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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

In conversation: Santhanagopalan Vasudev

This morning, Vatsan and I met Santhanagopalan Vasudev for an informal chat at his residence. Lok Paritran's Chief Advisor and candidate for the Mylapore constituency made many heads turn by finishing an impressive third at the hustings, above many established parties and candidates (BJP, DMDK, Chandralekha, Americai Narayanan, Mukta Srinivasan). And he patiently answered our questions. Here is a transcript.

So how does it feel to have performed impressively in your maiden election?

It is a good feeling. We are enthused by the response from the electorate in Mylapore. Of course, given that it was a spontaneous decision to contest these elections, and also that we had limited resources at our disposal, we have reason to feel satisfied at having made a decent start

There have been a few who have remarked that your party did not campaign enough...

(smiles) I don't think that is true. The fact is we went on a door-to-door campaign, but the response that you get from people during a door-to-door campaign may not be taken as a certain vote for you. People tend to vote according to allegiances.

You have had a lot of support from the media, especially the new media. Blogs, emails et al. But can they serve as alternatives to the traditional campaigning methods.

Yes, that is true. But we have left no medium untouched. Some bloggers did their bit, so did people who forwarded emails in support of our party. But the fact remains that unless people come out with us and campaign, things won't happen. The media is no alternative.

But with people in blogosphere, you have the problem of your ideology not being communicated properly. There are many we have come across who hold the view that every educated citizen should support you. They even call others 'morons'.

I have no control over such individuals. And that is not my view, nor is it the view of our party. However, in case anyone had questions about our party's ideology or our modus operandi, they could have called us instead. Our numbers are published everywhere. They can even come up and talk to one of us. With us, accessibility is not a problem at all. I have given you an audience.

And the TV and print media have given you some good publicity. They associate you with characters from Yuva and Ayutha Ezhuthu...

Well, the media has been calling us the IITian party, whereas we are a not a party only of IITians. None of the seven candidates who contested in Tamil Nadu are IITians. It does give us a name-tag, but just because our founder is an IITian doesn't mean the party should be identified with the IITs. As for the comparison with Yuva, we had a 56-year old housewife as a candidate. The media picks the easier bits and makes them big.

How do you break the perception of elitism? Your vote bank would be the educated class, and the forward classes. How do you garner votes from the slums?

I'm pretty sure that a good number of the votes I polled came from the slums. In fact, I came to know from various sources that people from one of the major parties went about telling the slum-dwellers that we had been formed by the other major party just to break their vote bank. If we weren't successful at wooing the slum votes, why would anyone indulge in such a cheap tactic? The truth is the parties know that they can buy votes from such people. Logic does not work with them. You and I can sit and think about national problems. But for someone whose next meal is a doubt, it is instant money which works.

Not just that. Let me give you an interesting statistic. The total electorate in Mylapore in 1996 was 2.1 lakhs. In 2001, it was 2.8 lakhs. Today, it is 2.33 lakhs. What does that mean? It simply means that there are things beyond our control, invisible forces. I personally know a person whose name is not in the electoral rolls. But both his neighbours have their names. The reason is this person belongs to one party, while the other two both belong to another party.

What would you have done, had won you won in Mylapore?

Mylapore, or any other constituency, has a few fundamental problems. I would have set out to address them. If you think about it, no one has any doubt what the problems are. And everyone is sure that they must be addressed. Yet the same problems remain. Our agenda clearly addresses these fundamental issues.

Take for example, the traffic problem. Everyone knows that the number of vehicles is increasing day after passing day. But which city does not have traffic problems? Even New York City is no exception. So what is the solution? The solution is that Chennai should grow. It is a small city, and it must grow. The solution is obvious, it doesn't need a scientist to figure it out. The most basic problems are all like that. You don't need to be intelligent to arrive at a solution. But putting that in action, that requires a lot more.

There is a criticism that your party follows the Hindutva agenda...

