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Democracies are expected to empower citizens to take genuine control of instruments of the state for their development. At the core of this concept is the idea that citizens will participate in governance at the local level, making decisions for themselves, and vote in representatives to legislatures for higher-level decisions. India is an implausible democracy, an audacious experiment, attempting to bring together a billion people with starkly different languages, religions, and food habits. However, the state of our democracy remains perilous, a country hanging on by a slender thread to its claim to being defined a democracy. Like with many other aspects famously considered ‘Indian’, our democracy is a mediocre one, fulfilling satisfactorily, only the most basic requirement of regular (and reasonably free and fair) elections. Democratic accountability in particular, appears particularly at risk, as we the people, have fewer ways to hold those in power responsible for their performance.

Four scenarios raising concerns about democratic accountability currently playing out in India:

Propaganda rules over facts

Late last year, the central government pulled off ‘Demonetisation’, an exercise in purging cash reserves of the political opposition after ensuring the ruling party’s own reserves were safely parked (or converted) well in time. Manipulation of the press by political parties through direct funding (or proxy measures) continues unabated, as news channels spectacularly out-do the state broadcaster in peddling propaganda. The true extent of damage caused by Demonetisation will never be known — not because we do not have the tools to measure the damage, but because voters are being herded like sheep, not to ask any questions. As a result, the Reserve Bank of India can get away without releasing key data, and the lack of that data need not deter the government from making grandiose statements that go almost completely unchallenged in the public domain. Those who do question, do it with the knowledge that nit-picking on facts is futile.

Dissent is anti-national

The state’s response to dissent continues to plumb new depths. Civil society voices have been muted, farmer/dalit protests are killed in cahoots with a friendly media, etc. Those speaking up against the rampant terrorism in the name of the cow, or the fast-receding freedom of the press, are labelled anti-national. Dissent, whether from the grassroots or from intellectuals in society, are continuously demonised by a government that seems to take pride in its own anti-intellectualism, and celebration of mediocrity as evident from the various appointments to institutions of repute. Activists are being silenced everywhere. Today, Medha Patkar languishes in jail, as a government utterly insensitive to citizen protests makes no conciliatory move.Decimation of political opposition: A string of election defeats, poor public image, still quite unable to overcome the ‘corruption stains’, a lethargic party, and a seemingly disinterested leader — it is the perfect storm for the Indian National

Decimation of political opposition

A string of election defeats, poor public image, still quite unable to overcome the ‘corruption stains’, a lethargic party, and a seemingly disinterested leader — it is the perfect storm for the Indian National Congress, and a sign of the times for political opposition in India. This decimation is now fully reflected in the composition of India’s Parliament, and the erosion of checks and balances that the Legislature is supposed to have over the Executive In a parliamentary system. The few states that are not ruled by the BJP get undue attention from partisan Governors and federal anti-corruption agencies. The use of the Governor’s office as a pawn in the hands of the central government must evoke a sense of deja-vu. Politics that seemed to have matured in the last fifteen years or so now lies in tatters.

Narcissism and hero-worship

When the BJP government recently completed three years in office, the government launched the MODI Fest — the Making of Developed India festival. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly Mann Ki Baat speeches were released as a book at an event in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Every government scheme is credited to only one man, and no failures are ever pinned on him. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, Modi-bhakti seems to be his second-last weapon of choice.

The point overall is this — to celebrate our incredible democracy, it is not enough to just conduct every five years, and for everyone to accept the election results. That is a very low bar. What matters is the quality of our democracy as measured by how the polity, the people, and the institutions operate once elections are over.

By this measure, India’s democracy has a long way to go. The systematic destruction of institutions, which need to function with a degree of competence and independence, will eventually kill our democracy. In the last three years, our institutions have shown themselves to be utterly incapable of protecting themselves from a government with authoritarian tendencies. The power that we have to hold public officials and politicians to account is directly proportionate to the credibility of institutions of governance. The way the Reserve Bank of India has folded in the last nine months should be serious cause for concern. The repeated attempts at politicising the military forces, the bellowing nationalistic media, our sanskari cultural guardians, and the uber-patriotic people’s representatives — together foretell a scary future for India.

