PARTY BUILDING – SOME THOUGHTS

Sanjeev Sabhlok

 

POLITICAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

6 December 2003

 

This party is a venture broadly on par with new business ventures,  but far more complex. The immediate support needed to attract competent people who are "otherwise gainfully employed" is what  I'm calling the core support. Good applicants apply only to organisations that are viable and durable. Therefore to be able  to attract full-time involvement (of persons with competence and 'fire-in-the-belly') two conditions would have to be met: 

 

a. The organisation would have to show itself to be adequately supported in terms of its methods and concepts by at least a  few hundred people.

 

b. The organisation would also have be adequately supported in terms of funds - by at least a handful of people (diversity of  funding sources).

 

Once the core support is in, and perceived to be sustainable, there should be no problem in finding many people to apply.

 

That's when the transparent logic of the market kicks in. That should also be the underlying logic for the long-term growth and sustainability of this effort. We can't call upon Gandhian economics to support a liberal enterprise.

 

Gaining this core support support is therefore our immediate objective.  How do we get that?

 

Given the dynamics of our product, which is primarily a public good, and its return to financers, which is zero (or should be zero, else it will degenerate into corruption immediately), it is only the enhancement of India as a nation and elimination  of poverty  that can provide "compensation" to its 'shareholders'.

 

While this narrows down financiers by about 99% in comparison to a business venture, assuming that there are sufficient people motivated by nationalism and concern for the poor, these potential supporters will need to be **strongly** persuaded  that (a) our method is the best method of provision and (b) we actually have access to many skilled executives who can provide the goods, since this is definitely not a one-man, or a hundred-man job.

 

One way of gaining the core supporters is by each of us personally meeting and talking to many of them. This can unfortunately lead to misunderstandings of what the 'party' stands for, and supporters may become very unhappy when the  'Party' actually talks of something else. Talking and persuading should therefore be done by going around with professional looking documents that demonstrate the quality of our policies, as well as the competence of the preparatory national executive of this group. We also need to provide an opportunity for these new entrants to vet our draft documents and contribute effectively at various levels.

 

Strategy 1 is therefore to map out the entire conceptual basis of the party and convert that into supremely elegant, clear, and **concise** documents that are capable of standing on their own feet. This physical infrastructure - essentially words, requires co-ordination, some printing, some funding, etc., but much more than that, requires competent people willing to work together in this enterprise and to contribute their small but necessary input.

 

Core support having been gained at the end of this (1-year ?) process, we will be ready for a much wider rollout, into the universities and hearts of the middle classes. From that group will arise teams of part-timers taking the message out to the lower (economically) classes, and to the rural areas. That's when the rollout will require highly effective and competent full-time management support and we will be ready to advertise for such positions. Please note that IPI as an institution is eminently suited to coordinating and publishing such pre-party draft (ideal party) documents.

 

SUMMARY OF SOME PRELIMINARY DISCUSSIONS

16 December 2003

While the need for a durable liberal political alternative seems to be widely shared, there are **significant** obstacles to making it happen. Listed below are some concerns in no particular order:

 

-- finding funds

-- designing and building a viable organisation (but we don't just need organisation or just another party; we need to focus on achieving the outcome)

-- finding people to devote time for organisational activity

-- Who is going to do what?

-- tactical planning, eg. arriving at commonly understood and accepted messages that resonate with the people (agitation against ROP 29A is perhaps not sufficiently tactical in that sense)

-- mass marketing of concepts

-- learning from success stories as well as failures

-- creating a "business model" that works (it was felt that even though black money has a significant role in electoral funding, simply throwing money at the voter does not guarantee success)

-- the need to grow organically, and not plan to the nth degree (this was raised in the context of how we are going to exclude "scoundrels"; the demand for membership by scoundrels is a good measure of the growing importance of a party; an alternative view is that some design fundamentals need to be so sound that we do not get swamped by "scoundrels")

-- the need to strictly disassociate private differences or personal matters between participating individuals on the one hand and the common liberal agenda and goal that brings us together

-- the need to involve liberals from across the country in this process

 

 

FUNDS VS. GOOD CANDIDATES

24 December 2003

Yes, electoral funding is an issue, and money does make a difference in elections, but we can do a lot with frugal use of white money, and voters are smart. If 450 good people stand up for an election with proper preparation and notice, people will vote out questionable characters. But not for a party with 10 good candidates.

 

 

POLICY GROUPS

5 December 2003

 

[W]ith the availability of the Internet, one can set up different mailing lists, each discussing and sorting out different  policy issues over the course of six to eight months, as well as meetings of the preparatory "national executive" ... to finalise these documents. These documents include all party documents, e.g. rules, procedures etc., based on the design principles we agree on in January. These drafts can then go on the Internet and in a year's time we can assemble again and review progress... Many other activities across the country in 2004 may only need part-time work. 