Well, I can only say what I know. As a Hindu, I have been exposed to the Vedas, so I can quote from them, and use the knowledge of the same. If one of us believes in a particular religion, what is wrong? We don't want to be pseudo-secularists. There are just too many such parties in India.

In any case, I do not think that this criticism is well-founded. Nowhere have I or any of our other partymen brought out the issue of caste or religion.

But Dravidian politics is caste-based. For example, the PMK always plays the Vanniyar card...

That is true. Caste is an identity. The strategy employed by parties has been to garner votes on some such identity. If the people are divided on casteist lines, they play the caste card. Else they play the religion card. We do not believe that we should be doing that; if we did so, what is the difference between us and them? That said, we cannot wish away identities. The idea is to reach out to everyone and not play isolation games.

Was your approach to the elections correct? Would you not have been better off with the bottom-up approach? Being a new player, why contest directly for the assembly?

We have spent considerable time thinking about the strategy to follow. Of course, there are a hundred different ways to do it. However those who proffer various ideas do not know the ways to implement it. You suggest a bottom-up approach. Do you know how long it would take us?

Yes, it takes time, I'm sure. But how do you build a cadre? Especially given that your party relies on college students for campaigns... That's not permanent, don't you think so?

True, but a bottom-up approach does not necessarily mean we can build a cadre. Maybe we should go to villages and start from there, that's what you imply. But how many villages, and how can we ensure a presence everywhere? The point about a floating cadre is correct. But that also ensures that we have people who would be willing to work with us. If one batch passes out, we have the next batch coming in. Moreover, it is not just about having a permanent vote bank. It is about creating an awareness.

But college students tend to be romantics. How do you get work done?

Yes, the idea of being part of a change is very appealing to a romantic. But there are also many who would like to work with us. It is not about those sitting at home and cribbing about things not being right. If things are not right, they have to be set right -- you have to set them right.

Instead of waiting for elections, isn't it a good idea to involve yourself in social work?

The point where social work differs from politics is that the former evokes a spontaneous emotional response, whereas the latter need not. If I said, "Come, let's go clean up the slums" a hundred people would join me immediately. However, if I wish to convert the same into vote bank, that is not service, that is exploitation, and I don't want to be party to that.

In India, social activism in on one side, with numerous activists; politicians are on the other side dealing with macro problems. There is a divide between the two, with social activists being outside the system. beyond a point its policy which matters. It is also important to consider the scope of the work. When you get down to doing social work, you are attempting to solve micro problems, say the problems of one person, or a small group of persons.

A case in point is Medha Patkar. She is able to win hearts, but the problem she is trying to address is limited in scope. Moreover, she is not able to turn her tireless work to fruition. In active politics, you get the chance to tackle macro issues, and also the power to solve them. We are a national party, and I believe that we should ready ourselves for addressing social problems with political activism.

Do you have plans to contest the local body elections?

We are discussing about that.

And what about Gujarat and Delhi?

(emphatically) Yes. We will contest many more seats in Gujarat. In fact, that is one wrong thing we did in Tamil Nadu. When people saw that we were contesting only 7, they obviously thought that we couldn't do much, so why vote? The problems in Delhi are of a different nature, and so is the electorate. We will give both these our best shot.

And if your focus shifts to these two states, what are your plans for Tamil Nadu or Chennai?

Of course, we have plans for Tamil Nadu. Our focus on Gujarat or Delhi will not lessen our commitment to this state. Presently, our constraint is the number of volunteers we have. In Tamil Nadu, that is about 90 now. We will seek to expand that. As I have mentioned previously, our decision to contest the just-concluded elections was spontaneous. Our future decisions will be calculated and well-planned.

For a political party, especially a new one, staying in the limelight after the elections is a huge task. How are you going manage that?

