Democracies are renowned for hoisting kooks and incompetents into power. The Indian democratic system is additionally notorious for electing musclemen, criminals, and worse. So if the choice in the 2014 general elections is between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, it may just prompt the people to vote for one or the other major party and candidate because the alternative of a “third front” leader, such as Mulayam Singh, as Prime Minister in a hung Parliament is too horrific to contemplate — the UP-ization of India!
Comparing the Bharatiya Janata Party’s front-runner, Narendra Modi, and the ruling Congress Party’s presumptive PM, Rahul Gandhi, is an exercise in weighing the merits of the persons in question and the party politics they have negotiated. Modi, is a small town (Vadnagar) aam aadmi with incomparable political management and administrative skills and, a vision for his state and nation that is at once reality-grounded and aspirational. Having honed his talents as a pracharak in the local Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shaka, Modi made his name as party mobiliser and, in the process, apparently outgrew the Hindutva ideology. So much so, that soon after becoming chief minister of Gujarat he began alienating the RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad. in the state, starting with demolishing small temples and the like that routinely come up illegally overnight in cramped Indian urban spaces, the land-grabbers capturing valuable real estate in this manner were secure in the belief that the government would do nothing.
Inside of a decade, Gujarat was turned into the best-run state in the Indian Union with 24/7 water and electricity emerging as the leitmotif of Modi’s good governance model. Despite the step-motherly treatment, Modi claims, his state was meted out by the Congress coalition at the centre in terms of undeveloped port infrastructure that would otherwise have increased international connectivity, Gujarat is among the most vibrant in terms of attracting industry and investors, and generating employment.
His Spartan lifestyle combined with maintenance of absolute propriety (the Modi family being asked to stay put in Vadnagar) means he is entirely free of the taint of corruption in a setting where politics has become a shortcut to wealth and ruling families freeload. With the top man not on the take and unwilling to countenance corruption, the state government and administrators run clean, enthusing party cadres and rocketing his political stock upwards among the masses fed up with “politics as usual”.
With his record, his rise on the national stage was inevitable. Just how open his mind is to new ideas was evidenced at the recent India Today Conclave, where he offered novel solutions. Consider his policy of erecting solar panels over irrigation canals — minimising water loss through evaporation and, at the same time, producing electricity. Or, the proposal he conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about turning the arid belt dividing India and Pakistan stretching from Gujarat to Rajasthan into an extended solar park. Besides producing power for the grid, it would be a physical barrier to infiltrators, and provide the means for vastly improving the living quarters of the Border Security Force, motivating the BSF troopers to greater vigilance and efficiency. This is in refreshing contrast to the identity-based politics, which’s the norm.
In contrast to Modi, a hardy product of rough and tumble grassroots politics, for Rahul Gandhi the top job is an entitlement. A habitué of Lutyen’s Delhi — where his family has resided since independence, he has grown up insulated from the rigours of everyday life. With the dynastic principle early established by Jawaharlal Nehru when he installed Indira Gandhi as the Congress party president, Nehru-Gandhi dynasts have controlled the party and ruled the country.
This is democracy after a fashion with the top post reserved for “the Family” and competition permitted for lesser positions within party and government. It has promoted dynastic culture down to the village-panchayat level.
Congress party scions like himself and with whom Rahul is at ease with, figure prominently in his plans for rejuvenating the party. Many of them occupy junior ministerial posts —Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasad, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Deepender Hooda, et al, on down. Dynastic politics as khandani pesha (family business) is so infectious, other parties have emulated the Congress, producing the Yadav parivar of the Samajwadi party, Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress party headed by Sharad Pawar, Raj Thackeray of Shiv Sena, Sukhbir Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and the numerous Karunanidhi progeny of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Taking their cue from the Nehru-Gandhi’s, these clans indulge in corruption varying in brazenness, and spawn second-order beneficiaries. Every Kunal Bhadoo (Congress Haryana CM Bhupinder Hooda’s son-in-law who has cornered land in Haryana) takes inspiration from the ersatz real estate tycoon-ship of a certain Robert Vadra.
With Ottavio Quattrochi-managed Bofors and Snamprogretti deals during the Rajiv Gandhi regime as background, and Milan court documents indicating monies being funnelled to “the Family” in the latest defence scam involving Agusta-Westland helicopters, Rahul’s fulminating against corruption — “People who are corrupt stand up and talk about eradicating corruption”, or his campaign to rid the party of the high command and culture of suchphancy, for example, smacks of sheer chutzpah.
While constituting the high command and benefitting however indirectly from the scams his family is linked to, he reckons that not being implicated himself gives him sanction to moralise on the issue. Alas, it is a thin reed to hang his clean image on.
Worse, Rahul seems devoid of original ideas. His recent utterances have been traced to his father’s pronouncements in the mid-’80s. A party man explained that every new Congress dynast seeks “inspiration” from the speeches of his predecessors, revealing the standard Congress strategy of recycling old slogans, reissuing stale promises, followed by populist measures that bankrupt the country when in government. It highlights the difference between talkers and doers, status quoists and change inducers, pretenders and leaders, and Rahul-baba and Narendra-bhai.
Bharat Karnad is professor at Centre for Policy
Research and blogs at www.bharatkarnad.com