Three individuals will set the agenda for the general elections
In Indian mythology, the Trimurti referred to the three gods of Hinduism; Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer. Here’s a thought. The triad and their titles, in many ways, have a connect to the three leaders who will set the agenda for the Lok Sabha elections next summer. Narendra Modi, recently charged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with being a destroyer, Arvind Kejriwal, who has created a potentially gamechanging political force out of nothing, and Rahul Gandhi, who, of late, has started to establish a more substantial, sustainable image by taking a clearer stand on issues that matter to the voting public, and not just sections of it. The fact that the triumvirate who will dominate the coming polls are so different from the choices we have had in all previous elections, makes it not just a tantalising prospec but also a huge leap in terms of its potential for positive change.
Kejriwal stormed Delhi’s citadels with just one key weapon: corruption. Gandhi may not yet be the official candidate but he will set the agenda for the Congress. Till recently, that agenda was largely indeterminate and ad hoc, leaving the public wondering whether he lacked a coherent vision. In the last month, he has grasped the political nettle and made it clear that his main focus will be anti-corruption, taking a leaf from Kejriwal’s book. Modi has also railed against corruption, albeit in an anti-Congress context, in all his election-related speeches so far. All three key players on an anti-corruption platform cannot be a bad thing for our democracy.
There is also the age factor and thought process. Kejriwal is 45, Gandhi is 43, so both belong to a different generation than the current leadership in the two main parties. Modi may be 63, but he thinks out of the box and makes use of a young man’s tools, social media. Plus, he has repeatedly stressed the importance of India’s youth and the democratic dividend they offer. Kejriwal is an IIT graduate and his engineering background has given him a logical, clearsighted thought process. He may be the most unconventional leader we have, but his aim is to change politics from within, and that alone, has set him up in the eyes of many as the future hope for the country.
He remains, of course, the most unpredictable of the three. It is still not clear how his party will make the leap to the national stage and retain its core electoral attraction, cleanliness in politics, a rejection of traditional political culture and decentralisation of decision-making and authority. He is surrounded by a group of first-timers in politics who, at times, struggle to deal with the reality of their newly acquired status. That may not last and once the nerves and jitters subside, we should have a clearer idea of where the party is headed in terms of forging a national identity. It’s clearly too early to say what national appeal it will have come election 2014, but the party has already grabbed the media spotlight from others, and it is now for the rest to play catch-up. In a sense, their phenomenal debut suggests they have already set the agenda for 2014.
The trio’s change-making potential lies the most in the economic and corporate sphere. Modi is already established as pro-business, pro-development and is widely expected to further liberalise the economy. His image in Gujarat has been of an efficient leader who is able to motivate the bureaucracy and bend them to his will. More recently, he has spoken about the urgent need for tax reforms. There is no question that he will create a more favourable business climate should he come to power. Gandhi’s earlier ambiguity on economic issues has given way to a clearer enunciation of where he stands, most notably at the recent speech to business leaders at FICCI, where he talked of time-bound decisions on infrastructure projects, balancing environmental clearances with industry needs, fast-tracking clearances through the Cabinet Committee on Investment, building a robust and open real estate market and a framework of legislation to fight corruption.
Kejriwal is the dark horse. Most see him as a quasi-Marxist. He has adopted a spin-off of the Gandhian concept of swaraj, which lays stress on self-governance, community-building and decentralisation of power. However, he has also said that: “If we find our solution in the Left we are happy to borrow it from there. If we find our solution in the Right, we are happy to borrow it from there.” Kejriwal may not be a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections but his influence is spreading across the country and it will inspire other leaders to read from his script, mainly to minimise corruption and influence peddling, introduce transparency in government and create a level playing field. The battle is not yet joined, Modi and Gandhi come with heavy baggage, and much could change between now and the elections. But based on early evidence, the political Trimurti lording over Election 2014 will be in a position to make a positive impact on an increasingly discredited Indian polity and an economy under emergency care.