Their courage unites them. Their worldview divides them. They represent a changing tide in Indian polity.
Before the likes of Modi and Kejriwal came on the scene, it was felt that in Indian politics the meek will continue to inherit the world. The genuflectors will be crowned. Note how those in the prime-ministerial fray bowed to the powers that be. Except Rajiv Gandhi who came on a sympathy wave, every prime ministerial aspirant stooped to ascend. Indira Gandhi too was known as the Goongi Gudia (mute doll) within the Congress. In fact, she was selected to be the Prime Minister by the Syndicate because of her meekness. When the Syndicate (Kamraj and others) sensed that she had a mind of her own, they gunned for her. That she outgunned them is another story.
Manmohan Singh, the last in this line took his prostrate-to-conquer stance to an international apogee when he asked Obama for his autograph!
(That said the world came full circle yesterday when Biden quipped that he should ask for Modi’s autograph. Even though it was said in jest, it had an underlying acknowledgement of Modi’s global stature and was heartening to hear!)
Though Guru Gobind Singh had valiantly stated, “Koi kisi ko raj na dehe; jo lehe so nij bal se lehe (Nobody gifts you a kingdom. Those who wrest it wrest it through their own strength), the Indian aspirant to political power subscribed more to “Koi kisi ko raj na dehe; jo lehe so jhuk ke aur shradha se lehe (Nobody gifts you a kingdom. Those who wrest it wrest it through their bowing and unquestionable devotion to those at the helm).
With the coming in of leaders like Modi-Kejriwal-Shivakumar we saw a refreshing and diametrically opposite approach.
In contrast to the popular genuflect-to-ascend style they are driven by its counter view: “Nothing grows under the Banyan Tree”.
If the conventional fawn and bow school of politics said Ladaai mein tel nahi hai (No gains come from a fight), the new hustle and jostle school seems to believe that Ladaai mein tel ka kua hai (Fights bring untold treasures).
Modi, Kejriwal and Shivakumar are representatives of the latter school.
Courage to take on the opponent is the common denominator in their psyches.
Narendra Modi as the CM of Gujarat even stood up to PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his own way. And when Arun Jaitley brought him the mantle, he intrepidly tightened on it his grip so, that the party scales tipped unequivocally towards him.
Internationally too he has tried to make India emerge as the third voice after the West and China. Again, not without strong opposition from incumbent global powers.
Kejriwal stormed the center-stage through the politics of conflict and confrontation. He even fell out with his benefactors like Anna. And fought and vanquished them soon enough in his political career.
Shivakumar who has had an equally battle-ridden past, also doesn’t hide his ambition and doesn’t shy away from a fight.
But how are their mental make-ups and political upbringing different?
AAP’s far left ideology bears Kejriwal’s revolutionary mindscape. Kejriwal started as an idealist, but soon realized that resource mobilization is necessary for the party to survive. He swiftly abandoned his puritan ideals. And this is cited as a key reason for his falling out with the likes of Prashant Bhushan.
But such a heart change in a first-time politician is common. In the public arena the revolutionary rails against the status quo and the corrupt, believing that he can change things and vows to do so if chosen.
When he actually reaches the position of power, he recognizes the disorder of the system and the impossibility of setting it right. Once inside, he understands that it is the circumstances, and not the men, that cause the chaos.
Those who watch him think he has fallen from grace as he no longer speaks against the malpractices and is in fact seen as indulging in them. And as this happens a countless time, the Roman proverb was born ‘these men have one mind in the plaza, and the other in the palace.’
But Kejriwal’s departure from his ideals may have been too rash and foolhardy. Bordering on reckless. If the allegations against him have some semblance of truth, these might lead to festering problems for him and his coterie. Remember Laloo and how the Chara Ghotala has shadowed, haunted and subverted his political career.
Kejriwal has another problem. Leftist ideology attacks the status quo. Even When the leftist comes to power, he still stays a dissident. He often cannot give up his tendency to attack. Such compulsive attackers then tear away what is good with the bad. The rebel in Kejriwal should lose this pugnacious impulse.
Modi is a pragmatist. I differ from those who say that he will force a dictatorship on India. Modi knows the importance of legitimacy. He may radically alter the Indian political circumstance. But without throwing the law and legislation to the wind.
He cares for how he looks. Concern for one’s appearances is an admirable trait in a politician. Particularly in a daring one. It safeguards the public as well as himself from his audacious instinct.
Like many eminent politicians Modi is looking for a destiny. A destiny for India and for himself. Nothing wrong with desiring the latter too. Most statemen have wanted to leave a mark on the sands of time. He is the eldest of these three brave men, the most seasoned, balanced and best acquainted with how the world works. His courage has buttressed through his wide exposure.
Shivakumar has native genius. He is a proven trouble shooter, a resource mobilizer, also personally the richest among the three. He has been promised Deputy Chief ministership for now and there was talk of splitting the 5 year chief ministerial term between the two aspirants.
Such promises are not always kept as the first incumbent post his ascension acquires new glues of power. The future nominee has no future then. This is what happened in the case of T.S. Singhdeo. Singhdeo in Chattisgarh played a key role both organizationally and financially in bringing the Congress govt to power in 2018.
He was promised the chief ministership for two and a half years once Bhupesh Baghel’s term of the same tenure was over. But he was sidelined by CM Bhupesh Baghel who came closer to the high command perhaps due to the grand-scale-resource-mobilization he could swing in this mineral rich state for the party. Also Singhdeo’s gentlemanliness cost him dear. Ultimately, he was left high and dry and smarting.
Learning from others, street smart Shivakumar who has risen through the ranks wasn’t ready to succumb to empty promises. And is looking for spoils of war in the portfolios which he and his confidants get. His staying on as the Pradesh Congress committee chief is another adhesive for power.
Back to the three. Modi is bold and balanced. Kejriwal bold and belligerent. Shivakumar, bold and still a bit brash. But both Kejriwal and he have years on their side and the opportunity to round off their rough edges. (Also Shivakumar, though not lacking in daring is not entirely unbridled like the other two. He is not fully out of the Congress high command yoke. In fact, he is closer to the Congress high command than Siddaramaiah).
All three share the bold gene. What does the arrival of these brave men augur?
Firstly, though the rise-of-the-aggressive is new for Indian politics it is a world-wide phenomenon. All over the world, much as you may lament the fact, political correctness is getting beaten by strident voices and ruthless attacks. The election of Trump in 2017 and his sustained following and the emergence of other outspoken leaders across the globe is saying that Politics is a life and death game so it should do away with the niceties. Leaders with spunk who plain speak and thrive on the combative rhythm of public life are getting acceptance and support. More and more, their support base is extending beyond the have-nots. The nouveau riche (who themselves do not have strong cultural moorings), and even the new middle classes are providing leadership to the have-nots.
The breed of the bold and blunt will grow world-wide. This minority of three is already growing in India too.
The elections in 2024 will see the most vicious combat and campaigning that the Indian electorate has seen. The gladiators are here. The games have already begun.