Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Sanjay vs Rajiv.

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently, I was caught in the rain and I took shelter in a teashop.

Wet, and sipping on tea, I couldn’t help but notice the chatter of two older gentlemen who were sipping, puffing and professing. They seemed involved in an animated and heated discussion and I couldn’t help myself but eavesdrop.

Just as I got close to them, the discussion ended with the older man claiming, “None of the Congress fellows today have the guts of Sanjay Gandhi. If Sanjay Gandhi was alive, India would have been in a better state. I challenge.”

All that I could think of was “If Sanjay Gandhi had been around, I doubt this man would be a father and may be the word ‘nasbandi’ would have triggered an involuntary action of cupping his crotch and running for cover. I challenge.”

But was there any truth in the old man’s claim?

This reminds me of what Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi said to the media: “Wherever I go people say, if Sanjay Gandhi was alive India would not be what it is today.”

What they obviously meant was that India would be in a better state.

Better, how and why?

Because Sanjay had his own vision of what India should be and was authoritarian in pursuing them?

Well… if that’s the case, then it seems like we have a modern and better version of Sanjay Gandhi in Narendra Modi. True?

Well, we’ll know after 2014; until then we’ll keep our fingers crossed… well, had it been Sanjay Gandhi’s 1977, we’d have to keep our legs crossed.

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The Narendra Modi and Sanjay Gandhi comparison crops up because they both are known to “get things done.”

In fact, the legendary journalist Khushwant Singh put a picture of Sanjay Gandhi on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India magazine with a headline “Sanjay, the man who gets things done.”

Today, Modi is in every middle class urban Indian’s mind, and every time they think of him they see the same hope Khushwant Singh saw: “A man who can get things done.”

Fears that Modi will become authoritarian like Sanjay and will take us to the Emergency days of gag and imprisonment could be far-fetched because they operated at different times in our democracy.

Sanjay Gandhi was trying to find quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Sanjay was a Political Rambo in a young democracy and in a hurry to see change even if it meant mowing down slums or squeezing out manhoods.

The best example would be the unplanned execution of the sterilisation programmes. People were not educated about what it was and rumours spread that it was an operation that would render women unable to bear children and men impotent.

No one came, so they were dragged out and the rest is disaster as recorded in history.

Sanjay Gandhi had a five-point programme for India: tree planting, abolition of caste and dowry system, eradication of illiteracy, family planning and eradication of slums. All of them failed.

Sanjay may have been known as a man “who got things done…,” but if only he had planned them… Unfortunately he didn’t and he became a “man who got things wrong.”

Journalist Vinod Mehta concluded his book ‘The Sanjay Story’ by saying: “Had Sanjay possessed more finesse, had he not been in such a tearing hurry, had he been slightly more intelligent, he would have become ‘the national leader’ he so wished to be.”

Seems like Modi possesses the above qualities.

Also, Modi is more educated; he has a Master’s in Political Science. Sanjay was 11th grade pass and earned a course certificate from Rolls Royce.

Modi is a smart operator who plans and delivers. Sanjay and Modi have many similarities — both obsessed with development, both inclined towards technology. Coincidentally, both helped start the first indigenous Indian cars, a venture of “Indian pride” — Maruti for Sanjay, Tata Nano for Modi. Both have an image bigger than their party itself.

More importantly, both have used their party ideology partly to put themselves in a place of power from where they can force down their own vision of development.

For example, while analysts say Modi is a Hindu fundamentalist, no one talks about how when it was brought to his notice that 310 religious structures in Gandhinagar had encroached on government roads hindering road widening, he demolished them!

First, he demolished temples. This he did in spite of VHP, his party BJP’s strong arm, taking offence. VHP formed a Mandir Bachao Samiti and screamed “development cannot be achieved by demolishing temples.”

It did not stop him. Roads were widened, to be used by all. May be he came to power on his party’s Hindu ideology, but delivered on his Indian ideology.

Yes, of course, both leaders obsessed over infrastructural delivery and industrial development model. But what about the social aspect? Can Modi handle that? After all, this is where Sanjay failed ever so miserably and Modi too is criticised for his dismal social development record.

What’s he going to do when he has to deal with the whole nation?

For now, he is the CM of Gujarat where the only distractions for its citizens are supposedly Bollywood and stock market, makes it easier to administer. He also has to ask himself if Gujarat is truly democratic, then why are people drinking stealthily in Gujarat?

Why do non-vegetarians have to go all around the town looking to buy meat?

Why have minorities suddenly huddled in silence on the outskirts of urban Gujarat?

He has to answer these questions because soon he may have to deal with the booze-enjoying Bangaloreans, bar dance-loving Mumbaites, Fenny-loving Goans, meat-loving Punjabis, all perceived as sins in the puritan Gujarat.

Then there is the Kashmir issue, not to forget environmental and mining issues where his industrial friends have been known to run riot displacing indigenous people.

All these are important social factors. So far, Modi has been enjoying a saucer of dhokla; can his political palate handle the plate full of socially psychedelic India? Only time will tell.

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But is 2014 election really about Rahul Vs Modi? It seems more like Rajiv Vs Sanjay.

Rahul, like his father, was a hesitant entrant to politics whereas Modi, like Sanjay, relishes it. Rahul plays by the rules set up by the old fogies in the party; Modi, like Sanjay, is feared in his own party for having a mind of his own.

Rahul, like Rajiv, perpetually seems like a political misfit; Modi, like Sanjay, looks like he was born to be in it.

Unfortunately, both have a disturbing streak of authoritarian model of work. This is where fear sets in and that’s why Vinod Mehta, comparing Modi and Sanjay said: “Narendra Modi type of leadership has a tendency to descend into authoritarian one-man rule.” Warning taken.

But even if the dark side of Sanjay manifests in Modi, is it possible to execute it in the 21st century democratic India where we have a hyperactive media, huge young population and technology at our fingertips? We doubt it.

Sadly in a way, the Indian middle-class is actually looking for an authoritarian leader.

They have tolerated a muted, submissive, incommunicado PM heading a government of inaction for so long that they seem ready to risk an authoritarian leader who can “get things done.” They feel Modi will get things done and if he doesn’t, they can always go back to the good old Indian National Comatose Party.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)