The immediate casualty has been democratic accountability. No one seems to be responsible for the sluggish economy, now showing alarming signs of slipping into deflation. Similarly, no one seems responsible for breakdown in public services that the government is responsible for, nor is anyone held accountable for the questionable and inconsistent foreign policy decisions. Neither national security, nor corruption or cronyism seem to be topical any longer. Vigilantes break the law with impunity, as representatives of government hail them as patriots.

It is a great tragedy that after completing seventy years as a proud independent nation, our democracy is faced with such an existential crisis. If you are a liberal progressive Indian, this spectre should concern you.

*****

A short addendum

A friend pointed out that none of this is “new” — that this has been the nature of politics in India, and indeed, is something I recognise in this column on politics and power:
It is in the nature of a government to exercise power. Every political party in power manifests power in one form or the other — never mind if the one exercising it is being labelled ‘Left’ or ‘Right’. Often, these labels allow us the convenience of picking sides based on who we like, rather than the issue at hand. This only serves to lower the quality of public debate. In reality, it would appear that at their extremities, the Left and Right are indistinguishable; and that is a clue that what we need to really discern is the manner in which both sides choose to exercise power. And for citizens unaffiliated with these labels, understanding power is the first step towards engaging with it.

The exercise of power, and the “feudal” nature of politics in India is a reality. And yet, there is distinct shift in the pattern that we need to recognise. A government running amok with little counter-balance from the Legislature or the Press, and an inconsistent Judiciary has created an unique operating environment. Political parties that are now emaciated are of course responsible for their own fates, but the corporate control of the media (and an organised effort on social media) has emboldened the current government in ways we haven’t seen in recent years. And while ordinary citizens and observers cannot replace a conventional political opposition, we need to keep demanding accountability from the government — ultimately, that is the essence of a democracy. The voters may yet surprise us again, (who knows!), but this column is about holding governments to account in between two successive elections.

Originally published here.

5

That Electronic Voting Machines are not tamper proof has been well established, including by the High Court of Delhi judgment on the Public Interest Litigation filed by Dr. Subramanian Swamy in 2012. There have been previous suspicions of Electoral Fraud by rigging Electronic voting machines. Notable among these are the article by Dr. Subramanian Swamy in the year 2000 that pointed out disproportionate votes to BJP in constituencies with Electronic Voting Machines as compared with Constituencies polled using paper ballot. In the year 2000, Swamy had alleged that the widespread use of EVMs was a part of the RSS plan and provided some numbers to prove his allegation:

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used in all the constituencies. Perhaps it is then easier to rig the outcome. After all, in the 1999 general elections, the BJP and its allies won 34 out of the 45 Lok Sabha constituencies which had EVMs. On that ratio, the NDA should have won 405 se ats of the 544 Lok Sabha constituencies and not 292. EVMs have to be programmed by an engineer to tabulate the votes in its memory. It can easily be programmed to transfer votes of one candidate to another, or one party to another. The EVMs are entirely unsafeguarded today. I suspect it was rigged in the 1999 general elections.

Independently in 2009, Dr Anupam Saraph, the chief information officer of Pune, appointed by the Pune Municipal Corporation and an advisor to the United Nations and Dr Madhav Nalapath, an expert on geopolitics, who had planned to track the elections found excel files on the Election Commission's website on the 6th of May 2009 - 9 days before the polling ended on 15th May and 10 days before vote counting began. This data was further updated on the 8th and 11th before the final results. The Election Commission dismissed this finding as dummy data. However it is unlikely that dummy data would get updated or that dummy data would reflect trends accurately in 180 constituencies. More information, including the updated xls file versions here.

In 2010, a trio of scientists; Hari K. Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp and J. Alex Halderman from the University of Michigan (United States) demonstrated how Indian Electronic Voting Machines can be hacked in several ways.

