What do we have to look forward to in 2014? There is no escaping one thing, of course. The general election will take up the first six months of the news cycle. There will be, intermittently, stories of shame and scandal along the way, as always, but the one we will keep returning to is: Who will govern India and in what way will things be different?
The real answer is: nobody, and in no way. This isn’t a nation where the state has any deep penetration. It flaps about helplessly for the most part in the midst of an insoluble anarchy. But government, like the show, must carry on, and so it will.
There are two broad themes that have been laid out for us to choose from in this election. I’m not referring to communal versus secular or left versus right, but merely two ways of seeing.
Rahul Gandhi’s is not very obvious. We must observe him over a long period to discern the outlines of a theme. It is subtle and realist. It holds that the state can only do so much. Government doesn’t have the resources to do more, and it doesn’t have the access or temperament to solve issues rooted in culture.
An illustration: Gandhi told Delhi’s angry students that their problem against reservations was actually one of supply—there simply weren’t enough colleges to handle India’s population and its discriminations.
This is not a joyous political message, nor, as I said, is it easy to grasp from the disparate threads Gandhi offers (in fact I could legitimately be accused of over-reading him). His perspective—which comes from someone half-European, one-quarter Parsi and one-quarter Brahmin—is not simplistic.
This is why he is seen as dull. I don’t think he is, though he is guilty of not fully following through on his convictions.
It is difficult to disagree on the broad issues with Gandhi. The fault doesn’t lie in the state if we look at the problem with open eyes. That doesn’t mean that the state should give up trying. What it can do and does, it must do better. It is obvious that here the Congress has failed itself. No point arguing against something obvious for all to see.
However, though his belief is that the problem is in the society, Gandhi’s work is all limited to party and government. This is where he has failed. Perhaps it could be said that he was otherwise occupied.
A few years without power, as he is likely to be in a few months’ time, will give him the opportunity to show us if he is serious. There is no better platform for social reform than the Congress party.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi we come to the view that is opposite to Gandhi’s. In Modi’s understanding, the state is the locus.
That he should believe this (or at least articulate it) is remarkable because it cuts against the core belief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS has always thought of reform as being in society and at the level of the individual.
It is the RSS worker, who sacrifices, assumes responsibility, and tries to hold to a moral way of living, who is the true Gandhian in many ways.
The RSS creed is individual action.
Modi’s political message, which is echoed by the Aam Aadmi Party, is about individual abdication. It maintains that government holds the answers and not the individual or society. This actually shows how much Modi has moved away from the Swayamsevak principles that are thought to define him.
The episodic run-ins he has with the RSS come from this essential difference. Modi has come to believe, like his ghastly middle-class devotees, that he can personally change India. The RSS is circumspect about this and has tried, not successfully, to nudge him away from it. Modi’s view, in the way I understand it, is that of the shopkeeper’s, in keeping with his caste origins. Ghanchis are kirana (neighbourhood) store owners and have no need for complexity. Everything is fixed-price and there is no question of compromise.
This manner, practical and simple, that he possesses is why he is so beloved of his people, who set great store by the changes he will bring when in power.
The number of people who are willing to look askance at what he has actually done in Gujarat and concentrate on what he says (or what they think he says) is quite remarkable. It shows we are a nation of the helpless, what is better expressed in Hindi as bechara.
There will be a disappointment among them as they will come to finally realize, in this new year, that things are not the way they are because the wrong party is in power in Delhi.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns