With dreams of anti-corruption, decentralization and heritage conservation, TR Raghunandan took voluntary retirement from his IAS services after 27 years. He worked as a Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Secretary for the Rural Development Department of Karnataka. He spoke on many national and international platforms and discussed anti-corruption and decentralization of power. After seeing that his efforts were not making significant impact while working with the government, Raghunandan decided to retire. He was on sabbatical for a year in 2009-10 while making his final decision and ultimately decided to take voluntary retirement.

I Paid A Bribe Initiative

Throughout his career, Raghunandan worked with different organizations and with some other amazing people. He was in contact with bureaucrats, officials, ministers and activists who were also dreaming for a corruption free and decentralized India. But such people were very less in numbers. Post retirement (in 2010-11), Raghunandan started the website www.ipaidabribe.com which is now working in more than 40 countries. Coincidently, the initiative was started just a few weeks before the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare. Anna’s movement also helped the ipaidbribe initiative which publishes corruption related stories from both sides of the spectrum (bribe giver and taker).

Meeting with Arvind Kejriwal

During anti-corruption movement, Raghunandan was also approached to join the movement but he was a little diffident and supported it without joining actively. He closely followed the movement. Before anti-corruption movement caught the nerve of every Indian, Raghunandan had a chance to meet Arvind who was working with Parivartan NGO and was hoping for democratic decentralization. Both had a conversation about urban citizen participation and Arvind was very curious to know about public participation in panchayati raj via gram sabha. During that time Arvind was a struggling activist and Raghunandan was not sure that things will change drastically and a political party (AAP) would be formed.

A Happy Moment

It was a happy moment for Raghunandan when AAP was born. A bunch of Individuals who were merely activists decided to take charge and formed a political party. Raghunandan had worked with different parties earlier but Aam Aadmi Party was the only one where politicians wanted to be honest and favored decentralization of power. Since then, initiatives such as doorstep delivery of services, improvements in health services, investment in education are making a major impact in the lives of people in Delhi. He keep asking politicians from other parties that what stops them from introducing such innovative reforms, but never gets any response.

Raghunandan believes that AAP is on the right track and India will witness a significant change if AAP survives for the next 20-30 years. Raghunandan is a supporter and well wisher of AAP but he did not join AAP formally because of a couple of reasons:

  1. Political Office: He is not interested in political office. He believes that one can volunteer for a party throughout their life.
  2. Family Member: Raghunandan’s sister, Renuka Viswanathan (former IAS officer who worked as Secretary for the Rural Development Department of GOI) has formally joined AAP. He feels that it is wrong on moral grounds to have more than one member in a party from one family. AAP belongs to the common man and Raghunandan has been a privileged individual compared to many others. He thinks that AAP should give a chance to excluded and marginalized people to carry forward their concerns.
  3. Resourceful: Even while working as a volunteer, Raghunandan finds himself very resourceful. He helps AAP with research, policies and developing the think tank.

Karnataka Assembly Elections

TR Raghunandan
TR Raghunandan interacting with voters with flipcharts during door to door election campaign in Shanti Nagar

During 2018 Karnataka assembly elections, Raghunandan worked as a campaign manager for his sister Renuka. It was a rich experience for him as he got the opportunity to work as a voter instead of a returning officer or election observer with the election commission. Based on his experience, he also wrote a paper which can be read here. Their team decided to fight elections exactly according to the election commision guidelines. They submitted their accounts daily, followed rules, went door to door with flyers and flipcharts. Campaign was encouraging but Raghunandan learnt that even though people are very hospitable, there are many more things required to convince them to vote for you. Large number of people vote a candidate not because they are a good person but because of other calculations in mind. Some reasons that AAP candidates lost badly in Karnataka are listed below:

  1. Contesting on selected number of seats: People asked whether AAP will be able to form a government and the answer was NO. Arguments from AAP candidates that 15-20 MLAs can make a significant difference in Karnataka governance was also not successful. As a result, people were more inclined towards a straight fight between Congress and BJP. Funny thing was that a small party with least number of seats formed the government.
  2. Lack of booth volunteers: Booth volunteers are an absolute need for any political party and AAP did not have those volunteers. Raghunandan took responsibility to train people. Large number of people registered but on the voting day, there were not enough volunteers. Some of the booths had no AAP volunteer present.
  3. Irregularities on voting day: Bribery, intimidating voters, campaigning on voting day, mistakes in names and symbols were some irregularities witnessed on the voting day. Large number of voters were also removed from the electoral roll. Such actions were taken by all the established political parties and central election commision was unable to handle the situation.

Post Karnataka assembly elections, Renuka and others are back on the ground. Even though they did not win, election taught them an important lesson on how to manage a booth level campaign. This time Renuka is fighting in a completely different manner. She is directly reaching people and making herself more visible in the constituency. She is hopeful to make a mark in the upcoming 2020 BBMP elections in Bangalore.

Politics is not easy. I think we all were caught by the way we swept the elections in Delhi. But we must remember that Arvind Kejriwal put 15 years of hard work before that happened. Because of the ground work we manage to make it a landslide win. This is the way politics has to be fought. It can’t be Virender Sehwag, it has to be Rahul Dravid.

TR Raghunandan

Watch complete video of AAP Ka Radio conference call with TR Raghunandan