around, countering one’s statements with witty remarks and bringing up history are all something political pundits enjoy. But other than waiting for the next topic du jour to comment on, have they ever accomplished anything?
If someone were to ask to me if I care about politics, my answer will be: “No, but I care about getting things done”. I rather listen to someone who spends most of the time talking about solutions than simply ‘passing the buck’. Which is why it was a breath of fresh air when I came across Ashwin Mahesh. It was last year when I read an article about this ex-research faculty at NASA and now social technologist contesting for the Bangalore MLC elections in 2012. He didn’t win of course, but he still managed to garner 16% of the votes despite a low voter turnout. I began following Aswhin Mahesh on Facebook and in the many months since, I’ve only gotten more and more impressed by him. I have learnt so much from his daily status updates about Bangalore’s governance (or the lack of it) and how the systems work here.
After all, he should know the inner workings of this messed-up system of ours. Ever since he returned to Bangalore after many years in the U.S., Ashwin has been working on solving many of the city’s civic problems. From restoring Bangalore’s precious lakes, working with traffic police on better traffic management systems, to conceiving the Big10 bus system – to name a few. Ashwin is respected among several civic agencies in Bangalore, or at least by those who do want to make this city better. His efforts even got recognized by the UK edition of Wired magazine who included Ashwin Mahesh in ‘The Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world’. And despite his loss in the MLC elections, Ashwin Mahesh isn’t giving up. He announced last year itself that he would contest in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly Elections, with voting day now set for May 5th, 2013.
I thought: “Wow, finally a good candidate!,” and told myself this is an opportunity one cannot miss to bring about some real change to Bangalore. None of us can afford to wait another 3-5 years for the next election! I began sharing his status updates regularly (practically every day) and did my part in spreading the word about him. Slowly but surely I noticed a few of my friends had converted themselves into followers of Ashwin Mahesh. Some of my friends even grasped the concept of thinking “beyond the Congress and BJP”.
And believe it or not, it was that gangrape incident that motivated me to create this video. Last December was a very shameful one for Indians everywhere. I was furious yet another incident of rape took place in Delhi, but the horrific nature of the crime in our freakin’ capital and the victim’s eventual death upset me like never before. The nationwide protests eventually captured the attention of the world’s media and further highlighted India’s appalling standards when it comes to respecting women. The things I read foreigners had to say about my country upset me, but I sat there helpless because I couldn’t deny any of it! I’m not the sort of person who finds excuses to “save face”. If there’s a problem, I’ll admit it, even if it makes me look bad in the process.
But what does the Delhi gangrape got to do with promoting Ashwin Mahesh? If there was one thing that infuriated me even more during that furor, it was the worthless f**king politicians who had the audacity to come out and blame women for rape! Many of whom were from the BJP and right-wing outfits. It wasn’t just the rapists I wanted to kill now! I couldn’t believe such politicians managed to come to power! Of course, men like this exist outside of the political circuit too. Like this hypocrite working for the Allahabad High Court who was exposed on Twitter!
Where is the incentive for our police force to protect its citizens when their superiors have such appalling criminal records! I couldn’t fathom such people coming to power here in Bangalore, and that’s what fueled this motivation in me to do whatever I could to create awareness on better candidates like Ashwin Mahesh.
Why am I singling out the BJP? Guess who rules Karnataka!
The BJP lost Mangalore and other constituents in the civic polls last month for a reason. Mangalore especially, where youths were beaten up, girls molested and robbed by gangs of so-called ‘moral police’. And how did the police and the local administration react? They put a journalist who exposed them behind bars for five months! The voters rightfully showed BJP the door in retaliation.
Even though BJP’s defeat is justified, don’t think for one second I’m rejoicing over Congress’ gain. One evil gave way for another. That is all. Mangalore isn’t going to look any better and religious extremists aren’t going to go away because even the Congress swears by vote-bank politics. Unless an alternative party comes along and refuses to bend over to any fringe group, you won’t see real change anywhere.