We are a national party. Hence we will always be able to stay in the limelight. In fact, we already have a large number of people in Bangalore and Hyderabad asking us when we will come over there. I'm sure the response there will be just as good. And as we progress, it will become better. Our ideology is one, but the strategy we choose will depend on the place and the circumstances. A single strategy will not work everywhere. However, the problems in many areas are essentially the same.

Any comments on freebie politics?

That's on its way out.

Reservations in education?

That is a classic case of the solution creating more problems than the problem itself. I'm sure there is a lack of equilibrium, and in order to establish equilibrium, some sections of society need to be given a push. However, I'm very doubtful about introducing reservations in medical education. After all, it is a question of life and death. Why would I want anyone who is incompetent to be handling such a situation? Should we open up reservations in niche areas? I will not favour it.

What is on your economic agenda? How are you going to set right India's economy?

Frankly, I don't have any concrete agenda. The fact is we are a new party. We know that there are plans now, and that they don't work. The existing policies are flawed. So, we need to do a lot of research on those lines and come up with policies that will work.

How do you fund your party's activities?

People like you have to share with us your resources.

You can dip into NRI pockets...

Sure, that is an idea. But the requisite infrastructure for that has to be put in place. We have a small team working with us. And we need more people to implement all these ideas. Even setting up a Paypal account and a Donate page takes some effort. The effort may be very little, but it still requires someone to do it.

What change do you think you can bring about?

We know for sure, all of us, that the current political setup is not correct, and it has contributed negatively to our country's growth. You and I are in the same mess. I think it is time to clean up the mess, and I seek your support. It is all too easy to pass comments about politicians and the state of our country. We think it takes courage to stand up, and we think we have ideas to make things happen.

I am not saying only I can do it. We feel that anyone interested in this country should stand up and be counted. I have no problems if you join the DMK or the ADMK, so long as you do good work. I'm not saying only Lok Paritran can give good governance. If you can clean up the mess, I'm fine with it. I have other things to do, and I would be happy and supportive if you can do it.

As I have always maintained, it is not about political power, but about political activism. Why stay away when you know you can be an agent of change?

36 Comments:

Blogger Anu said...

Santa does rock! Nice one Vijay!

5/14/2006 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Prabhu said...

Thanks for one-on-one,Vijay !
It sure clears many misperceptions about the party !!
Thanks again !
Kudos to LP for their efforts !!

5/14/2006 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

complete crap..these guyz dont have any agenda, no social work..watch few craps like yuva and RDB and join politics... This party will be wiped out very soon.

a bunch of fools

5/14/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Anuttama said...

"The truth is the parties know that they can buy votes from such people. Logic does not work with them. You and I can sit and think about national problems. But for someone whose next meal is a doubt, it is instant money which works."
I must object to the patronising way in which Santhangopalan Vasudev speaks about slum people here. The question to ask is who decides what the national problems are and why is it that the slum people's problems (pretty basic ones of lack of education, money, food and healthcare) are not considered "national" enough in nature. I read this interview hoping to get a clearer understanding of LP's views and solutions -- but the only issues that have been brought up in this interview are traffic problems and reservations both of which are highly upper class concerns. If they want to be a truly national party they must have solutions to the problems that the poor face as well.
To dismiss Medha Patkar's work as local in nature seems to me shortsighted. Issues of what consititutes development and who decides what constitutes development are highly important and global issues that India must address if we're to get anywhere.

5/14/2006 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Jags said...

I agree with Anuttama. Even post election, there is no clear picture on what LP will do if it got elected. When I get elected, I'll do good things is not a great election promise. Knowing the real problems, having solutions and a plan is what is important. That is something LP could've done more research on. The current approach makes them look worse than other parties contesting. I doubt whether I'd have voted for them with this approach.

5/14/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Anon: Thanks for your findings.

@Anuttama: I don't think Santhanagopalan considers slums as not being part of the nation's problems. Rather, he is pretty keen that they must be addressed first. What he said (which you've quoted) was that the present crop of politicians have found a convenient way to get votes from slum dwellers. I wonder how you could have interpreted it in any other way. Plus, traffic and reservation are only a couple of examples thrown in during a discussion that lasted for more than an hour.

