The media is abuzz with Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi again. Thursday was a special milestone in the ‘who's a better leader' debate for both individuals made significant moves on this day. While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi spoke on a business platform at the CII, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi hinted for the first time that he was keen to don the prime minister's mantle. "People want me to repay the country's debts," he said.
Why we are only obsessed with Rahul vs Modi debate?
It was clear that Modi went on to the second gear as soon as he saw his competitor, born more by the media than anything else, applying the first gear. The media was on the fifth year, as always. Now the question is: Is leadership alone going to be the biggest and the only issue in the next Lok Sabha election? Are we trying to carve out a presidential-type system in our electoral arrangement by projecting two individuals, both untried in national politics so far, as the deciding factor in a crucial occasion which determines the nation's future? If that is the case, then I am afraid we are not making a smart move.
Both Congress and BJP have weakened, so why only Rahul and Modi?
The Rahul versus Modi duel is being projected as a prestige battle between the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, but the funny part is that none of these two parties are in a good shape at the moment and there is little possibility that they will overcome all the odds by the time the nation goes to the next general polls. Both parties have witnessed erosion in their top leadership.
While there is no denying that the Gandhis have weakened significantly, which has made the dual power-centre the norm rather than the exception in the Congress no matter what people like Digvijay Singh feel, the BJP is in even a bigger despair, thanks to the Nitin Gadkari days, making a revisit to the old Hindutva formula the only option for Rajnath Singh to revive hopes.
The point is: both parties are trying to find a presentable face before the electorate and Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are the only resources available with themselves. Modi, however, has an advantage over Rahul for he has already been into administration and is in the opposition, which always a better chance to reach out to the public than the stressed-out government.
This situation will not take much time to get reversed post 2014 if indeed the BJP comes to power.
There is something more than Rahul and Modi and that part is crucial for either of them
This takes us to the second question. Can BJP win even with Modi in front? Or can the Congress retain power with Rahul magic? The problem is by engaging ourselves with the leadership debate, the elite Indian political analysts and media are overlooking that there is a huge India outside and that doesn't care for either of these two men. Instead, it is these two men who would have to take care of that India if they aspire to come to power and rule the country, even for a minimum period.
We can see that while the debate about whether Rahul or Modi is gaining pace, a number of regional leaders are gradually asserting themselves as alternative power centres after sensing the steady slide of both the national parties. The BJP is in a bad state in terms of a national party while the Congress continues to live on negative mandate.
The regional political forces know that the day they establish themselves in a strong position vis-à-vis New Delhi, it would be difficult for either of the two national parties to defeat them in their den. The Mamata Banerjees, Nitish Kumars, Naveen Patnaiks, Jayalalithaas, Mulayams and Mayawatis are always in the look-out for that opening which would catapult their stature in national politics further. Hence, limiting the focus on either Rahul or Modi and not broadening it to include the national perspective is a wrong pre-poll view that we are taking.
It's neither Rahul's vision nor Modi's model which will be the final factor in the national politics. Something more inclusive will be required if the next government that comes in power dreams of achieving new heights in administering the country.
Rahul makes a remarkable U-turn from Indira days
Rahul Gandhi, who made a decent presentation at the CII programme on Thursday, said one thing very rightly that no one person can solve all issues that the country faces. It is a remarkable U-turn from the political style of her grandmother who had once decimated the grassroots for personal gains.
It is indeed very important that whoever rules India in future, makes an effort to build the country from the grassroots level. But both the national parties have been so much disconnected from the bases that it will be very challenging for their prime ministers (no matter who becomes) to ensure a smooth administrative functioning in a pluralist polity.
The politics of this country has become so much oriented towards the urban elite that an overall and inclusive growth remains a mirage. Neither the Congress nor the BJP are quipped to overcome this barrier. Even for Modi, who is known for his high-quality administrative standards, governing India will be a different ball-game.
Stress on individuals due to falling standards and diluted focus on key issues
We need universal agenda before going to the polls. This is not American politics where personality only rules. Ours electoral system has become individual-centric not because our system has begun to change but because we lack leaders and agenda to pursuit. Rahul versus Modi can't be the final debate, no matter what the respective person feels about the nation and its people. A third angle is equally significant. For instance, why are there no talks on the betterment of the Dalits and mobilisation of the community as an agenda for the next polls?
It's time for some serious contemplation. The media is not guiding us in the right direction.