Coming back to Bangalore, following Ashwin Mahesh led me to discover other candidates like him and the party they were running under – Lok Satta Party. I had never heard about the party’s founder Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan until last year. It was yet another encouraging revelation of “wow, such good people actually exist in Indian politics?”.
Now, I don’t care much for the party itself because as always, it’s the people that make the place. Dr. JP, as he is often called, is a former IAS officer who entered politics and actually ended up winning an election in Andhra Pradesh (you can see what he does for his constituency here). It is the work that he has done that won him respect. Listening to him talk, you know he’s serious about bringing massive change to India and the formation of a party that seeks to be completely different from the legacy-driven, caste-based parties is testament to that.
In Bangalore alone, Lok Satta have several candidates contesting for various constituencies, with many more hoping to join the fray.
Coming to the video, initially it was a video only meant for Ashwin Mahesh. But following him also led me to Dr. Meenakshi Bharath (contesting for Malleswaram)- a fertility doctor and waste management expert who has been fighting for a cleaner Bangalore for years. Then there’s Shanthala Damle, another IT engineer returning after a decade in the U.S. to enter politics, contesting for Basavanagudi. Through Ashwin I also found about RK Misra, a former IT entrepreneur and a former BJP party member who gave up on them and ended up starting the Nav Bharat initiative to clean up politics! All of them may campaign independently, but they all fight for the same causes. Like how all of them came together last year to protest the dumping of Bangalore’s garbage in surrounding villages.
It’s hard to convince Indian that you are a political candidate with a difference, one who promises to do good. India’s citizens have heard that rhetoric for decades from every other political party and gotten nothing but false promises in return. It’s a challenge every Lok Satta Party candidate and other independent candidate faces today. Voters are so used to being lied to.
Which is why I included the second to last line: “What’s the worst that can happen?”. If voters are to give someone new a chance, they should be willing to take a leap of faith. Ashwin Mahesh could convince us on Facebook and anybody who else reads the papers about his capabilities, but there’s a large section of society who choose to skip news that don’t come with glorified, sensationalist headlines. Then there those who don’t even bother with anything else besides song and dance.
After I had a good idea of how each frame should appear, next I wondered how to get it made. I initially thought of approaching Dragonmill Media, but then I realized I don’t have the money to pay them. I know animation isn’t cheap, but as a fan of animation myself, I knew I wanted it no other way. My younger brother Nirup Divakaran, who studied film production and animation, said he’ll give it a shot. He and his friends got together and did pretty much all of it in Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro.
We drew all of the characters ourselves. I drew all three politicians, the old man, the man with the ‘Politicians Suck’ t-shirt and the woman. Nirup drew the rest. Unfortunately because I wasn’t there every step of the way during production, he ended up drawing too many men and virtually no women (other than the grandmother). The one woman I drew had to be pushed to the back because the animation slides would have had to be re-drawn just to include her up front. I also wanted to include a young college kid fiddling with his smartphone to drive the message to them that complaining online is easy, but you still need to vote to really make a difference!
But ideas coming in the middle of production is not necessarily a good thing. It means having to go back and re-do a whole bunch of work. It wasn’t easy considering I now spend most of my time in Kannur than in Bangalore. Even when I am in Bangalore, I still have to drive to the other end of the city just to sit with my brother as he and his friend worked. It wasn’t easy, but I had to do it as I was producing and virtually directing the whole thing. Plus I was still paying them.
As to why I chose to highlight Ashwin Mahesh more than Dr. Meenakshi Bharth and Shathala Damle — it has to do with accomplishments. Ashwin has achieved quite a bit, and if voters need to be convinced, then the more facts about a candidate the better. Dr. Meenakshi has been pushing the message for better waste management, recycling and eco-friendly solutions to our civic problems for years. But I couldn’t find similar accomplishments for much newer players like Shanthala Damle. I’m sure the every other Lok Satta candidate has the will power to do good, but I didn’t have the space to cram in more text on that frame for each individual. Aesthetics and conformity matter to me. I included RK Misra and the Bangalore Political Action Committee because I wanted to let viewers know there are enough and more people hell bent on bringing real positive political change in India. But they need your support! They don’t get as much press coverage because most of the news coverage focuses on all things negative. It’s what sells.