@Jags: On the contrary, it is a good promise. It is something with the other parties have failed to do. Else why are we still the way we are? It is so easy to say that LP must have a plan. Do you have one? Do you have the means to implement it?

5/14/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Anu said...

Vijay, what Anon says is true in a way. We have seen parties crop up during elections and then just die away before the next election. Thats the reason why only DMK and ADMK are the only parties that ever get to power in TN. If LP is able to sustain itself until the next election, and meanwhile manage to be politically active, then, may be they have a chance in TN.

5/14/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger ada-paavi!!!! said...

i was the other person who met Santhanagopal along with VIjay, ill also reply to some of the comments

@anu

that is one question i also asked him, wat will happen to the party in TN, will it survive etc, the response was that efforts were being made to create a sound organisational structure, etc to sustain the party in TN.

@jags
i also had ur opinion, check my blog for details. well Santhanagopal was clear, he said he knows problems exist, and he cannot have concrete solutions because he doesnt have access to data, lets take agriculture, in india there are numerous problems and numerous policies related to agriculture. to effectuvely tackle the problem, the data and information relating to the current schemes is required, which he doesnt have access to, therefore he can have access to, he wont be able to solve them.

it will be easy to make a promise like free tv or free rice, but can LP deliver on it? from my understanding its clear LP doesnt want to make a promise it cant deliver on, which is probably why they ve shyed away from the solutions, or the usual freebies

jags the point is not whether they have a policy or not, its pretty simple if u ask me, we ve voted for ADMK DMK, and nothing has happened, why not give these guys a chance? worst case scenario is that things would remain the same, best case scenario, tihngs would improve. why not take that risk?

@anuttamma

the point here was can u speak to a person who doesnt know where his next meal is going to come frm bout corruption? and wiping out corruption? would this person forgo current income (other political parties pay money and buy votes, that income) for a possiblitity that some time future, due to good governance and change in policies. clearly now, even if i didnt know where my next meal was goig to come from, wouldnt be btohered bout LP. its the state of indian politics.

as i said earlier Santhanagopal spoke of argiculture and microcredit (which was a part of his ten point agenda) both these clearly arent problems of the rich, but of the poor.

Medha Patkars work is of a local nature, her goal is pretty straight forward, Rehabilitation for the affected now, and earlier stopping the construction of the dam. this doesnt take away from the point that her struggle is symbolic of one of the key issues in india, the development vs ppl issue. on a larger level, this is just one of the many problems affecting india.

for all those who ve raised questions here, i have just one thing to say, just call Santhanagopal and clarify ur doubts, Santhanagopal clearly mentioned that if u have any questions\queries u could contact them and they will answer ur questions.

both of us were sceptical about the party, had numerous questions, which is why we went and spoke to him. all those who have questions could also do so, he will give u time and patiently answer your questions.

5/14/2006 09:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5/14/2006 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger Kautilya said...

ur most welcome dude...
gr8 work by u guyz.. for a gr8er cause by paritran...
also to ada-paavi...
Thank U guyz so much...

5/15/2006 01:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5/15/2006 02:14:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:14:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:14:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:14:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:15:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:15:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:15:00 AM  
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5/15/2006 02:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Koutilya: Thanks for linking. And the main credit goes to Vatsan. He was the one who suggested we go meet Santhanagopalan.

@Anon: I request you not to splog. If you have a point to discuss, please specify the same.

5/15/2006 02:27:00 AM  
Blogger Prabu Karthik said...

VK and vatsan,
commendable effort!!
way to go:)

5/15/2006 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Queer said...

It is good to have some answers. We all can agree that LP is a fledgling party, but only time will tell us how well they cope up with the current scenario.

