Three opposition leaders

Rahul, Modi, Kejriwal are yet to show commitment on institutional regeneration.

Published:January 20, 2014 4:36 am
Gandhi talked about the middle class, Modi has been wooing them, the AAP has been talking of new class coalitions. Gandhi talked about the middle class, Modi has been wooing them, the AAP has been talking of new class coalitions.

Rahul, Modi, Kejriwal are yet to show commitment on institutional regeneration.

Does it say something interesting that three figures otherwise as disparate as Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are turning out to have a lot more in common than we recognised? One should not minimise the ideological, temperamental and sociological differences between them. They also vary in the degree to which they come across as convincing. But the similarities in their positioning are quite striking.
All three posit themselves as agents of change who stand outside of the system they are challenging. Modi and Kejriwal have the advantage. Just by virtue of being sociological outsiders to the system, their persona itself reflects a change of sorts. But this is exactly the position Rahul Gandhi tries to occupy: an outsider against his own party.
All three want to occupy the terrain of virtue. To an extent, this is inevitable. But they have become a measure of their own virtue. It allows them to stand above any charge levelled against the system they represent. Modi has had to battle charges all his political life, but will brook no aspersion on his own virtue. Gandhi still manages to talk as if he is in no way politically implicated in the vast system of corruption over which he has presided. It is premature to judge Kejriwal. But the line “our intentions are good” should always be a warning. Hopefully, the unconscionable disregard for legality and morality shown in the arrest of Africans in Delhi, and the Delhi government’s response to it, is an aberration. But it also shows exactly what happens when a conviction of one’s own virtue floats above reality.
All three are much more comfortable in the oppositional space. Both Modi and Kejriwal are, in their own ways, masters in rousing opposition. But even Gandhi’s sparks of passion fly more when he is on the attack than when he is saying something constructive.
All three of them are more comfortable with schemes and projects than with policy. It has been a common complaint that the economic visions of the three parties are not up to the demands of the time. They are comfortable thinking of new spending projects, but not very sophisticated about the overall framework that will meet the economy’s challenge. Doubtless, the manifestoes will, at some point, make things clearer. But in some ways, the challenge of our time is not so much thinking up schemes and projects. It is projecting the idea that you are capable of thinking about the complexity of our challenges and educating the people to meet those challenges. By and large, all three leaders are running away from this task. Again, you don’t want leaders to be policy wonks, especially after our recent experience with wonks. But we have no way of judging whether they have the capacity to think about a complex, open economy on the cusp of a profound transition, or who they will empower.
All three of them are struggling to think about institutions. This might be a surprising claim to make about Kejriwal, whose central raison d’être is a new institutional architecture. Again, it is premature to come to any conclusion, but the promotion of vigilantism in the name of the people does not augur well. Both the Congress and the BJP have, under pressure from the AAP, now put their weight behind various pieces of anti-corruption legislation, including the lokpal bill. Despite this, we have not seen a convincing commitment to institutional regeneration. Institutional regeneration cannot be reduced to single point slogans, like people power or more laws. The capillaries that sustain institutions require constant nourishment.
All three cannot be challenged within their parties. But, paradoxically, they cannot also control unruly parties. There is a coarseness that is now distributed across the political spectrum, and you just have to wonder who will put their foot into the party’s mouth next. But none of them have shown a decisive capacity to act against potential embarrassment or set the political cultures of their party right.
Kejriwal’s tenure has been too short to make a judgement. But again both Gandhi and Modi have a peculiar way of missing opportunities to take the moral high ground. Somehow it has become a matter of making the right speech rather than action; indeed, the speech seems the cover up for inaction. Both miss opportunities to bend the moral and ideological arc of their party in the right direction. Modi’s silence on so many pressing issues has been telling. He has failed to project a reformist aura, a more intelligent stance on Section 377 would have at one stroke ended doubts about the BJP’s prejudices, convincing his party to take a more enlightened stand on the Bangladesh enclaves issue would have shown foreign policy farsightedness. One eloquent action would have done away with the need for so many speeches.
Gandhi’s fiery AICC speech also vested too much in speeches and less in action. An anti-corruption stance is not very convincing when your own government is hounding Ashok Khemka and blaming the CAG and CVC. But more importantly, by not putting himself straightforwardly as a PM candidate, he missed the point. It kept the question of whether he takes responsibility for anything, ambiguous. He seems not to have grasped the fact that the real institutional crisis was caused by the fact that the prime minister’s office did not carry political authority. Here was a chance to clear the air on the principle that no authority will hover over a new PM to diminish him. Instead, he went on to again diminish his own government by announcing an increase in the number of subsidised gas cylinders. This “I am the boss, but I am not government” charade continued.
All three sense that India is at the cusp of a new politics. Gandhi talked about the middle class, Modi has been wooing them, the AAP has been talking of new class coalitions. But how much does this mean abandoning old vocabularies? The BJP’s Uttar Pradesh strategy reeks of old Hindutva politics; the Congress is flirting with quotas for Jats, separate schools for minorities. The AAP’s position is unclear but it is hard to shake off the odour of racism over the way in which it framed the issue of Delhi arrests. It is also equivocal over reservations. Is the politics of the new simply a tactic, or a profound transformation?
For all their differences, at the moment we have three opposition leaders fighting it out. Gandhi is struggling because he is on a terrain on which the other two are stronger. But can they overcome the sensibilities of an embattled opposition leader to learn the art of governance?