I don’t trust mainstream, ad-supported news media to give the necessary publicity to such people. When Ashwin Mahesh and his volunteers decided to clean up Bommanahalli – the constituency they are campaigning for – Bangalore Mirror reported the news as “Techies clean up…” and failed to mention Ashwin Mahesh or Lok Satta Party even once! Then again, I wouldn’t trust a newspaper who sells out their entire front page to the highest bidder to adhere to journalistic principles.
From door-to-door campaigning, day-in, day-out for these past few months, the message has been the same. Lok Satta will not offer you money in exchange for votes — mostly out of principle. That and they don’t have the money for all that anyway. Ashwin Mahesh himself handed out fliers with this note printed on it…
… to prove the point votes shouldn’t be bought by money! But he faced agitated responses by a few (drunks mostly) who were not pleased by the fact a candidate actually refused to give money or liquor in exchange for a vote. This is what our elections have been sadly reduced to. The poor can be bought — but can you blame them? Their notion is to at least be fed for a day or a week, because they know they will be forgotten post-elections. History proves this. Why should the onus of change only befall on them? If only the middle-class and and the so-called elite would bother showing up to the polling booth on election day… there would be a counter-balance to paid votes.
Face reality: corrupt politicians campaign in villages, but post-victory choose to live in the city. It’s the principle of going where the votes are, but staying where the money is.
If you don’t have a voters ID yet, get one! You can do it online at Karantaka Election Commission or visit SmartVote.in. I got mine done a few years ago with my brother and it was a cumbersome process, one in which they even got our names wrong. I could go into how far corruption creeps into our election process but let’s keep conspiracy theories for another day. Stop complaining and GO VOTE! It’s the only thing that matters to our politicians.
Don’t expect Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi or Narendra Modi (for some) to fix the road in front of your house. Delhi can’t and won’t do it. But your local MLA and corporator can! Which is why I’m taking these MLA elections so damn seriously. Future Chief Ministers of state and Prime Ministers of nations need to start somewhere. Citizens need to understand how the system works in a democratic India. Who has the powers to do what and more.
In fact, follow Ashwin Mahesh on Facebook. It’s through him I learned so much about our corrupt governance. There are so are many other Lok Satta candidates on social media too. Follow them for a week to get to know them better — and I promise you will be convinced they are better than the Congress, BJP or *insert legacy party here* equivalent. Heck, I even follow another independent candidate contesting for the same constituency Aswhin is contesting for because I will give any independent candidate a chance! I want clean governance, nothing else. Any good politician is willing to work across party lines if it benefits society at large. Bad politicians won’t — because there is more money to be made being selfish and doing things the wrong way.
The Lok Satta candidates and the others who refuse to align themselves with the legacy parties know this, and they intend to fix it once and for all. There will be opposition, but no revolution comes easy. It is an ugly fight. But these future leaders heading into battle need their army of soldiers. And that’s YOU! If good alternative candidates like those in Lok Satta, Aam Admi Party and like don’t make it to office, it’s every Indian citizens fault. We are a nation of a billion people with hundreds of millions of voters. The hundred of millions who spend more time bitching about how terrible life in India is and cribbing about our corrupt politicians. All the while refusing to change our mindsets regarding alternative politics. If our attitudes change, so will our politicians!
I don’t like to use the stupid Facebook adage “EVERY INDIAN must see this…” or “Share this if you want to live!” but if you don’t wish to share this article, at least share the video. But after sharing it, don’t just sit home and talk about how awesome it is. Take part in the political process. Not by making a mess of the city every election year, but at least by supporting the right people. You don’t have to discus politics on a daily basis, but be there when it matters the most – on election day. In other words — GO VOTE!
Please Note: This article and video was not produced by Lok Satta Party or with any of the candidate’s consent or endorsement. This was completely my idea and I never even told the candidates I intended to do this. I wanted complete creative control and I didn’t want any candidate to tell me to give them more importance over another. The views expressed here are completely my own, but if you share the same, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.