Whatever it is, atleast it is better than many of us (me included) who have not been involved in politics at all but do complaint about the situation.

5/15/2006 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger -/சுடலை மாடன்/- said...

//However, I'm very doubtful about introducing reservations in medical education. After all, it is a question of life and death. Why would I want anyone who is incompetent to be handling such a situation? Should we open up reservations in niche areas? I will not favour it.//

1. How can he make such a racist/casteist statement that people who come under the reservations are incompetent?

2. I am calling the statement racist because he and the *intellectuals* like him have never objected to predominant number of higher education seats of the country being bought by money. I am saying 'predominat' because the ratio of seats in the private engineering and medical colleges to thos in the government run institutions is more than 1.

3. So, people who bought the seats with money to become doctors are not incompetenent and they can play with life and death. Who knows according to these intellectuals, they may be treating the poor and illiterate, and, it is okay to play with the life and death of those poor and lower caste people.

Thanks,

S. Sankarapandi

5/15/2006 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Abi said...

Hi Vijay,

Thanks for this great interview!

With no clear economic or social agenda, I am surprised that the party actually polled several tens of thousands of votes! Yeah, it's a young party, but since when is youth an excuse for getting into politics without a clear articulation of what the party stand for?

On the other hand, it is very likely that the party stands for things not too different from those of certain other parties, but they are afraid to admit it. And hence all those wishy-washy answers to some of your tricky questions.

Thanks again for asking those tricky, important questions. It's now clear that Lok Parithran is either running on empty, or afraid to reveal its true colours.

5/15/2006 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger ravi srinivas said...

I am against extending reservations
and for a rethink on the issue.I do not agree with the tone and tenor of Gopalan.He has a poor
understanding of the issue and
his views are biased.Nor I agree
with Mr.Sankarapandi as he
forgets one fact : It is OBCs and minorities who run most of the,
perhaps 95% of the institutions that have commercialised education
by charging capitation fee etc.At the same time these rich and super rich persons' families get benefits
of reservation under OBC quota.The responsibility for the failure to regularise such activities lies with the govt (run by OBC politicians).In other words you cannot ignore the contribution of
institutions run by OBCs and the govt. run by
OBC politicians in the crass commercialisation of the
education.I know
Mr.Shankarapandi will not talk about such facts.I think OBCs are
no longer OBCs.They are no longer socially and educationally backward.
They can compete on their own without reservations.
ravisrinivas.blogspot.com

5/15/2006 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Bala said...

This interview has brought out some important agenda of the LP only and not the whole action plan. Its good to hear even this much.

Any campaign would appeal to voters only when the question 'What is in it for me? ' is answered. When you talk of broader agenda like social reform, city improvement, education etc., they get frittered away before a bunch of currency notes who are really in need of it. The bigger picture may appeal to elite, educated and affluent voters but for people in lower strata of the society any solution that could solve the problem he faces in the next hour,day and week or month would appeal most. That is why the freebies are announced by the parties. In my opinion the Election Commission should also bring in a check that economic schemes without adequate expalnation for the financial support should not be included in the manifesto.

Alas!!! If any one opposes reservation he is branded as Elite or or racist or casteist. And under the name of reservation why are you relaxing basic eligibility criteria?

Why not bring in reservations based on Economic criteria irrespective of the caste or race or religion? Who is going to oppose this?

5/15/2006 11:35:00 PM  
Anonymous rc said...

Ravi,

Yes, the biggest error is assigning the "underprivileged" tag to all OBCs across the board.

OBCs were never classified scientifically - not is the status of each OBC component monitored.

I would venture to say that some OBC communities have 10x the number of doctors as the forward community. This is not a new phenomenon - even 10, 20, 30 years back this was the case.

We are waiting for this years medical counselling sessions to begin - the pathetic state of the FCs and the absolute dominance of a few OBC communities will be in full light for the world to see.

