For once, the topic of discussion at an informal meeting of faculty members at the office of Trilochan Sastry, professor at Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad, some time in 1999, wasn't organisational behaviour or leadership challenge. The group discussed the ever-increasing hold of money and muscle power in politics and the need to do something to stop this disturbing trend. At the end of the meeting, while others had doubts about going beyond their core-competency, Sastry decided it was his duty to change the way elections were conducted in the country. The next day, he visited Gandhinagar and managed to procure a nomination form, which, to his astonishment, had just four columns - name, age, father's name and address - to be filled by candidates contesting the elections. The least one could do, he thought, was ensure the candidates told more about themselves while seeking votes from the people.
|ADR'S JOURNEY SO FAR|
With a modest budget, ADR has managed to build a 30-member team that comprises members from the Indian Institutes of Technology, agriculture scientists and lawyers. Its national coordinator, Anurag Mittal, is a risk and compliance professional who has worked with organisations such as the World Bank, American Express, Bank of American and Deloitte. The first few years of ADR's existence were extremely challenging, says Jagdeep Chhokar, another co-founder and former director in-charge of IIM-Ahmedabad. "We had a hard time finding affidavits. The Election Commission would refuse to give us access to these. After years of persuasion, it agreed to put all the affidavits on the website. Now, we collect all the data from the EC website. Once we get the data, we try to ensure voters get access to that information at least a week before the polling," he says. Helping ADR in its voter-awareness drive is a network of nearly 1,200 voluntary organisations, under the National Election Watch umbrella. Through its associates and a host of television partners, it runs the Mera Desh, Mera Vote campaign. "Our endeavour is intended to help voters make an informed choice and all our campaigns have that objective in mind," says Chhokar. Five years ago, actor Aamir Khan, too, pitched in with a video message, exhorting voters not to succumb to bribing while making their choice. Taking this message forward, ADR is launching a campaign, 'My vote is not for sale', ahead of the coming Lok Sabha elections. Eminent personalities such as former chief justice M N Venkatachaliah, former chief election commissioners J M Lyngdoh and T S Krishnamurthy and former comptroller and auditor general C G Somiah have lent their support to the organisation. But ADR isn't satisfied with merely raising voters' awareness about the financial and criminal backgrounds of poll candidates. Its agenda also includes restoring inner-party democracy in parties and ensuring transparency in political funding. It has also filed an appeal with the Central Information Commission, seeking its direction on getting elected representatives put their income tax return in the public domain, similar to political parties. For Sastry, founder and now a professor at IIM-Bangalore, the journey has just begun. "The influence of money and muscle power in elections has not come down yet. But the awareness has definitely gone up, which is a positive sign," he says.