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Does it say something interesting that three figures otherwise as disparate as Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are turning out to have a lot more in common than we recognised? One should not minimise the ideological, temperamental and sociological differences between them. They also vary in the degree to which they come across as convincing. But the similarities in their positioning are quite striking.
All three posit themselves as agents of change who stand outside of the system they are challenging. Modi and Kejriwal have the advantage. Just by virtue of being sociological outsiders to the system, their persona itself reflects a change of sorts. But this is exactly the position Rahul Gandhi tries to occupy: an outsider against his own party.
All three want to occupy the terrain of virtue. To an extent, this is inevitable. But they have become a measure of their own virtue. It allows them to stand above any charge levelled against the system they represent. Modi has had to battle charges all his political life, but will brook no aspersion on his own virtue. Gandhi still manages to talk as if he is in no way politically implicated in the vast system of corruption over which he has presided. It is premature to judge Kejriwal. But the line “our intentions are good” should always be a warning. Hopefully, the unconscionable disregard for legality and morality shown in the arrest of Africans in Delhi, and the Delhi government’s response to it, is an aberration. But it also shows exactly what happens when a conviction of one’s own virtue floats above reality.
All three are much more comfortable in the oppositional space. Both Modi and Kejriwal are, in their own ways, masters in rousing opposition. But even Gandhi’s sparks of passion fly more when he is on the attack than when he is saying something constructive.
All three of them are more comfortable with schemes and projects than with policy. It has been a common complaint that the economic visions of the three parties are not up to the demands of the time. They are comfortable thinking of new spending projects, but not very sophisticated about the overall framework that will meet the economy’s challenge. Doubtless, the manifestoes will, at some point, make things clearer. But in some ways, the challenge of our time is not so much thinking up schemes and projects. It is projecting the idea