THe most significant aspect is that except TN all southern states honour the creamy layer criteria mandated by the Mandal commission.

5/15/2006 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous rc said...

Ravi,

Yes, the biggest error is assigning the "underprivileged" tag to all OBCs across the board.

OBCs were never classified scientifically - not is the status of each OBC component monitored.

I would venture to say that some OBC communities have 10x the number of doctors as the forward community. This is not a new phenomenon - even 10, 20, 30 years back this was the case.

We are waiting for this years medical counselling sessions to begin - the pathetic state of the FCs and the absolute dominance of a few OBC communities will be in full light for the world to see.

THe most significant aspect is that except TN all southern states honour the creamy layer criteria mandated by the Mandal commission.

5/15/2006 11:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Hi said...

GOOD, SIMPLE & DIRECT QUESTIONS. ALL EVASIVE ANSWERS. AMPLE & CLEAR DEMONSTRATION OF LACK OF ANY SORT OF PREPARATORY WORK PRIOR TO JUMPING INTO THE WORLD ELECTORAL POLITICS. HE HAS NOT SPOKEN ABOUT ANY PROBLEM WHICH WE ARE NOT AWARE. ALAS HE DID NOT KNOW THE SOLUTIONS EITHER - AGAIN LIKE ALL OF US. THE ANSWER IS NOT IN CONTESTING ELECTIONS WITHOUT ANY GROUND WORK WHATSOEVER AND BLAME IT ON PARTY POLITICS. POOR CHAPS. THEY HAVE LOST BOTH MONEY & MOORINGS.

5/16/2006 02:55:00 AM  
Blogger Selva said...

A nice effort from u guys to meet up with an LP representative.

Your questions were relevant, but some of the replies were absolutely bad. The reply for "what u wud do had u won the election" was pathetic. Comments on reservation were not the ones to be expected from a learned person. "We know for sure, all of us, that the current political setup is not correct, and it has contributed negatively to our country's growth." - absolute crap.

Some points addressed by santhanogopal were relevant and well-reasoned. I hope what anon says does not become truth.

5/16/2006 06:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey,these guys have split ? WTF

5/16/2006 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous anitha. said...

well yes, the LP credo does appeal immensely to the educated among TN, but, then again, the lower socio economic uneducated strata is probably the bulk of TNs' voting population. They probably should tap into the masses that chose not to vote at all....hell..i dint vote..and i can probably name a few hundred others that didnt...The state can definitely welcome an educated group of people with set values and definite plans.
Moreover, it is high time that someone rid us of the "great tamilian tamasha" that is the state election... first time witnessing campaigns in inida... n' well, oh boy...sort of turns the whole state into a free ring circus. High time someone ends this war and def is high time we have educated people up there.

5/16/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous anitha said...

ps n' yeah...nice goin..is there anyw ay we can get teh current govt net savvy enuff to look at this?

5/16/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey what abt the split in the party...heard that the party was extremely partial abt one particular candidate... also the parties agenda and the way they wanna go abt achieving it are very vague...

5/17/2006 02:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am the same ana who replied the third comment

hahahaha!! LP has split. i knew it, these guyz have no agenda, plz do not promote these guyz

5/18/2006 01:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Hi said...

I had stated in an earlier post that these guys have lost both money & moorings. See what has happened - LP has now split at a speed which qualifies for a place in record books - at least the LIMCA version. Poor chaps.

5/22/2006 04:33:00 AM  
Blogger Rakesh said...

thats a good effort guys..

nice to know the views of the people associated with LP..

one observation--there were a lot of ananymous comments on the blogs writing about LP with remarks against them...makes me wonder if there a propoganoda against LP on blogs :)

I also found a blog saying LP are hindutva and brahmin based etc etc...and also tracing a few comments online that LP leaders made long back online to claim this...

makes me wonder wat people will find out about me if i ever venture into politics :)

5/27/2006 03:40:00 PM  

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