The video refutes several claims of security made by the Election Commission and is a must watch for every Indian voter.

Also in 2010, we saw Narendra Modi and BJP accused of EVM rigging when it turned out that machines used to poll votes had not been supplied by the EC and there were reports of votes cast for the Congress resulting in the light for BJP being lit. After polling by 44 people, one machine registered 111 votes.

This year's Lok Sabha Election saw several allegations of EVM rigging, including a machine in Assam that transferred all votes to the BJP ound in random testing and two machines found during voting where the light for the Congress blinked, no matter what button was pressed, in Maharashtra.

Subramanian Swamy had tweeted that several machines had been rigged.

Subramanian Swamy EVM fraud
Subramanian Swamy EVM fraud

However, this is the tip o the iceberg. The video makes it clear that rigging is possible in ways that are less easily detectable - for example, transferring a certain percentage of the votes after a certain number of votes have been cast - so that it is more difficult to detect - there is virtually no trail.

India's Deputy Commissioner, Alok Shukla had told BBC, "It is not just the machine, but the overall administrative safeguards which we use that make it absolutely impossible for anybody to open the machine." ... "Before the elections take place, the machine is set in the presence of the candidates and their representatives. These people are allowed to put their seal on the machine, and nobody can open the machine without breaking the seals." However, this is not true.

The researchers state that the seals are easy to tamper with. But these are still possibilities. Less easy to dismiss are concrete incidents.

The address tag from the Electronic Voting Machine in Medha Patkar's constituency was found on the street.

EVM address tag found on street in North East Mumbai constituency
EVM address tag found on street in North East Mumbai constituency

The returning officer, in the case where the EVM was found transferring all votes to BJP said "These EVMs were here for long. Usually, EVMs are kept in the custody of the deputy commissioner and during elections they are taken to strong rooms."

Congress candidate Sanjay Nirupam, who lost with a big margin alleged EVM tampering as well. “Congress candidates have been defeated in Gujarat, Maharshtra and Uttar Pradesh with massive leads, which is not possible. The contract of the EVM had been given to a multi-national company based in Gujarat. This in itself is suspicious,” Nirupam alleged.

Sector Magistrate and son in trouble after taking EVMs home
Sector Magistrate and son in trouble after taking EVMs home. Image: Kafila

Less ambiguous is the situation in Varanasi, which all media except Indian Express have studiously ignored. A day before the Varanasi polls, Awadesh Kumar Srivastava, a divisonal audit officer in the Rural Engineering Department, was given charge of two additional EVMs, to be used as replacements. Srivastava took the EVMs home, instead of keeping them in the allotted sector headquarters as required. Srivastava’s son clicked photographs of himself and his father with the EVMs. He uploaded these photographs on Facebook, with the comment “Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar”.

EVM taken home by officer on election duty in Varanasi
EVM taken home by officer on election duty in Varanasi

And here is the kicker. A stray news clipping alleges that an Indian engineer from UK had been brought in to rig the Electronic Voting machines and ensure that BJP won 60 seats it was going to lose. This news needs to be traced, people identified and investigated, considering that there is already something strange with the UP Election Result. This, of course is in addition to the miraculous Modi wave that won all seats in UP except those seven seats from the Gandhi family and the Yadav family.

Engineer came to rig EVMs for 60 seats?
Engineer came to rig EVMs for 60 seats?

I am currently trying to trace this newspaper. If you know please comment below. Better copy of print will also be appreciated. It can also be mischief, but the headlines are certainly serious enough to investigate. [update: It seems it may be a clipping from Amar Ujala. However, which edition and date is unclear. Still trying to confirm.]

Kohram.in reports that election staff did bogus voting in favor of BJP casting 10 votes each for BJP and they apparently had a WhatsApp group to coordinate the same.

Other issues include reports of booth capturing, presence of Rahul Gandhi in polling booth and accusations of EVM rigging and demands for re-polling by BJP as well.

