Redefining Politics in India with Rishvanjas Raghavan
By Meera C G , YIF '19
Rishvanjas Raghavan, or Rishi, as he is known, is on a mission to transform local governance in the city of Bengaluru. He leads the Youth Wing and is the Youngest Governing Council Member of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party (BNP), the world’s first city-centric party, focused only on the governance of Bengaluru. Twenty-two-year-old Rishi believes that there is no such thing as being too young for politics and has big plans to reshape what politics means in this day and age. He shares his thoughts and his journey in conversation with Meera.
Rishvanjas Raghavan did not grow up aspiring to become a politician. Far from it, he was a maths and science guy preparing for JEE until high school. However, during his board exams, Rishi had an epiphany — though he had always been good at quantitative sciences, he didn’t want to pursue it. He wanted to explore his interest in civic sciences and leadership. Back then, he hadn’t known that a multi-disciplinary program in India was even an option. With barely any time left in the academic cycle, he came across Ashoka’s Undergraduate program and gave it a shot. Three months later, he was attending lectures for his foundational courses on campus.
“Ashoka was the right thing at the right time”, says Rishi who graduated from the University in 2020 with Honors in Economics and Finance. From finding a community in Ultimate Frisbee to taking his first step into politics, Rishi says he owes a lot to Ashoka. His biggest takeaway from the University, however, was concerning politics and people. Rishi’s political journey at Ashoka started with him contesting the Student Government Elections as a naive first year. As luck would have it, he ended up as the least-voted candidate. Despite losing, he decided to contribute within the structures of the SG since he truly believed his ideas would add value to the community. By the time he contested again in his second year, the tide had completely turned over. He won the elections with the highest number of votes that anyone had received until that point in the student elections since the beginning of the University.
Once a part of the Student Government, the real grind began. “Being a bridge between the administration and students taught me volumes about diplomacy and how to get things done despite conflicts. It also taught me to look beyond likability and hardened me to deal with criticism,” he says.
With his interest in politics and governance deepening, Rishvanjas started spending his time outside academics engaging in politics. “In my third year, I used to bunk classes to attend sessions of the Parliament and converse with national political leaders and Ministers”, he says. By the time his final year at Ashoka came to an end, he had worked with three national political parties and closely engaged with national-level politics in practice and through academia.
Soon after, Rishi was accepted to NLSIU, Bengaluru for a Masters in Public Policy. Coming back home with his learnings from Ashoka, he turned a keen eye toward local governance and politics. “It is hard to think about what works well in Bengaluru besides the weather”, says Rishi, “even an ordinary citizen knows that almost every aspect of this city can be improved”. He had also simultaneously been following the birth of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party intrigued about the kind of politics they envisioned. Rishi started volunteering with them and quickly rose up the ranks. He also favored practical experience at BNP over the classroom at NLSIU and decided to take a break. “I didn’t want my entire effort to be theoretical. What is the point of knowing what the right thing to do is if you’re not in a position to get it done?”, he says.
Rishvanjas is currently the Head of the Youth Wing and the youngest Governing Council Member of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party, the world’s first city-centric political party focused on the local governance of Bengaluru. At the helm of the party is the idea of a Civic Politician as a problem solver. Rishi defines a Civic Politician as a radical alternative to today’s politicians. “Indian politics is full of problem sellers who want you to believe that unless they are elected to power, a city, a state, or a country’s problems cannot be solved. A civic politician on the other hand is a problem solver who breaks down large issues into bite-sized challenges that are then addressed distinctly.” He believes that at a time when political institutions and politicians are viewed with great mistrust, there is an urgency to reclaim these terms and imbue them with hope.
Rishi believes that his approach to politics is also influenced by his time at Ashoka. “While I was at Ashoka, words like critical thinking and multidisciplinary education sounded like fancy jargon. When you’re back in the real world, however, you realize that Ashoka had imparted perspective and balance. There is an edge that comes with the ability to think critically and dig deeper than to take things at face value.”
What does the future hold in store for our young civic politician? “I want to stay strictly in the present”, says the 22-year-old. “Though I’m young and things are never set in stone, I want to commit myself to one cause - transforming Bengaluru’s local governance. While it is not the biggest problem on the face of Earth, it is not a small problem that will get solved in a few months either. For someone who has no incentive but to create change, politics can be grueling. But I want to create an impact and see my city transform. If it takes a few decades, so be it ”, concludes Rishvanjas as he signs off.
In collaboration with the Ashoka SDG Society, The Edict is hosting a talk by Rishvanjas Raghavan on Monday, 18th April, 2022 titled 'Fight The Good Fight: The Journey From Student Politics At Ashoka To Building A Political Party to Fight Bengaluru's Civic Polls". The talk is in AC02 105. This article is published as a lead-up to the event.