Varanasi is a saffron city. The Hindu culture is embedded in the very dust of the city. It is no wonder that Mr Narendra Modi chose it as his primary battle ground. The message he is trying to give is that he is the representative of the Hindus, the spokesman for Hindutva if not Hinduism, and also that he is not merely a political leader.
Shiv Vishwanathan, professor at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, has written an article titled Why battleground Varanasi is different in today’s Hindu. The article borders on hagiography showering much accolade on Mr Kejriwal. In spite of the bias, the article deserves serious pondering. There are some illuminating ideas.
“Sadly,” says the author, “the chaiwala has now become the agent of corporation.” This is one of the contradictions that Mr Modi embodies within. He tries to take pride in his humble origins and use it as a proof of his closeness to the lowly people. The fact, however, is that he has worked relentlessly for the welfare of the corporate sector. What the poor have gained, if anything, is the by-product. How to empower the poor man or the aam aadmi is the question that Kejriwal raises on the other hand, says the article.
Mr Modi displays the characteristics of an autocrat, of a Fascist leader. He cannot tolerate dissidence, he does not respect anyone who disagrees with him, and he can use the metaphorical chaiwala’s language (no offence meant to all those chaiwalas who do not ever use the kind of language employed by Mr Modi) to shoot at his opponents. His jibes using AK 47 are the most recent examples.
|Courtesy The Hindu|
Mr Modi is more interested in that kind of discourse. He likes to mount childish offensiveness against his rivals. Calling names, bringing in cheap metaphors that may please the man in the chai dukan, and peddling hatred are hardly the traits of a good leader. As one of the readers writes in today’s Hindu, “What people want to hear from Mr. Modi are his plans to tackle inflation, corruption, instances of farmer suicide, crony capitalism, unemployment, lack of people-oriented growth, and, above all, communalism.” Mr Kejriwal, on the other hand, speaks about issues that matter. He refuses to dispense street rhetoric.
Prof Visvanathan thinks that by asking intelligent and relevant questions, “Mr. Kejriwal is inviting India to the new possibilities of democracy.” That’s important. A good leader should raise the standard of his people’s thinking instead of playing to the gallery for the sake of applause.
Let me conclude this with a quote from the article. The view is hagiographical but worth taking a second look at. “His [Mr Kejriwal’s] message is like a conversation, homely, humble, even deprecating. Mr. Modi has the personal of a loudspeaker, amplifying his own repetitions. Mr. Kejriwal has place for the small and marginal, for the gossip of the nukkad. He is a listener. Mr. Modi’s personal comes out better as a dictaphone....”
The battle of Varanasi is worth observing. It is not merely an electoral battle. It is a battle between the aam aadmi’s aspirations and one man’s personal ambitions. It is a battle between autocracy and democracy. Between rhetoric and pragmatism...
PS. Change.org invited Mr Kejriwal, Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Modi to a three-cornered debate. Mr Kejriwal has accepted the invitation.