Just as there are innovators in business who overturn the rules of the game, Kejriwal is all set to shake up the rules of the political space, paving the way for a new dynamics.

Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption (IAC), now the Aam Aadmi Party, is redrawing the battle lines and changing the rules of the game in a way that is leaving the political class befuddled. When he famously ended his last fast alongside Anna Hazare and declared his intentions to enter mainstream politics, the move was welcomed by politicians as he was entering a terrain they were most familiar with. To them, the guerilla warrior was leaving the jungle and coming to plain land where the rules of warfare are different.

Now, with a series of exposés aimed at shaking the establishment, Kejriwal has kept everyone guessing on where he will go next.

MIDDLE-CLASS APPEAL

The IAC movement can be defined by a concept – “Disruptive Innovation”. Disruptive innovations, Clayton Christensen - a highly regarded Harvard Professor argued in his modern day management treatise Innovator’s Dilemma -- are those typically born out of the need of a very small segment of traditional consumers in a particular market.

So how does the IAC movement led by Kejriwal qualify as a disruptive innovation in the Indian political order? The IAC movement has striking similarities in its origin, growth and potential impact to typical disruptive innovations.

Firstly, disruptions are precipitated by paradigm shifts in the existing set-ups. Either there is dissatisfaction with the current set-up, or a new technology makes the disruption possible. Example: Transistor radios of the 1960s that replaced Analog radios.

Corruption in the Indian political order has reached a tipping point as far as the middle and upper middle classes are concerned. A sense of disdain and despondency regarding the system is coupled with a belief that the system cannot be changed.

To the middle class, it seems inevitable that the same guilty parties are voted back to power in both the Centre and the States. It is in this context that the disruption first ignited by Anna Hazare, fuelled by Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate, and now incessantly kindled by Kejriwal’s frequent exposés, have captured the imagination of the middle class. While we are rooted in our scepticism of agents of change, we are mystified by the proposition of ‘what-if’!

Next, disruptive innovations are typically sparse on features. Transistor radios were vastly poor in quality comparison to Analog radios when they appeared in the 1960s, but had one killer feature – “Portability”. On a similar parallel, there has been many a column written about IAC’s lack of agendas to make it a viable mainstream party.

What is its stand on FDI retail? What is its solution for the ever-rising inflation and ever-declining GDP growth? What about its foreign policy? Predictably, the disruption that is IAC is silent on all these accounts. It has one agenda — control corruption — and the movement’s effectiveness lies in this simplicity and clarity of purpose. It is this killer feature that is attracting masses who are frustrated with the mainstream alternatives. Everything else is a minor detail that will be fleshed out later. Disruptive innovations are typically attractive only to a tiny sliver of the target market. Beach-going teenagers were the first to flock to the inferior transistor radios in the 60s — others followed suit when quality and performance improved in due course.

GROWING URBANISATION

“IAC appeals only to the urban middle class and they don’t typically vote”— sneered one minister in response to a recent exposé.

This dismissive attitude might be the very downfall of the political class as it fails to recognise that India is urbanising faster than any other country and has a middle class that is bigger than the population of the US.

A recent McKinsey/NCAER survey indicated that there might more than 200 million Indians that might qualify as middle class or upper middle-class.

This number is projected to grow to about 600 million by 2025. Combine this with the fact that already 40 per cent of Indians live in semi-urban areas with this growing to more than 60 per cent by 2030, you now have a very sizable voting class that has seldom exercised its electoral franchise.

Access to jobs, exposure to technology and proximity to power will be catalytic in the rapid urbanisation of India in the next few years.

IAC might have accidentally stumbled upon the gold mine of Indian voters that might power its growth over the next few decades. The urban middle class might not turn out to be such a liability after all!

Lastly, incumbents don’t and cannot respond swiftly to disruptive innovations as they have to listen to its core customers; they are held back by the inertia created by their own internal compulsions.

Incumbent parties in the Indian political context fight the Lokpal as it will transfer the power of accountability outside of their sphere of influence.

They listen to their core caste-based vote banks which demand incremental promises of bijli/sadak/paani and even cheap laptops and mobile phones.

They cannot afford to be seen as shedding these caste-based equations and catering to the urban middle class, as this would put its core customer base at risk.

This pattern, Christensen argues is repeated over and over again until the incumbent becomes irrelevant – examples include Kodak, Xerox, Nokia to name a few.

In a stunning parallel Congress, BJP and others are now staring down the gun barrel and are too stuck in the status quo to try anything radical.

In the world of business, disruptive technologies might not even be successful in the longer term, but they do shake up established norms, open the market to new customers and pave the way for other products and alternatives to take shape.

Kejriwal might be better served to aim to be a disruptive rather than transformative force, as the rules of the game for disruption are quite different from those needed for a transformational movement.

Win a general election, Kejriwal might not — disrupt the system, he will.

(The author is founder and CEO, Opstera.)

(This article was published on December 19, 2012)
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