 

In other words, we may not need full-timers at least till our agreed policy positions are finalised. At that stage, we would need a meeting of similar-minded people and resource providers to vet these documents and review further strategy. The issue of full-timers would arise then. Given that liberal leadership is most likely to emerge in the educated middle classes, we may be able to use the Internet as an on-going tool to tap into people's time.

 

 

INTELLECTUAL INPUT BY MEMBERS ONLY

10 December 2003

One of my basic expectations (subject to design priciples being discussed at the workshop) is that non-members should **not**  be permitted to contribute intellectual support directly to party policy. The reason is - we want people to be accountable for their advice and answer questions in party forums. If someone cannot work through the entire implications of advice, and be present to guide at the time of implementation, they are effectively unaccountable. Also, people will have to pay  (membership) to advise, unless hired as consultants.

 

 

NEED FOR COHESION AND DISCIPLINED PROCESS

4 December 2003

 

I have already taken the plunge when I quit the IAS. The rest of my life is available for use for political reform in India, if my contribution is found to be of any value. I need to know what support exists for this exercise. I'm also averse to being spoon-fed on the one hand or indigent on the other. I do not see politics supporting me financially.

 

But it is not for want of my presence that India does not have a politically powerful Liberal movement. It is for want of the unanimously directed energy of the liberals themselves. It is not possible to run a 500-year lived (for to aspire for anything less is a total waste of time) political movement without an extremely coherent and united ideology and methodology.

 

We are free to differ internally, but if we go out with two different views on the same thing to people, we have lost the battle.  That is why I would like us to design processes by which we can articulate our views freely but in the end speak one language as a 'group' (I would prefer a party). It is this leap from diversity to cohesion for those who choose to be members of the 'party', the leap from free public articulation to focused and united opinion, even perhaps to some form of discipline, that will be the most difficult for us.

 

Liberals differ from other -- power-hungry -- people.  We have radical and vast opinions.  We find it difficult to accept a united opinion because it may be methodologically problematic in some aspect. For the others, opinions or ideas don't matter.  Power does. Therefore they find it trivial to silently hunt for the "bag of money".

 

For cohesion to happen, Liberals would have to accept the view that the second-best is better than the 10th best (our current state of affairs in India). We may not get to implement what any of us wants (our personal 'first best'), but we will all get to implement what we unitedly agree upon as "acceptable" policy. Our great-grand children will get to implement the first best. 

 

Once we can demonstrate a serious and unaltering commitment to apply our united shoulder to this great 500-year long task, I believe that people like me would find it most worthwhile to find a way of contributing.

 

At the end of this workshop, we will know, and I will know, if we can work together. I believe we can, or even that we have no other choice. Life is short. We must join the battle or wither away.

 

 

MY PERSONAL ROLE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF DESIGN

7 December 2003

 

I been actively hunting for people who were willing to work together in a political enterprise since early 1998 when the imperative of this exercise first occurred to me. That is why, sitting in a little cubicle in USA, while doing a PhD and many part-time jobs, I did succeed to some extent in seeking you and others out. (That is why my disappointment at the loss of Subroto and Vamsi is so acute.)

 

And that is why I never forgot the purpose of my leaving the IAS, and at the earliest opportunity (being free from the binds of government discipline since 2001, and being in a position to overcome my painful physical condition - a condition that was itself created by the search I set out on in 1998), the first thing I thought of was to ask you to help me reach out again and find out whether the political enterprise could be examined once again for feasibility.

 

I do assure you and others that if I do see the possibility of all of us working together as a team (or at least most of us), I do not propose to leave any stone unturned in a joint quest to transform India...

 

While there are good reasons to consider a loose equation of concept between CCS and the liberal party, I'd see a greater commonality between CCS and IPI than with LPI. A party is a mass movement, driven by a radically different set of dynamics. I cannot say that a party has started, whereas you can say that CCS has started (or even IPI - which some of us did start since that was easy, barely six months from my first starting my "search" for good people). If I continue to host and run the LPI site without any underlying party I will be called a fool. That does not apply to my work with IPI.

 

Therefore if I find that even the liberals of India do not need a liberal party, and are happy to live with Congress, BJP, etc., then I would rather wind up the LPI web site, stop further activity on the subject, and wait for time to prove at least some of us right (that India does need, and did need, since 1950, a liberal political party).

