Given Their Political DNA, to Segue RaGa and NaMo's 'I' into 'We' Will be a Tall Order
The slogan is impressive in its modesty. It seeks votes by invoking the team spirit. This week, all newspapers carried a Congress advertisement with the slogan, “Main Nahi, Hum (Not Me, but We)” with a picture of Rahul Gandhi as the fugleman in front of a group of young voters from all communities. It was a straight lift from a NaMo Chintan Shivir of 2011. Perhaps the ad agency, which planned RaGa’s high-voltage promotional blitz, failed to do its homework. But the sheer similarity between the thinking of the two prime ministerial aspirants underlined their compulsion to project themselves as the sole team leaders. Both have been perceived as loners who inhabit vertiginous eyries perched high above anyone who garners votes and mobilises public opinion. Both extol the virtues of ‘We’ but practice the ‘I’ mantra. Of late, NaMo has been a mixed mass metaphor, grandiloquent in his humility, choosing to extol his modest background and OBC caste status than his impressive track record as Gujarat chief minister. Yet, hardly anyone knows the names of Team Modi members. His team begins with NaMo and ends with NaMo. RaGa is no different. He has confined himself to a fortress-like residence populated by unknown and inexperienced techies from affluent families, whose association with the reality of politics is anything but accidental. In Ahmedabad too, BJP officebearers and even ministers are rarely allowed entry to Modi’s well-guarded house.
It’s the ‘I’ in these individuals which dominates political discourse, narrative and choice of compadres. Both aspire to become the Prime Minister of a billion-strong India but ignore those who could facilitate their victory better. All promotional material are dominated by their pictures, sans those who have also achieved success and a reputation through performance. The BJP owes its over half-a-dozen governments to the sterling reputation of charismatic chief ministers and state party chiefs. It would have been nowhere in the reckoning if leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Raman Singh, Manohar Parikkar, Sushil Kumar Modi, Harsh Vardhan, Rajnath Singh et al had not displayed their organisational and administrative acumen. Yet, none of them find a place of prominence in Modi’s election strategy, which has been left to marketing agencies and a few others. If Modi is today the country’s most favoured PM candidate, it has much to do with the good governance provided by other BJP chief ministers. Their popularity drives the all-circumjacent popular embrace of Modi. Except calling them for customary meetings of party forums, none of the chief ministers are involved in planning Battle 2014. Even at the recently held National Executive Council Meeting in Delhi, none of them were asked to move any resolution. CMs like Chouhan and Parrikar have performed much better than Modi in many areas. If Modi means Hum (We) as his mantra, all election material would have carried a combined picture of the CMs. Imagine the impact it would have on voters, if Modi, in the company of a phalanx of saffron heroes, sought the vote in the name of all BJP CMs and showed India that he could lead a team of movers and shakers with proven track records. The BJP ranks have many highly successful former ministers like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, but both are ignored by the party. The party’s decision-making bodies are filled with either geriatrics or honchos who have never won an election, let alone lead a state unit to victory. The seniority or financial clout of an individual in the BJP gets priority over merit and the ability to win an election. They are the ones who claim to be the invisible part of Team ‘Hum’.
The situation in the Congress is worse. It has the largest attroupement of stellar CMs and Cabinet ministers, but they are not portrayed as part of the ‘We’ team which Rahul swears by. Chief ministers like Oommen Chandy, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Siddaramaiah and Tarun Gogoi are known for their responsive governance and better delivery mechanisms on many parameters than their BJP counterparts. They also know how to win an election and carry their teams along. Chandy, for example, leads a precarious coalition government in Kerala, which could collapse if just two MLAs choose to defect. He has been able to keep UDF allies and warring Congress factions together. However, when it came to giving the CMs due credit at the recently held AICC session in New Delhi, the Congress party focused only on Rahul. Most of the present Congress CMs have got rave reviews about their performance by various government and non-government agencies like the Planning Commission and Reserve Bank of India. While the BJP and other parties don’t lose an opportunity to assail the Congress, the ruling party has never exploited the success of its state governments. The Congress rarely projects its CMs as the ones who have fulfilled most of the party promises in the state elections. Most of them are only used for fundraising and not for mobilisation of voters and workers. They are summoned to New Delhi as vassals to be given orders or to be gibbeted for the party’s bad performance in their states. But they are never patted on the back for keeping the party’s pennant flying in their states. Rahul appears to be in a hurry to change the Congress culture of sycophancy. But he is still sticking to the age-old Congress system of stateless and rootless leaders deciding the fate of popular state leaders. He has taken charge but hasn’t yet been able to jettison those who have lost their relevance and utility in the party. As the stopwatch for the Lok Sabha elections unwinds in an inexorable cycle of political karma, both NaMo and RaGa suffer from an existential dilemma. How to segue ‘I’ into ‘We’? Keeping in view their political DNA, it’s a tall order. As Othello said, “to beguile many, but be beguiled by one”, but both politicians are beguiled only by the idea of themselves.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla