A Classic Clash
The upcoming elections in India will see the aristocratic Rahul Gandhi locking horns with his rival, the bucolic Narendra Modi.
Born in 1950, Narendra Damodardas Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat and the BJP’s nominee for the prime ministerial slot for the next election, is a full 20 years senior in age to his rival, the Congress Vice-President, Rahul Gandhi who was born in 1970.
There is a sharp contrast between the two in other respects as well. Rahul Gandhi comes from a family of wellreputed political leaders. His father, Rajiv Gandhi; his grandmother, Indira Gandhi and his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru – were all prime ministers of India. His father was also the president of the Congress – an office now held by his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
Socially as well, Rahul is Brahmin, the highest varna in the Hindu caste system. He was educated in prestigious institutions, including St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, besides the universities of Rollins and Cambridge where he studied international relations and philosophy. He started his career at a management consultant firm in London before establishing his own company in Mumbai.
Rahul Gandhi is the Vice President of the Indian National Congress and the Chairperson of the Indian Youth Congress and National Students Union of India. He also served as general secretary in the All India Congress Committee and represents Amethi as its member of parliament.
In March 2004, Rahul entered politics by announcing that he would contest the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections from his father’s former constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. He retained the family stronghold by winning with a margin of over 100,000 votes.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as well, he retained his Amethi seat by defeating his nearest rival by a margin of over 333,000 votes. He was instrumental in the revival of the popularity of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh. His party won 21 out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, comes from a humbler background. By caste, he belongs to the third varna, vaisha, a family of grocers. As a teenager, he worked at a tea stall at a bus terminus in Gujarat. Later, he worked in the staff canteen of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation. He attended local educational institutions and obtained his Masters in Political Science from the University of Gujarat.
By affiliation and outlook, Rahul belongs to the secular group like his ancestors, whereas Narendra Modi is a radical, a member of the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh, the group that was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He entered the RSS at an early age and was a fulltime pracharak (propagandist) of
the RSS even when he was working in the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation’s canteen and continued in that capacity until he completed his education.
After receiving training from the RSS in Nagpur, he was given the charge of the Sangh’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in Gujarat. In 1987, the RSS seconded Modi to the BJP. He rose to the position of the BJP’s general secretary after the party’s victory in the 1995 state elections. At the same time, he was transferred to New Delhi. In 1998, Modi was promoted to the post of national secretary of the BJP. He has also set a record of becoming Gujarat’s chief minister for four consecutive terms since 2001.
In March 2013, Modi was appointed as a member of the BJP’s parliamentary board, its highest decision-making body and also as chairman of the party’s central election campaign committee
Elections to the Indian Lok Sabha due in April-May are seen by many political observers as a war of these two Titans – Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. In comparison with his young rival, Modi is seen by many as a polarizer. He also carries a baggage, the massacre of Muslims in 2002 for which he is often called the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’.
Both leaders are currently travelling across the country, addressing public meetings and trading barbs. Rahul Gandhi took Modi on in his home state, hitting at his oft-repeated claim of his humble beginnings as a tea vendor. He said that all professions should be respected except those that try to make a “fool” (ullu) of others. Attacking Modi’s ideology, he said, “You have been in the RSS all your life…Who killed Mahatma? It was the RSS ideology which killed him.”
Modi is popular among businessmen, industrialists and the religious right. Spiritual leader Ramdev and Morarji Babu have supported Modi’s prime ministerial candidacy, while Muslim religious outfits have distanced themselves from him.
But the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Kejriwal might act as a spoiler in a direct contest between Modi and Rahul. Kejriwal has named Kumar Vishwas to contest against Rahul Gandhi. He has also announced that his party would contest more than 350 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha elections from 20 states and would field candidates against all those on his “list”.
Though he has not announced a contestant against Modi yet, AAP will be contesting against both, chipping away at their vote bank.
Then there is the Left front. At a rally in Kolkata recently, its leader Prakash Karat declared: “When elections will be fought, you will see where Narendra Modi and his BJP stand in Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka because in many states, regional non-Congress parties and Left parties will fight against the BJP and the Congress.”
It is, therefore, clear that the elections are not going to be a cakewalk for either of the giants. Yet, it is the post-election situation, once the results are in, that should engage political analysts. The question is which party would be an engine of change?
The record of the Congress has not been encouraging in this regard. On many critical issues, such as the Babri Mosque, it has always taken an ambivalent stand. That is why its support among the Muslims has eroded over the years. Even in the case of Indo-Pakistan relations, it was the BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee who visited Lahore, invited Pakistan’s former President, Gen. Musharraf on a state visit to India and broached mutual disputes in a realistic manner. Some political analysts in Pakistan, therefore, feel that it would be easier to deal with a BJP prime minister.
Narendra Modi is also popular among Pakistan’s business community. In 2011, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry invited Modi to visit Pakistan and address prominent business leaders. Pakistani businessmen also asked him to consider initiating a flight between Karachi and Ahmadabad due to the historical cultural and economic relations between the two regions of Gujarat and Sindh.
The Indian elections will be watched eagerly not only at home but also beyond.