Juxtaposing the addresses of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the Red Fort and the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Bhuj on the occasion of Independence Day, the differences and sort of leadership they provide could not have been any starker. That Modi had in fact set up this comparison was at once great political theatre and a straight forward invitation to the people of the country to judge the quality of competing BJP and Congress party leaderships on offer come the next general elections.
On one side was a weary lifelong bureaucrat and, by his own definition, än “accidental prime minister” hoisted and retained in the post by Congress president Sonia Gandhi owing to ten years of leadership drought which, considering that the designated dynastic heir Rahul Gandhi has not used to flesh out his creds, will continue with another appointee — possibly Finance Minister Chidambaram filling in for Manmohan should the Congress somehow return to power, however unlikely the prospect. Chidambram replaces a frustrated Pranob Mukherji who chose a tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan than fight the losing fight of trying to convince Sonia that his show of prime ministerial ambition on the death of Indira Gandhi was an aberration, on the Congress totem pole!
So one saw Manmohan Singh with his trademark but understandable hangdog look reading mechanically from a speech written by PMO underlings, tiredly mouthing the same uninspiring phrases he has regularly repeated from his first speech in 2004 from the red fort ramparts — the usual “ÿeh karna hai, woh karenge” which raises the question “bhai, aap ne kiya kya hai in nau salon me?”. Indeed, Manmohan acted as if he was not the steward of the country’s destiny responsible for doing if not nothing than achieving very little of any note in the past decade. The speech by, in the words of a vapid TV program host, “one of the greatest economists in the world”!, delivered in his usual monotone, was boring to the point of pushing a national audience into depression, and the shoal of captive schoolchildren herded into place, to distraction.
In contrast, Modi, with his record of over 10 years of Gujarat governance in tow, openly mocked Manmohan with his flowing oratory and targeted attacks on the Congress PM’s flawed and failed agenda. Modi’s substantive critique of the Food Security Bill the day before highlighted his ability to marshal facts and figures w/o referring to notes, and to offer substantive policy alternatives. It segued in with his ringing slogan — a good one for the next elections — “Naya soch, nayi umeed” (New thinking, new hope) of the BJP. In fact, his demand that the Congress govt define the “limits” of tolerance with respect to the Chinese and Pakistani violations of the Line of Actual Control and the Line of Control respectively, is clearly an attempt to draw the “lakshman rekha” transgressing which, he hinted, would elicit a strong response from a Modi-led BJP govt post-next elections, and clearly roused a military community that has had enough of the Manmohan govt’s pussyfooting. Of course, Modi will need more carefully to delineate his set of options. He’ll do well to be more aggressive with China, while being more covert vis a vis Pakistan, for the obvious reason that kutayudh (covert warfare) can more competently and beneficially accomplish objectives against the Pakistani state, while the Chinese menace requires a mix of more direct military treatment and agile regional and international coalition-building.
Anyway, the differences were evident between a govt apparatchik and nominated Member of Parliament who hasn’t in his career ever been elected even a dogcatcher (to use an American idiom) and a genuine mass leader with strong roots in grassroots politics with his fingers on the political pulse of the nation who understands how to inspire people and, more importantly, how to deliver on political promises. To every new problem, Manmohan has the same old kneejerk solution — a new govt committee or commission giving employment to retired babus, even as Modi has a practicable solution — whether it is reaching the Narbada River water to hinterland farmers, or enabling the remotest villages to access electricity. It is talk and slogans backed by deliverables versus more sloganeering (more “Garibi hatao” anyone?), dynastic politics, and corruption. Where’s the contest?