 

But if we do feel the need of a national force to oppose socialism and bigotry, and we need it for all times to come, then it would be completely inappropriate for me to talk as if I alone will provide that force. Yes, I can and will contribute and facilitate the best of my ability, but that will have to be in positions which are applied for through an election or selection process. In this case, the institution with its executive, its rules and regulations, will have to come first.

 

The team must predominate any individual in a liberal force, for all times to come. The wisdom of the national executive will have to be supreme. No dictators at any cost, not even me! Whereas in the CCS you can, and should, practically dictate rules and policies, and decide on your own plans, in a party -- that too a liberal party, any concentration of decision-making power is an anathema. A liberal party will be an association of equally empowered, decision-making people, not a feudal dependency (like the Congress, for instance).

 

In brief (I've been chided at times for being too long, and I stand here pleading guilty), I do not expect to leave my family behind in the limbo in the hunt of a party that may or may not materialise, or works in a disorganised or regional manner. I have already been sufficiently reckless with my own career... A coherent party or a viable structure will have to come into existence FIRST, satisfying all our criteria of sustainability and integrity. Sauvik feels a party may attract scoundrels.

 

Well, if our party is going to be so designed that it cannot keep out scoundrels, I'm afraid I will never join such a party, long with Sauvik. Design is all-important. We have to get the detail right.

 

 

PRELIMINARY SWOT

25 December 2003

Based on my experience of talking to numerous liberals in the past 12 to 14 days, I'm upgrading the weaknesses in my preliminary SWOT analysis (strategy.ppt) and consequently downgrading the strengths, thus increasing the questionability of this enterprise.

 

1. In general, Indian liberals do not see themselves (in a theoretical framework) as providers of governance services, but providers of gently tendered advice to socialists and ruffians through newspapers and booklets. This mirrors what liberals did with the British in 1890s to 1930s, but that method made them irrelevant to India's freedom. I see the provision of governance as a fundamental liberal obligation, but there are few takers yet of this basic theoretical view. Ie., of the two key pillars of liberalism, viz., capitalism and democracy, we are 100% at ease with capitalism but 0% with democracy. Most of us preach participation in democracy by the people but shun it like leprosy personally, since democracy is a beautiful word but "too dirty" to touch. We may be half-liberal in a theoretical sense. We have no (or few) Thomas Jefferson or James Madison or Edmund Burke, or Rajaji or even Sapru.

 

2. We have extremely limited resources in terms of funds, support or people; almost no Indian industrialist of any standing has any interest in promoting liberalism, leave alone a liberal political alternative. We do not even know 50 people who would like to come to the seminar on 9th January. As an illustration of the limited resources, there is a continuous 'testing' of my personal commitment or role going on and a 'watch and wait' game being played out. I may not care for such disproportionate 'responsibility'. Further, I could die in a car accident today.

 

3. The intricacies and enormous magnitude of the needed effort are not readily appreciated nor the complex problem of inventing a viable incentive system to sustain the effort.

 

4. Last but not the least, we often do not readily gel as a team and do not easily visualise ourselves in that role. We often do not share knowledge nor plans with each other.

 

On balance, I now assess the sum of weaknesses + threats as being somewhat greater than the sum of strengths + opportunities, and that overcoming the weaknesses and improving the strengths would probably have to drive strategy going forward.

 

PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS (discussions with Barun)

28 December 2003

Again, without prejudicing the workshop discussions, I wish to share insights from a stimulating and extensive discussion with Barun yesterday:

 

-- this workshop mimicks some of the activities of liberals in the past and people are only assembing because they wish to see concrete results.  Such a workshop would have been organised long ago by others had there been a possibility of results being achieved.

 

-- the key stumbling block is not the people of resources, but the message.  If a powerful and simple message can be created, it will attract people and resources. If such a message had existed in the past, this workshop would have been completely redundant, since someone, including Barun, would surely taken the message to the people. A major focus therefore has to be in determining whether we have a distinctive and attractive message, and what does it look like?  The message would have to be short and persuasive. None of the potential messages so far have met that criteria.

 

-- technocratic analysis (the bulk of the workshop agenda) has significant limitations, eg. Chalking out a long-term plan is essentially wasted activity

 

-- the time has never been so right for the success of one or more (different states can form their own parties) liberal political alternatives

 

-- marketing of the message also needs a mascot: ie.  a leader or leaders: I was personally grilled and challenged to take up to the role of initiator rather than facilitator, viz, the failure of this workshop would be my personal failure. Teams can only assemble around common objectives and perceived viability.

 

-- the other valuable insight was determining the strategic balance or the order of precedence: the success of marketing a powerful message would be measured by the number of defectors from other political organisations, and rapid growth through bandwagon effects. That would potentially stress the organisational development and throw up issues related to durability. Rapid growth vs. durability is an issue.