Considering the scale of Indian Elections and the significant number of situations where EVM fraud can be considered likely, this should be looked into by the Supreme Court and the Election set aside and re-election should be conducted using ballot paper in the interests of protecting the voice of the people if need be.

Update: Since then, BJP has also been accused of rigging EVMs in Civic polls in Maharashtra with some instances of more votes being counted than votes cast, allegations of tampering in the Pune Civic polls as well as in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Videos have also emerged of a woman alleging booth capturing in UP where women voters were told that the EVM wasn't working, while their votes were cast in favor of BJP instead of BSP. The EC which could easily verify the paper trails and investigate complaints shows no inclination to do so.

Medha Patkar has filed a complaint with the Election Commission. The address tag used to identify EVM machines for one of the machines in her constituency was found on the road last evening.

EVM address tag found on street in North East Mumbai constituency
EVM address tag found on street in North East Mumbai constituency

This raises the possibility of EVM tampering.

After all, Subramanian Swamy, BJP's resident expert on EVM tampering has declared that EVM fraud has happened in these elections:

samy-evm-fraud

In the year 2000, Swamy had alleged that the widespread use of EVMs was a part of the RSS plan and provided some numbers to prove his allegation:

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used in all the constituencies. Perhaps it is then easier to rig the outcome. After all, in the 1999 general elections, the BJP and its allies won 34 out of the 45 Lok Sabha constituencies which had EVMs. On that ratio, the NDA should have won 405 se ats of the 544 Lok Sabha constituencies and not 292. EVMs have to be programmed by an engineer to tabulate the votes in its memory. It can easily be programmed to transfer votes of one candidate to another, or one party to another. The EVMs are entirely unsafeguarded today. I suspect it was rigged in the 1999 general elections.

Considering that he has joined the BJP now, I assume he isn't accusing the BJP this time around. Nor do we have any control group not using EVMs. However, considering the blatant manipulation of every aspect of the election so far, Medha Patkar's complaint does not seem to be unfounded.

A day after P. Sainath said rather bluntly that media has participated in this election as a comment on reporting bias, Rajdeep Sardesai asked the AAP spokes person if this was AAP being a "sore loser". So one wonders if there is actually any concern about free and fair elections among the media or must this election be considered one without scrutiny for some aspects, or rather, a side.

Note: The Subramanian Swamy example is used mostly to shut up BJP trolls, who are rather keen on claiming victim roles, even when all indications show them sabotaging the process most often.

1

Dear Arvind Kejriwal,

Today's "Historic Speech" disappointed me. I am glad of the main outcome - that you are planning to contest against Narendra Modi. I agree that Modi needs to be defeated soundly. However, today's speech could have been far more. I know you are not obliged to cater to expectations, but I do hope you will give these some strong thought.

The stress

There is an urgent need to pause and reorient. Granted that Aam Aadmi Party and you are under a constant barrage of challenges, both natural and man made, the fact remains that doing the wrong thing will be more damaging than a delay in doing the right thing. Somewhere, the traditional politics seems to be rubbing off, and this is not a welcome influence. It is the politics we are trying to escape. There is a tenseness today that was not present before, and to me it speaks of having little time to center and speak from purpose. In my view, this is urgent. Some space needs to be created to say what you want to say, instead of trying to beat a failed model at its own games.

The freshness of Aam Aadmi Party was its lack of focus on religion and other "identity bank" gimmicks. This is the party where Shazia Ilmi did not need to contest from a "Muslim area". Yet today's speech, in such a crucial moment visited Ram, Harishchandra, Eeshwar, Khuda and what not. It is not a core area of AAP, and it took up time that should have been spent on core issues. There is no need to "prove" anything about AAP's secularism, it is self-evident. Belaboring the point actually looks like an opportunistic mention of God, which I am dead certain was not the purpose, or it would have been tried well before this point.

