A Clas­sic Clash

The up­com­ing elec­tions in In­dia will see the aris­to­cratic Rahul Gandhi lock­ing horns with his ri­val, the bu­colic Naren­dra Modi.

Southasia - - REGION PAKISTAN - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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.

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