Rahul Gandhi was recently elected Vice President of the Indian National Congress. He spoke on the occasion. (That elected ought to be italicized.) Narendra Modi, invited as chief guest, spoke his mind at Shri Ram College of Commerce yesterday. I recommend watching both.
I’m conflicted and boy am I glad I don’t have to choose between the two.
The speeches were in contrast both in content and delivery. Narendra Modi spoke of his achievements; Rahul Gandhi spoke of the problem with politics. There were a few moments of awkward irony when his criticisms were embodied by the people in the same video frame as him.
Modi stuck to governance. He didn’t seem very interested in talking about the political system. Politics seemed like a means to an end for him. Gandhi spoke little else than politics. He appeared earnest in his will to fix politics. Again, he could have fixed most of the problems in politics by grabbing a club and shutting the door of the room.
Modi invokes a sense of pride in being an Indian. We have enough precedents there to say that we like those who make us feel proud of ourselves. Modi also spoke about having a small but efficient government. That’s a refreshing idea in Indian politics. Gandhi wanted the government to do as much as it could for the people.
For the first time, we might see an ideological debate between classic right-wing and left-wing philosophies. No matter where you’re coming from, that ought to be refreshing.
Gandhi spoke about social issues; Modi didn’t. Gandhi spoke a fair bit about women’s issues; Modi didn’t. That might have to do more with the occasion than what’s on Modi’s radar. But if he had spoken about women’s rights, I presume he’d have a traditional view of women’s rights. My hunch is Modi falls on the misogynist side of things while Gandhi doesn’t.
The biggest fear with Gandhi is that he will be incompetent as a Prime Minister. To me, the biggest fear is that he will maintain the status quo. The biggest fear with Modi is that he will authorize killings if something pisses him off. That is still conditional, so my biggest fear is that groups seemingly acting on his behalf will make the country unstable the moment he is elected.
It is presumed that the two will clash head-to-head next year in the general elections. That is a slight exaggeration for two reasons. First, in the era of coalition politics, we don’t vote for a Prime Minister–although we think we do. Second, there is a possibility that the BJP will pull a last-minute move to nominate someone safer like Sushma Swaraj. (BJP goes by Murphy’s Law: Anything that they can do wrong, they will.)
If however Gandhi and Modi are the de-facto nominees of India’s two largest parties, I think we’ll benefit from a clash only on two conditions–and I’m being wishful here. Both involve giving a middle finger: Gandhi to senior politicians and the rampant sycophancy in his party (I think he could bring about change faster and undermine his own authority better by staying in the Congress than from outside–much like King Abdullah of Jordan) and the second is from Modi to RSS/VHP/ABVP and other right-wing groups that he evidently has strained relations with but who act as if they speak for him.
Only then will we have an election worthy of our country.
All said, if people are asked to choose between the two, it’s going to be a no brainer for many (skewed towards Modi). And if that is what India chooses in 2014, liberal educated elite (including I) will go through an interesting journey.