Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Rahul-Chidambaram team v/s Modi and Modi alone....

There is no particular reason to write this piece today. But an article written by Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi in today’s ET “Modi & India’s Bell Curve” brings out excellently the kind of leadership a party requires to have in today’s fractured political environment. It also explains why the Manmohan Singh – Sonia Gandhi style “diarchy” is actually the smarter way to run a party; quite different from the Modi and Modi alone kind of commentary one hears from the BJP.

Mustafi starts off his hypothesis with “More than any other time in its democratic history, India is now ready for a dose of center-right economics”. He then builds his argument “Think of India’s voters as a normal distribution: a bell curve with thin margins and a bulging middle section. Modi cuts a strong wedge on the right margin: he energizes BJP’s base, who would have voted for the party anyway. Now from the right flank, he will have to move to the middle of the bell curve (where most votes are), by hard-selling his development performance. But this is a difficult manoeuvre: what endears him to voters on the right margins also makes him undesirable to most voters who are at the center”. Bang on!

Giving an example from the recent US Presidential polls, he says “Mitt Romney’s rhetoric moved too far right in the US primaries last year. He won the Republican nomination, but he could not track back enough towards the center to beat Barack Obama”.

And then this gem of a recommendation, “To solve this margin-versus-center conundrum, political parties often come up with a tag team: two leaders who address the two different constituencies. Examples abound: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, George W Bush and Dick Cheney and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Inevitably, in such partnerships, the centrist becomes the ceremonial top dog, while the ideologue stays in the shadows and wields considerable power. This gives a party a bigger range on the bell curve: it consolidates one margin, but also pushes it towards the center of the curve”.

Fabulous analysis! So true when he mentions Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in this context. Sonia is a centrist (even Leftist by some reports), while Manmohan Singh would be called an out-and-out Rightist (he opened up the economy for god’s sake!). It’s the combination that gives the Congress the strength, not either of them taken individually.

So true also about Vajpayee-Advani as well. Vajpayee was the moderate, the one who “won allies and hearts” as Mustafi writes. Without Vajpayee, there was no NDA. But it was Advani that appeased the right winger supporters of the party. He was the chief architect of Ayodhya, and by supporting Narendra Modi, of the post-Godhra riots, the fake encounters, and in general, the aggressive Hindutva that his party practices. It was this duo, rather than any one of them alone that won power for the NDA. Over a period of time, with Vajapyee retiring, Advani has tried to move towards the center. Mustafi writes “Advani has worked hard to moderate his image over the years”. Narendra Modi on the other hand is the Advani of yesteryears, the ultimate right winger. A combination of Advani and Modi would have been the right prescription for the NDA at this time. But as Mustafi concludes “Such has been the hubris surrounding the elevation of Narendra Modi that hard calculation about his winnability has been ignored by the party”. Indeed!

This piece should also push the Congress to do some soul searching. Digvijay Singh in particular needs to read it a few times over to understand its meaning (unless his diatribes against the 2-power-center model is to waylay the BJP. Anything is possible in politics!). Rahul alone is inadequate. He is a centrist-grudging rightist (he did support FDI in multi-brand retail, but his appearances on such subjects are few and far removed). Today’s India “wants jobs, not sops” as Mustafi writes. Rahul needs a strong Manmohanesque right-winger (on economics). Who better than Chidambaram?

In the past, in my dealings with hard-core Modi supporters, I have found that they would also be willing to support Chidambaram. He’s the guy who can “get things done”, a toughie. For those who want “decisive governance”, Chidambaram is the answer. But for the allies, it has to be Rahul and his socialist beliefs.

To end, Mustafi gives this wonderful simili: “If politics was soccer, Modi is an adroit right winger who gets the home crowd on their feet. But to score a decisive goal in 2014, the BJP needed a moderate center-forward who could tap in Modi’s cross. By projecting their winger as their center-forward, the BJP has scored an unfortunate own-goal.”

The real truth is that in the complicated politics of India, there is very little room for an aggressive, dominant, Hitlerish Narendra Modi all by himself. If he had had a little less megalomania, he would have put his party ahead of himself and paired up with one or more centrists. But he wants the glory all for himself. He is egged on by the loud shouts of the “small margin” on the right of the bell curve. To end, a Rahul-Chidambaram combination is a far better fit for India….

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