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Embrace Sun Tzu's playbook.

MY APOLOGIES to the strategists, those running war rooms, those mapping scenarios and even those involved in war gaming across the political spectrum. Future proofing is at the very kernel of their plans.

Building a moat to defend their turf at one level and developing an offensive strategy to make electoral gains at another is the underlying credo with which they operate. As we go in for the most defining hustings of our time, there is a wide variety of emotion in different pockets of the political class.

There is confusion, consternation, buoyancy, trepidation, dismay and even discontent depending on which symbol you stand under. The venerable Sun Tzu, master military strategist and tactician in his seminal compilation The Art of War viewed by one and all as the most definitive military treatise is someone all the political scenario mappers and war gamers need to read up on. Quickly. It is imperative that The Art of War is brushed up on post haste. For those who have it at home, it is advisable to dust up the 13- chapter book immediately, others can head to Khan Market and buy it from the nearest book shelf there.


Why is it important and mandatory reading now? There have been elections in the past. Five state elections ended only recently, so why this hurry? Two or three things have been thrown up by these state elections which have not happened in the past, so these should function as a weather cock for the nation's polity. The first and very obvious game changer is the emergence of the m dmi Party; an agitational, activist, guerrilla- type outfit which has shaken the very foundation of Indian politics. A rank outsider, an upstart at one level showing the sagacity and wisdom to plug and play into the people's hopes, aspirations and ambitions.

Transposing the wisdom of the people, so that it could transform itself into being by the people and for the people, Arvind Kejriwal's brazen guerrilla tactics hit a chord with the voters. From living rooms in upscale Delhi to the jhuggi jhopdi clusters, P connected with the voter. It tapped into their anger and angst, empathising with the electorate's needs and wants.

Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum. The Congress electoral plank in these last few years has been -- Congress ka hth, m dmi ke sth -- but as the price spike began its upward trajectory, as the cost of living imploded on the middle class and its wide and varied constituents, Kejriwal systematically entered this vacant space. He became the face of the common man by touching and connecting with these people. He said he will fight for their causes, he will reduce electricity charges, give people more water, remove the lal batti culture -- get rid of all that is abhorrent to the common man. Somewhere I suspect, he learnt the art of war by reading up on Sun Tzu's brilliant compendium, even as his political rivals lost themselves in the fog of war. So, what did the master say in The Art of War ? For those not well versed in it, here is a quick primer of the battle idioms that Kejriwal probably adapted:

Art of War

1. Tactical Dispositions/ Positioning explains the importance of defending existing positions until a commander is capable of advancing from those positions in safety. It teaches commanders the importance of recognising strategic opportunities, and teaches not to create opportunities for the enemy.

2. Energy/ Directing explains the use of creativity and timing in building an army's momentum.

3. Weak Points & Strong/ Illusion and Reality explains how an army's opportu- nities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of the enemy in a given area.

4. Variation in Tactics/ The Nine Variations focuses on the need for flexibility in an army's responses. It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully.

5. The Nine Situations/ Nine Terrains describes the nine common situations ( or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus that a commander will need in order to successfully navigate them.


While a lot of this is military mumbo jumbo, it is pertinent to look closely at some of these action plans. This has obviously been Kejriwal's template as he waged war on the Congress and BJP in the capital. More than that, he has probably cloned these wise words; So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself. And there could be a lesson for Kejriwal in this saying.

The other emergent trendline is the Narendra Modi phenomenon. The results in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh stand testimony to his crashing the 2013- 14 political party. That he is divisive, insular and even arrogant is something that the same harassed voter who voted for P in Delhi ignored completely in the states of Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh. They voted with their feet for change. Change is all pervasive, India is yearning for change. The Delhi vote was a microcosm of that change. A change that one can see sweeping across India. Equally, for the bigger and more established political parties, the Delhi verdict is a case study of political turmoil and how one can feed into it. And let us not ignore the price genie which once unbottled played havoc with the ruling dispensation's fortunes.

The Kejriwal diaries may or may not have a passing resemblance to the Sun Tzu battle plans, but his emergence is a rude wake up call for well- entrenched politicians who believe that the vote is malleable and ductile. It is a kick in the seat of their pants. For Kejriwal and P, time to walk the walk and talk the talk.

The writer is Editor, Mail Today

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 25, 2013
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