Arvind, technology is a wonderful thing. A good mic will pick up your whisper. There is no need to stress your throat with trying to reach the audience with voice alone. More importantly, when you try to speak loud, you start talking like a speech - possibly an automatic reflex, which is not your best style. Your best style is the hundreds of speeches you have given that inspired people. Informal, straight talk. Countless interviews. The difference is visible. In one, you look relaxed, open, candid. In the other, you look tense, defensive, shrill. You need to get back to the old style. It brought you this far and served you well. It will take you through. No need to turn into a neta overnight.

Prioritizing content for historic events

Today was a historic event. This was the day the common man's party decided to put up its candidate against the other leading politician (Rahul Gandhi being the first one). It was a speech that will get referred to, brought up again as a landmark in Aam Aadmi Party's history. It should have been spent on content you want to make immortal. Swaraj, Jan lokpal, people ruling themselves through a party that serves as a conduit for their voice. Sure, there was a need to explain why Modi must be contested, but the rest of it - Akhilesh Yadav and Gujarat model and such could have been left out to make space for the priority - the foundations of Aam Aadmi Party and what makes it the common man's party. Criticism of Modi and Yadav and so on is really common. And there are abundant opportunities to do it. Interviews are a great place for that, for that matter. You didn't need to waste a historic event on the garbage AAP are planning to throw anyway. I confess I was waiting for a mention of Swaraj right till the moment the video ended. It never came.

No one is saying that UPA and NDA are not corrupt, or that their evils must not be placed before the people, but you failed to recognize a milestone in the history of Aam Aadmi Party and to use it strategically to state once more what unprecedented ideas it is offering to the people. It was even a time to speak of the candidates - a large number of whom are social activists, professionals in diverse fields, clean honest people few have heard of if you leave out the few famous names. Aam Aadmi Party has a visually impaired candidate as well as legends like Medha Patkar. Long suppressed people finding voice through Aam Aadmi Party like the anti-nuclear power protesters at Kudankulam or a victim of the state like Soni Sori. There is so much to tell people about why the Aam Aadmi Party is in their interest! This HISTORIC SPEECH should have at least touched these subjects - however briefly.

The people of Varanasi

This part is wishful thinking. I acknowledge that you have no means of reading my mind, and while I hinted on Twitter, I never made a proper suggestion that this be done. But, stating for the record, so that it may be included in future speeches in Varanasi:

Varanasi has inadvertently become the battleground of a National fight. Yet the people have local needs. You touched on their problems, but more was needed. An acknowledgment was needed that it is becoming a hot spot for helicopter candidates, including yourself, and of course, Modi. An apology would be appropriate that the people deserved to have their heros in the fight, but circumstances had brought it to this. The people deserved candidates who were dedicated to their region and its development specifically, if contesting from there. And you should have promised that you would see them as your own special people and give them that dedication, even though the AAP candidate was not a local in this instance. A belonging of the heart, if not your actual address and a promise that you would be there for their problems specifically and long term, and they were not being taken for granted for the larger good, while being deprived of their right to be represented in the Lok Sabha by a leader directly committed to their well being.

***

This sensitivity has usually been present in the party, and I can only think that like an over burdened horse cannot discern a leaf added to its burden, an overburdened person cannot perceive things not specifically mentioned. In this matter, I acknowledge that I failed AAP too, because I noticed, yet did not suggest.

I hope that these suggestions are taken in the spirit they are offered. I do wish AAP to thrive and upend the traditional politics of India so that something more wholesome and enriching may emerge.

Vidyut

Update:

PS: I also think you need to ditch the gareeb-max immediately. False modesty serves no purpose. Statements like "main to bahut hi aam insaan hun" etc are not required. Any person who understands the country and current affairs knows that what you achieved is nowhere "mamuli". I understand your point that it is not about you as a person, but the process of change, but better expression needs to be found for that. Perhaps something like [Note: This is just an example]

"I was able to succeed, because the need I fought for resonated with many. There are many people who fight for change and lose and are forgotten. I just happened to come along at the right time, saying things many people needed to be said and the spark I lit took on a life of its on and is a wildfire. People didn't lose interest or lose hope - or maybe some instinct knows we are facing the abyss and there is no other real choice. It grew and grew and is still growing."

