History Repeats Itself as Individuals Vie to Replace Another Individual, Not Ideology
(From left) Hardik Patel, Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar
A fourth-century Sanskrit text on statecraft says the enemy of an enemy is a friend. Hence, they make strange political bedfellows. On the face of it, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar have little in common. Each of them come from different socio-economic backgrounds. The neo-Mandalite Patel and the other two are educationally and culturally non-compatible. But they are peas in a pod in style and substance. All three are byproducts of agitational politics, be it fighting against corruption or caste discrimination. They are unambiguously ambitious and intrinsically individualistic in their political philosophy. They also share the same mission: to bring down Narendra Modi.
‘Quota warrior’ Patel rose like a self-propelled nemesis to strike at the very roots of Gujarat model of governance, which had catapulted Modi as India’s PM. It was Modi who demolished Nitish’s dream of becoming an alternative PM candidate of the secularistas. Kejriwal’s promoters are fully convinced that he possesses the necessary qualities to lead the nation. The troika’s rise and magnetic might is not only diverting attention from the well-publicised decisions of the NDA government but also indicates the erosion of popular support of the local BJP leadership in various states.
Patel stands head and shoulders above the other two. Rarely before in global politics has a 22-year-old rookie brought a state like Gujarat to its knees, grabbed headlines and national mindspace. A novice with hardly any financial or political support, Patel was just an ordinary hanger-on at various political rallies, including AAP’s, till recently. He and Kejriwal are around the same height, but to scale new heights, he has chosen the AAP chief as his role model in organising choreographed protests—1.4.million supporters and over 80 rallies across Gujarat. His audience don white caps with ‘Hun Patidar Chu (I am a Patidar)’ inscribed on them. He is called Hardik Kejriwal by some and the New Modi by his cohorts. In less than six months, not only could he force the Gujarat government to place half the state under curfew, but also mobilised millions to demand reservations in jobs and educational institutions for a community which is vastly rich and powerful. The irony is that, reportedly, the commerce graduate scored less than 50 per cent marks from Ahmedabad’s Sahajanand College. But he is an astute political student. His protest meets, TV appearances and communication style bear an eerie similarity with Modi’s. Ostensibly Patel is agitating for reservation. But his real intention is to fill the political space vacated by Modi in Gujarat. He hasn’t attacked the PM. Not yet. But his speeches are meant to threaten Modi and the saffron party—saying if his demands are not met, he will not “allow the lotus to bloom” in Gujarat and defeat it in the 2017 Assembly elections. As long as Modi was CM, no political organisation or individual could collect more than 10,000 people to champion any cause. But Patel has understood the weakness of the BJP’s current state leadership and has decided to imperil it by playing the new Patel. The paradox is he has managed to raise popular animosity against a state government led by a Patel CM. This poses a challenge to NaMo. Patel and his community would try derail the PM’s bid for a second term in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by forcing Modi’s party to lose in his own state. NaMo has understood the negative impact of Patel’s agitation on his image. So, he decided to appeal directly to the people through a short televised statement. It would be anathema to Modi if the BJP lost in Gujarat when he holds the highest political office in India.
As Patel attempts to minimise the authority of India’s maximum leader in Gujarat, both Kejriwal and Nitish have forged a coalition of convenience to achieve the same objective in Bihar. Nitish is a child of the JP revolution. Though AAP doesn’t have any significant presence or a credible face in Bihar, Delhi’s CM chose to join the Lalu-Nitish combo with the objective of manufacturing a non-BJP and non-Congress platform. Kejriwal may not be a caste commander, but he is still one of the most iconic leaders on the national scene. Many young, educated youth still see in him a guerrilla combating a corrupt political system. As he continues to adopt an aam aadmi lifestyle—Kejriwal hasn’t changed his simple shirt-and-trousers attire, nor does he travel with a caravan of armed escorts, and talks to anybody and everybody—he enjoys more credibility than Nitish among a certain vocal section of the electorate. Kejriwal has a major axe to grind against NaMo who defeated him decisively in the Varanasi Lok Sabha election. On the social media, Modi and Kejriwal are among the top favourites. While Modi with 14.6 million Twitter followers leads, Kejriwal is the most popular non-BJP and non-Congress personality with 5.40 million followers. Other prominent BJP ministers trail far behind. Both Modi and Kejriwal have an army of dedicated bhakts who troll each other almost on a minute-to-minute basis. By plunging into the Battle for Bihar, Kejriwal stands to gain more than Nitish. He has been targeting the PM directly for the decisions taken by Union ministers. A win would dent Modi’s authority and enable Kejriwal to strike a much better bargain to join the league of national leaders.
Nitish harbours similar ambitions. It is for the first time that he would be leading an electoral engagement without the BJP as his ally. He challenged Modi by walking out of the BJP-JD(U) coalition in July 2013. Now he desires to prove that he can defeat Mighty Modi. For this, he has shown the expediency to be backed by his sworn enemies from the past.
So, is it just a coincidence that both Kejriwal and Nitish are confabulating on all issues? Kejriwal has shown so much faith in the Bihar police that he requested Nitish to send a few of his police officers to manage the anti-corruption unit of the Delhi government. The two have been sharing even non-political platforms. Even in the past, many political satraps have joined hands to defeat powerful figures such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. But it is for the first time that homegrown leaders are blowing trumpets, not to provide an unalloyed alternative political model but only to make the Modi model irrelevant. History repeats itself as some individuals engage in combat just to replace another individual instead of an ideology.
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