Sharp Contrast in the Leadership Styles between NaMo and RaGa Palpable After the Recent Assembly Elections

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There is a clarity of who will be the next chief minister in Gujarat, while the chief ministerial candidate is yet to be finalised for Himachal Pradesh. More importantly, the aftermath of the recent Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh has brought to the fore the contrast between Narendra Modi’s leadership and that of Rahul. If Modi exudes power and authority, Gandhi personifies a low-key civility. If one evokes admiration and awe, the other has the ability to inspire affection, analyses our Associate Editor, Navodita, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

The verdict is out for Gujarat leadership of the BJP where Vijay Rupani will take oath as Chief Minister and Nitin Patel as Deputy Chief Minister, something the state legislature party decided unanimously. The proposal for this leadership was moved by senior BJP MLA Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and supported by five other MLAs before being passed unanimously. The party’s victory in the state with a lesser margin had sent party workers speculating that the face of the Chief Minister might be changed. However, it is said what played in Rupani’s favour is the fact that he had been given a short time of one-and-a-half years to manage things at the helm of affairs at a time the party was facing a big challenge from the Patidar community. Rupani’s proximity to party chief Amit Shah also played in his favour.

In Himachal Pradesh, BJP’s central observers Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Tomar along with state prabhari (in-charge), Mangal Pandey, returned to Delhi after taking the feedback from MLAs in Simla and assessing the sentiment on the election of new Chief Minister. A large number of supporters of Dhumal and five-time MLA Jairam Thakur did aggressive sloganeering before the central observers to make their voices heard. Some sources said even the high command was in favour of an MLA as Chief Minister instead of getting into messy by-polls. However, the senior leadership wants a strong government with an absolute consensus. While the decision is made about that state, let us see how these elections may be viewed by some political analysts.

While Praveen Rai of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies says that the absence of a political narrative in both the states made it a direct battle with Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi leading their respective contingents from the front. Both the parties lacked good state leadership with a credible mass appeal, as a result of which the burden and responsibility of canvassing and mobilising fell on Modi and Gandhi. He goes on to add that post-liberalisation, economic issues have started influencing the outcome of electoral competitions in the country. The political message of the Gujarat mandate for the BJP is heartening and will provide it a winning momentum in the next cycle of elections in five states. Gandhi displayed immense potential during elections and could emerge as a leader, and challenge Modi’s supremacy. The Congress party under Gandhi’s leadership seems to have embarked upon a journey of self-revival. The poll rhetoric, however, was interspersed with personalised attacks, which severely lowered the standard of electoral demagogy putting a big question mark on the credibility of EVMs and ECI, and set up a dangerous precedent for political parties to follow in winning elections.

Delhi-based journalist G. Sampath commented that these elections had great long-run implications for Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, and this view has in fact been echoed by several other analysts, too. He discerned four factors behind the upswing in Congress’ fortunes in Gujarat, which could also mean a pan-India revival of the Congress. The four factors he highlighted are – Rahul Gandhi’s comfort-level in a leadership role; Gandhi’s capacity for self-effacement; highlighting the organisational presence of Congress on the ground, and articulation of a credible political alternative among the masses.

It may be said then that the contrast between Modi’s leadership and that of Rahul is visibly clear to all. If Modi exudes power and authority, Gandhi personifies a low-key civility. If one evokes admiration and awe, the other has the ability to inspire affection. If one is a great speaker, the other is a great listener, especially listening to farmers’ woes. If one plays a politics of anger and fear, the other of affection, love, empathy, and care. If one defines pluralism, the other uniformity, one uses dialogues, the other monologues; one is all about truth, the other about falsehood; one playing up a ‘deterrent theory’ and ‘getting even’ image while the other of forgiveness and kindness.

Rahul Gandhi’s speeches in Gujarat were interspersed with caustic commentary on the Gujarat model, ‘Vikas’, the Rafale deal, demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax, and so on. More puzzling has been his ‘temple run’ in Gujarat. He seems to be wooing the Hindu voter by highlighting his Hindu identity during the Gujarat campaign. Some have called it ‘soft Hindutva’. However, in this era of ‘communal’ politics, it should be viewed as ‘smart secularism’. He seems to be acknowledging the religious identity of the majority without lapsing into majoritarianism or compromising on the constitutional rights of the minority.

It remains to be seen, however, how well he manages to walk this tightrope walk and maintain the balance in the run-up to the 2019 election. After all, his rise in the ‘Winnability quotient’ may put him and his party in a strong position to garner alliances and make a place in the heart and minds of the Indian voters.

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.