It is more accurate and honest than pretending that you did nothing. What you did has value. Incidentally it has enough value that you are asking for votes on its basis. Calling it insignificant does not help stress the importance of what is happening. False modesty is counter-productive at this point. Don't brag, but don't deny so obviously that it makes no sense either.

Unnoticed in the media hype is a long overdue and very welcome change in Indian politics. Powerful women entering Indian politics on their own steam. Women who have no hesitation standing among the men like any other candidate among equals. Women who are fighters and challengers of the status quo in real life so far entering the corridors of minimal representation of women and token power, except the powerful ladies at the top of the parties who have so far proved useless toward changing the gender bias of the masses.

During the Delhi Elections, if I had a complaint about Aam Aadmi Party, it was the lack of women candidates. AAP had just seven women candidates. In typical fashion, I made no bones about my displeasure over this, only to be assured that AAP was keenly looking to field more women candidates. Taking this with a bucket of salt, I had, at that point been irritated enough to say that perhaps feminists need to start making their own parties. That the only three women to get elected in the Delhi Assembly were from AAP was hardly a balm when the number was THREE! And I was angry there was only one in Arvind Kejriwal's cabinet.

At that time, several AAP handles had engaged with me asking for suggestions on how to get more powerful women into politics. I shared what I could. I became convinced that these people do want more women visible, even if they weren't at that time and did what I could to support that goal. When Alka Lamba shifted from Congress to Aam Aadmi Party and supporters reacted with knee jerk paranoia about her, I engaged and criticized and got them to see reason and went as far as to suggest that women in all political parties should be defecting to AAP if they really are giving them rights.

I didn't really expect much. And I lost track of that measure for a while as other things started coming up and I started supporting Aam Aadmi Party in the run up to this election as well as my ethical stand against the rampant paid media influencing of electoral results, which in my opinion is an assault on democracy by vested interests.

And I came face to face with that evaluation again today. On the surface, not much has changed. AAP does have more women candidates this time around, but they also have more candidates overall this time around. This is the freaking national event. All candidates are more. But beyond the numbers, there is something completely unprecedented in Indian politics. Drop by drop dripping onto a status quo, it is being eroded in ways I can only celebrate.

Aam Aurat Party - inspiring women joining Aam Aadmi Party
Aam Aurat Party - inspiring women joining Aam Aadmi Party

One by one, without much sensation, right along with other candidates, is the steady growth of powerful women rising from the masses and shouldering the responsibility of being leaders of a maverick revolution, the likes of which India hasn't seen before. I remember reading some research paper on women in politics, and a point remains in my mind about the link between corruption and disempowerment of women. I don't recall the paper, but the insight that remained in my mind was that with power largely residing in the control of men, corruption naturally becomes a playing ground for men as it thrives on "networking" - to put it mildly. Not to mention the conditioned reluctance in women to engage in questionable activities with men. And somewhere in my mind a link forms of the spontaneous emergence of women leaders in a party dedicated to fighting corruption.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the fact that there are a lot of women suddenly exercising their influence on the nation's future is significant in terms of women's power in India. Most of these without political families. Stepping into a profession that had come to symbolize actions that respectable people don't engage in. Certainly non-political families would not like the idea of their women becoming politicians. It would be seen as a risk that the family has no power to protect against.

Yet here we have not just women leaders emerging, but there is no women's wing. Women are leading just as same as any man. The stress on non-violence has had the unexpected side effect of turning the whole party into an area where men or women are very similar in power. Here are some of the women who have recently made news one way or the other related with the party.

Anjali Damania, state convenor of AAP's Maharashtra unit, contesting from Nagpur against Nitin Gadkari

Anjali Damania
Anjali Damania is an AAP leader and candidate.

