Enter the broom

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Dec 15 2013, 09:40am hrs
Sweep corruption away is the intent of the broom (jhaadu) symbol political party. Various well-wishers commenting online on their website said backward (Ive always hated this word because its against human dignity) classes, the poor and housewives will certainly identify with the broom representation. The respect that all these people deserve and have been denied is what the broom expects to restore.

Actually, my livelihood journey started with a broom too. Jumping from a refugee colony outside Kolkata, I landed with no better a status in France in 1973. I had no money, spoke no French language, but was fired by an ardent desire to turn into a Parisian artist. Towards that end, a sweepers job in a Paris lithography studio was a silver lining start for me because I was spending time among famous artists. Initially, I would sweep away the visible dirt in the middle of the floor. One day, my employer, Jacques Gourdon, told me something in French, which, at that time, I could not understand. So he took the broom and brush, and showed me how I should first clean the corners. I later caught on that cleaning corners is critical and the most important skill to pick up for the job because thats where sedimentation collects. If you dont meticulously attack the difficult-to-reach areas to extract congealed dirt hidden there, the broad visible clean surfaces would just be a superficial lie.

This past experience of mine connected me very well to the jhaadu strategy. I extracted two meanings from it: (1) Dignity for the millions in our country whose livelihood comes from the broom; (2) Jhaadu to clean unwanted corruption and political drama that gives nothing to the common person. I must say, as a sweeper in Paris, nobody disturbed my dignity while I was executing my job. I was taught the skill of sweeping and I tried to perform to the best of my ability. Unfortunately in our country, poor, literate or illiterate people, whether or not they use brooms at work, are not only cheated with low wages, they also get no dignity in their living and working environment.

Indias extreme heterogeneous population ,which has been dominated and demoralised for 200 years by British colonial rule, do not connect to the countrys political grain. In China, we had Mao Zedong, who was a Marx and Lenin follower, but he brought in a new political perspective with the Cultural Revolution. He understood that in Chinas cultural setting, if everyone is not placed at one level, nothing can fall in order. The Cultural Revolution, extremely relevant to their country, was the innovative political dimension he designed and implemented. Whatever may have been his negative aspects, Mao injected a certain discipline in China thats helped in economic upliftment. Disciplined Chinese Communism has been a political style thats represented millions of poor people.

The Communist Party in India has tried to be poor-friendly. However, their politics appear imported, as they are not properly tailored to the common mans needs, nor have they been able to politically drive the nations economic requirement. In West Bengal, their big programme was to distribute small pieces of land to the deserving masses. However, modernisation has since changed the agrarian economy, preventing small farmers from earning a livelihood from such miniscule land holdings. Kerala, the other Communist bastion, saw a large exodus to the Gulf states for jobs. How many poor people can understand or connect to the Communists when they take up causes like anti-nuclear energy Gandhi-ji tried to represent the poor, introduced secularism, but, unfortunately, his image is translated like that of a prophet. After all these past efforts to get close to the masses, when you look at this new partys jhaadu symbol, it undoubtedly relates and connects to 70-80% poor people in our country.

As in drawing up business strategy by extrapolating from customer insights, an interesting new trend the jhaadu party started in the Delhi state elections is creating 70 constituency-specific election manifestoes. After about 20 meetings in each constituency, volunteers took away thousands of suggestions, analysed them, and then drafted a customised agenda for the betterment of each constituency. The common points made up the partys Delhi-level manifesto. Knowing the customers needs and desires is a surefire win in business. If applied with the same rigour in politics, the results can be tremendous.

Can a political party formed on the foundation of cleaning up societys ills sustain the immense pressures of its detractors If its leaders can uphold their avowed principles, manifesto and objective, India will see the masses actually taking part in real politics instead of merely casting votes as routine election activity. But from the media to different political parties, the jhaadu party is being disgracefully provoked of having developed cold feet and being gutless to govern with outside support. As of now, they have not capitulated, they are sticking to their guns of representing the masses and being anti-corruption. However, if accusations from detractors make them and their ideology susceptible, they will become like all the others the common man has suffered since independence. Hope that will not happen.

When a broom sweeps on the surface, like I first did in my sweepers job in Paris, it can polish societys hard rhinoceros hide. But its the corners, like my employer taught me, that we need to get the dirt out of to really clean. Similarly, societys rhino hide can take the beating of natural calamities like tsunamis and earthquakes; man-made catastrophes of wars, piracy and robbery are also inflicted on unsuspecting people. But scratching below that rhino hide youll find the living matter that feels and bleeds. In that living mass of flesh, there is illiteracy, neglect and discrimination that the same backward classes, the poor and housewives experience all the time. Its mainly for the vulnerable in society that the broom is most familiar, aside from its purported purpose here of cleaning up societys dirt.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence