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The Bad, the Ugly and the Who

YOU MAY DISAGREE with the BJP on more things than one. But you have to give credit to India’s very Hindu party. That, when it comes to decision- making they take it without dithering, they are not apologetic of their choices and they stick by it.

It doesn't matter if their shadow PM doesn't join the celebrations and flies down to Delhi to join a sulking patriarch.  It doesn't matter if the sulking patriarch screams and rants, via a letter that he hands over to the media. And it gives a damn if a 17-year old marriage ends in a nasty divorce.  

You can call this as being strong and democratic or you can call this as being adamant and autocratic, depending on which side of the bread you butter.

Narendra Modi is believed by some to be the Butcher of Ahmedabad and by others as the man-of-the-moment that India needs. His elevation as campaign chief, as a precursor to his being named as the prime ministerial candidate,has had all the trappings of a mirch masala.

Here is a party aspiring to form a government in 2014; its over arching ambition now visible more clearly than in 2004 and in 2009 when it missed the bus ever so narrowly. It’s a party that had always prided itself as being different from the party that had ruled the nation for a good part of the last 65 years, the Congress.  

In the end it came off as a party no different from the Congress; a High Command (read RSS), a personality driven leader (read Modi) and bitter infighting (Advani vs. Modi camps); with the sole glue being power.

What followed was pathetically comical. It would have been laughable had the issue not been that serious. Advani, running 86, shrieked and resigned from all party posts only to withdraw his resignation 36 hours later on the ‘advice’ of the RSS whom he had bad -mouthed. It did no good to a man of his stature and standing, a man who had prided at being the ‘other Sardar Patel.’  Mark it, no concessions were made to him to return to the fold.

Nitish Kumar lived to his word, breaking a 17-year alliance. He claimed that the BJP had pushed him to it.  On his side, it must be said that he had made it clear that he would walk out if there were the slightest inkling that Modi will be projected for the top job. The BJP suddenly found Kumar crassly ambitious. On the social networking site, Advani was lampooned and came to be widely seen as the last man standing between Modi and the prime ministerial office. How very quickly the Advani supporters fell in line without a fight is indication of how deeply personality -driven the BJP has increasingly become.

Elsewhere J Jayalalithaa decided to back the Left in their ambition to pick a Rajya Sabha seat for D Raja. Many saw in that track Jayalalithaa keeping her bargaining chips open should a Third Front make its pitch at power, come 2014. Modi may be her friend, Modi may have advised her on political issues, but when it comes to power, both share an over-arching ambition.

For all his achievements in Gujarat and for sure there are many, Narendra Modi does not enjoy the kind of credibility that Nehru enjoyed.  He does not come across as a man who can remotely look and sound democratic. And for a nation that wears its freedom on its sleeve that’s important. Modi’s lack of credibility is sad because Modi is man who has the talent and the potential to achieve what he sets out to achieve.  Alas, he has his deep-rooted failings.

Firstly, he is divisive. His role in 2002 is not something he can so easily wash off. His action-reaction parable is not something that can be shaken off in a hurry. A slew of police officers have testified against him. His walking out of a Karan Thapar show showed him in poor light as someone who can’t take tough questioning. His language is both derisive and dismissive.

Two, he is not a team player. This came to light rather clearly, when he called up Rajnath Singh to complain against Advani on the latter terming  the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, as someone who had done a better job. If you can’t take compliments paid to a peer in your stride, you can hardly be a team player.

What was galling was the response in social networking sites, where the well-educated and otherwise articulate men let loose a volley of personal invectives. The trouble with Modi is that  his supporters are men, who can never take criticism and who react to comments in the manner that would shame street fighters. And that for good measure puts people off Modi.

The other trouble with a man like Narendra Modi is his sense of self-importance. Small normal acts get blown out of proportion in a grand bid to appropriate credit. Like he did in his speeches in Bihar that he gave Rs 5 crore to the state of Bihar when they were faced with a national calamity. Now that might be a fact. It rightly got into Nitish Kumar’s goat. Again recently at the height of the Kedarnath calamity his team was busy claiming that he personally man-managed the safe lifting of 15000 Gujaratis. OMG. No good leader would like to pick credit by doing natural things during a natural calamity.  

If you look at it, his support does not necessarily come from the neutral class. It comes from those who essentially wear their RSS dogma on their sleeve.  It’s a tad sad that the party which fought the Emergency now wishes to hand the baton to a man widely perceived to be dictatorial.

 

So what’s the alternative?

There lies a sadder story. Well, Dr. Singh is past his prime. He is now perceived more as someone who is marking his time, awaiting 2014, rather than as the brilliant economist, the non-politician of 2004 who we thought will push our economy to the next orbit. His time is up. Like I had once said he should have stepped down in 2009; that he didn't is something he will repent at leisure post 2014.

Rahul Gandhi is not the man for the occasion. He may have the intentions but he is too amateurish. His talk at the CII was pedestrian. He looked like a schoolboy debater and lacked a vision of tomorrow’s India. To me, he does not come across even remotely close to the man his father Rajiv Gandhi was. Rajiv may have had his many limitations, but he was someone who had a vision. The Congress needs to look beyond Rahul and identify a no-nonsense, task - oriented leader to captain them in the hustings. P Chidambaram is a name that comes quickly to the mind.

But the trouble with the Congress is that it is not a cadre-based party. It draws its inspiration from a charismatic leader from the top and will do what that leadership bids it to do. And sadly it has been one family. For long that has been the way. Of course it can change but the question is “Will it change?”  Like the BJP, it too is driven by a High command and by factionalism.

Given the fractured nature of support that the BJP and the Congress has, there is a distinct possibility of a Third Front getting formed.  Recent opinion polls too seem to suggest just that. It would be a throw back to 1996 and it could be plain disastrous. For, that motley group would be more interested in seeking and preserving power, than anything else. Such a formation could wreak havoc on the nation, economically, politically and socially.

So we have a choice from amongst three people. One, a man who is autocratic, who believes in the philosophy of “I, Me, My, Mine”. Another is a man who doesn't exactly inspire confidence. And third is an unknown face. It's a choice from amongst tweedledum, tweedledee and tweedlewho. We are clearly in for difficult times. Will the unthinkable happen? In the event of a hung parliament will the Congress and the BJP share power to keep a hotchpotch combination at bay?

What a sharp fall since December 1984 when a fear-stricken nation reposed enormous faith and voted a young, yuppie, reluctant politician to power on the plank of a clean and efficient government. The nation had then cut itself loose from the shadows of the past. Will we, thirty years on, see the emergence of a knight in shining armour?  Will we once again cut ourselves loose from the shadows of the past?

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