 

My personal view is that we do need a professional (technocratic) analysis of the issues and the clear documentation of barriers and their solutions.  Therefore, we will try to design the detailed strategy, as per the agenda. "Reading makes a full man; conversation makes a ready man; and writing makes an exact man." By writing out the entire set of issues, prioritising them, and analysing them, we, and many others reading this document, will know the exact next steps.

 

In keeping with the significance of the issues raised by Barun, I suggest we lower attention to the design of organisational structures, on the third day, and instead, put more focus on brainstorming the key messages that we bring the people of India.

 

FULL TIME CEO?

3 January 2003

Yesterday, Sh. Gurcharan Das ... thought that "our party"  would need a full-time CEO. (assuming we do agree to form a party)

 

I have thought more about this and without denying a need for co-ordination, it is worthwhile examining what parties do, and looking at options on how these can be done. By the law of comparative advantage, if activities are done by those best equipped to do them, we would get the best results.

 

The IPI model (which has no overheads at all, and which has built a significant Internet presence without actually spending a paisa from the bank account so far -- this workshop will be its first "real" expenditure) and the Dean model (which was the first to use the Internet creatively in US politics), as well as the emerging trends in outsourcing and the general theory of looking at organisations as an agglomeration of contracts, imply that there is vast potential for **competent** voluntary contributions of different sorts to take up a bulk of party activities.

 

I see the possibility of defining specific outsourcing activities and moving potential donors who possess expertise in those activities to provide such activities on a regular basis. Eg.  Infosys might wish to consider the provision of IT related activity, and so on. Further, to get the commitment of such potential donors, a CEO may be less capable than that member of the party who has an existing working relationship with the donor (use of networks).  In a team-based management model, everybody does what they do best, not necessarily full-time.

 

What parties do:

---------------

-- membership management (using secure servers) can be completely outsourced; a new member can fill a form, get it approved by the relevant committee and mail it to a centralised (outsourced) office in India which will process the rest.  (the entire process can also be got done on the Internet, at the option of the applying member)

 

-- Website management can similarly be completely outsourced; content will have to be authorised by somebody in the party (we can set up mailing list processes such as this list, for that authorisation)

 

-- the public ie. web management of the "annual declaration of assets" of senior office bearers can similarly be outsourced, so that the defaulting office bearers are issued notices by an an external body (affiliated to the party)

 

-- donations management can similarly be outsourced (including direct debits), and names and city (not full address) of all donors publicly displayed in a searchable, sortable, database

 

-- Finance can be completely outsourced by only using credit cards/debit cards/cheques (where cash has to be paid, the person who payed the cash would be paid by cheque on submission of receipts to the outsourced finance service: receipts for purchases can be couriered  to the outsourced facility). The audit of the accounts can also be outsourced. I would like all accounts to be completely available in an Excel spreadsheet on the Internet from day one.

 

-- Publication of books, booklets, brochures, etc., and their distribution can be outsourced to the extent possible (eg those ugly posters that deface the walls of India, and wall writing, will need local management). The content would have to be authorised by somebody in the party.

 

-- the physical organisation of party meetings to discuss strategy can be potentially outsourced

 

-- organising public meetings would mostly need local management. Speakers would be from the "intellectual bank" of the party as well as local party functionaries.

 

-- writing draft documents could be through an internal process that does not need much more than a simple structure (e.g. a mailing list of this sort), primarily dependent upon the "intellectual bank" of the party contributing bits and pieces

 

-- issuing press releases requires some local management (and a process for approval of the press releases that would mimic this mailing list in most cases)

 

-- Party office: it would almost appear that the party office/s would essentially be like a little library with Internet connected workstations, and a photocopier. Evan that could be outsourced.

 

-- Party disciplinary issues can be outsourced to reputed lawyers who empanel on the Liberal Party Internal Judiciary. The management of the panel can be outsourced to an expert law firm.

 

-- Coordination function: The only decisions left are at the policy level, which once decided, and outsourced, could be managed independently.  Policy-making is best done through an executive decision making body that operates over Internet and telephone, meeting once in a while to resolve the more difficult issues. Some fringe activities may be left out for direct management by a CEO. The mind of the CEO is the CEO, and mechanisms to transmit the mind are more important than full-time physical presence in a fixed spot on this planet.

 

Of course there are many other tasks that successful parties have to do, such as organising local level socialising activity, holding local elections, etc., which are completely local.

 

I believe it may be worthwhile looking at this kind of detail in the workshop in order to gain the confidence in our being able to build an effective political party immediately without making it conditional on a "full-time" CEO. In fact, depending on a full-time CEO could be very counter-productive since we lessen the involvement of others, equally or more competent.