Anjali Damania. Social activist who was independently taking on corrupt people by the time she got into Aam Aadmi Party and is now among the key leaders. Anjali played an important role in exposing the corruption in dam constructions in Maharashtra that led to 10 years with no increase in irrigation here.

Meera Sanyal, renowned banking professional, contesting from Mumbai South

Meera Sanyal, one of India's top banking professionals is contesting from Mumbai South. To paraphrase from her Wikipedia page, Meera resigned as CEO and Chairperson of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) India, to enter public life. She is also on the international Board of Right to Play, a NGO that works with over one million children in more than 20 countries and uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. In 2011, Meera was invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join the International Council on Women's Business Leadership (ICWBL) and took an active role in the Leadership sub-committee for the empowerment of women. In recognition of her initiatives on Financial Inclusion & Sustainability, she has been appointed as a member of the National Executive Council of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), and chairs FICCI’s Financial Inclusion Committee. She is also a member of the National Councils for Banking & Finance, Public Policy and Women's safety of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) (CII). Does India need competence and vision like this steering its future? Hell yes.

Soni Sori, Teacher, Social activist, contesting from Bastar

Soni Sori, an adivasi teacher framed by a corrupt system and brutalized and raped in jail does not let her voice falter from calls of justice even as vested interests try to paint her as an enemy of the state. Her rapist got a bravery award. She now claims voice for herself and countless others caught between the Maoists and a ruthless and opportunist state as an Aam Aadmi Party candidate.

Medha Patkar, social activist and legendary leader of several people's movements against powerful exploiters, contesting from Mumbai North East

Medhatai was earlier planning to contest independently, and Aam Aadmi Party had declared that they would support her anyway. She has since joined the party.

Medha Patkar
Medha Patkar is a prominent social activist.

Medha Patkar is a legend in her own right. The forgotten tenacious pitbull that forced the Adarsh scam to light. The fearless activist to challenge devastation of people being sugarcoated as progress. Be it the displaced villagers of the Sardar sarovar dam or the mega connected Lavasa city or slums in Mumbai being demolished without fair compensation. On the day when Indian media went into a rhapsody of outrage over Aam Aadmi Party's violence in toppling over a metal detector, which was stood back in its rightful place without damage, the purpose of media seemed to be coverage of election travel, because the rally the travel happened for was blacked out. If it weren't, people sitting tight in homes would see an electrifying Medha Patkar taking the gathering by storm with her straight talk based on years of hands on experience of fighting for the rights of the common man. You'd have seen this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-sbzvtBGjs

Gul Panag, actor, activist adventure junkie, contesting from Chandigarh

Gul Panag is an enthusiastic biker
Gul Panag is an enthusiastic biker

Gul Panag. According to her Twitter profile, Gul Panag is "actor, activist, aviator, animal lover, adrenalin junkie, adventurer, avid traveller, automobile & fitness enthusiast, biker, entrepreneur, student, writer". She also happens to be a Miss India, "Army brat" adult daughter of Lt Gen H S Panag who took on corruption in the Army before he retired. She works in many social initiatives for change and is an astonishingly diverse person.

As a model, beauty queen and actress, there is no end to fantastic photographs of her to illustrate any aspect of her life and work, so we must assume that Aaj Tak is merely sticking to standard India Today policy of showing bare female flesh where possible even if it is a candidate announcement for elections. If you have ever worn a bikini, you might as well grow a paunch and color your hair purple. Your file photo is the bikini one.

Gul Panag
Aaj Tak's facebook post about Gul Panag being chosen as AAP's candidate for Chandigarh.

Women of India are cursed with a media and powerful people who are relentlessly SLEAZY. From publications like India Today to MLA's watching porn in Assemblys and your vegetable vendor who weighs twice your weight and sizes you with his eyes. I could have chosen to ignore this photo, but it is important, because it is not how she normally looks and someone has gone out of their way to present her in a manner not fitting for her role. Unless of course they want to show all news of Govinda with a photo of him in yellow underwear or sprawled on a cot. The good news is that Gul is a woman of strength and if her presence allows these questions to be raised, she's bringing change before the polls, as far as I am concerned.