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

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  1. I
    Jan 21, 2014 at 3:46 am
    Unfortunately Man Mohan Singh is not elected ,but selected by the dynasty , JP
  2. I
    Jan 21, 2014 at 3:43 am
    you are wrong gentleman ! Development happened some far sighted policies of Rajiv-Narasimha rao era and continued in Vajpayee times. And Vajpayee was our best prime minister. You are also mistaken about RSS. RSS has a women's wing called Rashtra Sevika Samithi. The problem for you people is that you are reading too much secular news papers.To know what is RSS and its ideology one should go neat it. understand it.
  3. A
    Amit Jalan
    Jan 20, 2014 at 6:09 am
    We, the citizens, are not capable of forming a party of our own and decide to bring in another perspective at this moment. We have some leaders to choose from to vote and make PM. Between hi, Modi and Kejriwal, we have to choose our PM and demand actions that we want. Comparing between these three, I feel Modi is the undisputed strong leader. He is decisive, is growth oriented, knows what is required to achieve growth, and has the will and the authority to do it. Yes, we can question he is a bit communal but not to the extent that he will start clearing muslims from Indian land. He will be impartial as long as he is not given a strong reason not to. So Muslims may not get the special previledges that they get from congress which is not bad for the country. BJP is not expected to involve themselves in mega scams like Coalgate, CWG or 2G. However, smaller scams cannot be ruled out. BJP is not expected to launch more populist schemes like food security or MNREGA. Fiscal deficit is more safe with BJP. BJP would promote FDI in oil exploration etc. So CAD is safer with BJP.I think India's future is safest with BJP more than with congress or AAP.
  4. K
    K Anil
    Jan 20, 2014 at 6:20 am
    Profoundly wonderful piece with telling expressions like - "The capillaries that sustain insutions require constant nourishment." "Both miss opportunities to bend the moral and ideological arc of their party in the right direction. " "An anti-corruption stance is not very convincing when your own government is hounding Ashok Khemka and blaming the CAG and CVC." "I am the boss but I am not Government".
  5. S
    Jan 21, 2014 at 4:37 am
    Absolutely so!! The rise of anarchist forces is also due to biased criticism of Modi, which disillusions a lot of voters.
  6. B
    B. Gopi
    Jan 20, 2014 at 8:35 am
    How many blinkers has the Indian media put on? How can you compare Modi with the other two? He has administered a state for two full terms, and got elected for the third time. If you guys can't see a simple fact like this, and want to speak about all the three in the same breath(to sound more balanced and objective, right?), be my guest.
  7. D
    Jan 20, 2014 at 6:14 am
    With three consecutive wins in Gujarat LA elections, Modi has proved that he has worked for the people of the state (not for one section/community/religion) and hence people have voted in his favour. There is no bigger evidence required. All the fence sitters should now just prove themselves first before commenting on Modi. For all those who say, that Modi has just worked for Gujarat, and has not been proven nationally (or his Gujarat model can’t be implemented nationally). As of today, neither Rahul hi nor Arvind Kejriwal has been tested. At least Modi has been the CM for last 12 years and has taken his state to development. At least Gujarat has a model; other states in India does not have any model. Their CMs (apart from few like Manohar Parrikar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan) don’t want to work, just do lip-service. Modi, I expect would have at least this much of understanding that Gujarat and am/Kerala/UP are not the same; so that he can address their unique requirements. Rahul hi, in last ten years of his MP-ship has not said/done/proposed anything important with which people of this country can connect/remember. Arvind Kejriwal is a kid in the political arena. He will need at least ten years to grow up to the level of Modi today is. Some others who may have had far-fetched dreams of becoming PM are far from being PM material.The economic, political, social situation our country is in today, needs a stable government, lead by a determined and diligent, courageous and caring, straightforward and serious leader. Probably it is very difficult to get all these qualities in one person. But in recent times, only one political leader has shown these qualities in him – Narendra Modi. If a submissive, silent Manmohan Singh can be the PM for ten years, a leader of Narendra Modi’s stature definitely deserves NO LESS.
  8. V
    Jan 20, 2014 at 9:31 am
    Mr Mehta, Except for compulsive bashing of Modi,everything is fine. UP politics has been ideny driven the moment Akhilesh Govt stepped in not because of the BJP. What you did was monkey balancing to portray yourself as neutral. Rest of the article is fine.We need to first measure political leaders among themselves as who is better (we usually choose the best of the worst) and then measure the vicotiours(modi obviously) with our desirable standards.
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