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Swaraj Abhiyan, a sociopolitical activist organization, is launching a political party, striking a path similar to AAP which had ousted the folks who formed this activist group.

This triggers the question – Is politics the only (or better) way to bring about big changes? The really big transformations we need desperately in various spheres, not small, mundane, routine or incremental changes.

AAP itself, a good example of a well-meaning social activist group turned political party, has been a disappointment. Its leaders, who were once hailed as idealist saviors, have become run-of-the-mill politicians, no different from other politicians they fought against. While AAP may still bring about some good changes, they may possibly fail to transform society, which was their original intention and promise.

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(Let us define a big transformation as a set of positive changes which impact our day-to-day lives in a visible manner, started & finished within 5 years, or within one term of an elected government. Changes could be in any or many spheres like agriculture, industry, utilities, welfare, etc.)

The Modi government is another example. While it has initiated some positive changes, the promise of a big transformation may not be realized within 5 years. While Modi has expressed dissatisfaction with small incremental changes half-way through his term and has called for a transformational change, he may need another term in office to achieve his big transformational goals. But big transformational changes spread over a longer 2-term (10 years) period may not have the desired impact, as the goal posts keep moving too. Any transformation has to be time bound. If it’s too slow, then it’s not a transformation at all.

So, can’t political action help bring about big transformations we need fast enough?

Yes, but history cautions us that’s possible (largely or, perhaps, only) when there is a crisis. Political action is perhaps the best way to achieve big transformations, especially in democratic societies. But it is also a high risk activity combined with high uncertainty. It can result in a big success, or a big failure, or just taper off.

Many strong but peacetime political leaders may not make history. They may not lead transformational changes. But crises, big & small, bring forth leaders who transform societies. Great political leaders were often made by the circumstances they found themselves in.

Are we in a crisis now? No. We have many problems, big & small, but no crises.

Our democratic politics is a system of compromises. Great political ideals & ambitions are quickly watered down. Activist politicians have to scale down their lofty goals. They need to be pragmatic to survive. And then, if they are savvy enough to garner the support of leaders, peers & others, which is a herculean task, they may have a chance to achieve some of their watered down goals. They can make incremental changes.

But, big transformational change? For that, we need the catalyst, a crisis.

 

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