Or perhaps it is a continuation of India Today's hatchet jobs against Aam Aadmi Party, where a candidate for election's photo is deliberately chosen to make her look frivolous and unsuitable, when there are plenty of excellent, professional and RELEVANT photos of Gul Panag in terms of her new role. Since their coverage of Rakhi Sawant joining BJP didn't include any mega cleavages (saffron sari, believe it or not), I'm also going to add this one to the log of paid media bias on the India Today account.

Shazia Ilmi, ex-media professional, contesting from Ghaziabad

Shazia Ilmi is among the oldest of Aam Aadmi Party women leaders. She got my respect when she contested in Delhi Elections breaking unsaid norms on religious politics by contesting from a "non-Muslim" constituency. She was the victim of vicious hatchet job by media where candid footage of her speaking with the reporter who was trying to get her to support illegal activities was edited to create a perception that she was interested in taking money to hold false protests. Earlier, a property dispute in her family was used to present "proofs" that not even her family thought well of her. She ended up losing by a narrow margin. This time I wish her luck.

Shazia Ilmi was among the reasons why I started this habit of special coverage to counter media bias against AAP in the run up to elections. I do not see this as contradictory to my preference to remain on "my side" as opposed to political parties. I believe "my side" is being attacked when it is fed false information that will lead to choices that would not have been made without the deception.

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, India's first woman DGP, contesting from Haridwar

Kanchan chaudhary bhattacharya
Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya is India's first woman DGP

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya was India's second woman IPS officer after Kiran Bedi and the first woman Director General of Police in the country in Uttarakhand. Forging new ground in a male bastion of gender prejudices, Kanchan Chaudhary's fight is the stuff of legends as she took on thugs and lawlessness without even as she asserted her place within a police force not used to seeing women as authority figures.

At the same time she proved to herself that she could do it. She could be herself and she could change the police force and the world for the better. By doing it.

Older readers may remember a television serial called Udaan that had a lot of girls wanting to be cops. Yep. This is *that* Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya.

Balwinder Kaur, agriculture activist, contesting from Kurukshetra

Balwinder Kaur, a farmer activist who mobilized women farmers to fight for their rights is AAP's candidate for the constituency currently represented by Naveen Jindal.

Many in Aam Aadmi Party were disappointed when Irom Sharmila declined to contest from an Aam Aadmi Party seat. Yet, as I write, it becomes clear that the refusal was to contest the election alone, and she walks with the party like many other inspiring women of power who have their independent identities for their struggles for what is right. This image came in just as I was about to end this post.

 

Support for Aam Aam Aadmi Party by Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur
Support for Aam Aam Aadmi Party by Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur

In my view, while the party continues to inspire and provide support to women to be powerful, it is worth bringing to power to be able to tackle far more serious crimes.

And there are more. Many more nameless ones who get attacked by insecure mobs of fanatical parties. Who get threats and die. Still others who live and work tirelessly shoulder to shoulder with the men to allow the party to sustain its rocket like growth trajectory without splintering.

And they are safe. I was amazed to see a few tweets on women's day by volunteers of AAP thanking the party for making the events so safe for them. These are practical things. They exist if you are like that. No amount of presenting can make them happen. This is also a country where an outraged Sonia promising women of her party who complained of harassment by politicians that action would be taken.... faded into oblivion. This is also a country where a woman of Sushma Swaraj's stature got overruled when it came to her objecting to allowing a person of dubious credibility to represent the party. And this is a place where a new politician like Shazia Ilmi who suffered the brunt of a major hatchet job on her credibility could still frankly refuse to contest from Rae Bareilly and prevail even when the party wished otherwise.

It is a party where objections to Alka Lamba joining did not involve her as a woman and the volunteers could be made to listen and understand a larger point and include her.

I do not doubt anymore. The lives of women will be transformed by Aam Aadmi Party coming to power.