So caught are most of us with the here and now that we tend to forget or ignore some delicious nuggets thrown up by history. Many think that the much hyped face off between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi is so decisive that the outcome could well decide the fate of India for the next few decades. Make no mistake about: despite cynics suggesting that the “ Pappu versus Feku” is mere media hype and will find no resonance in the actual electoral battleground, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi represent two poles and have directly contradictory visions on the future of India. But do remember this too: this is not the first time that India has had to choose between a member of the Gandhi family and a leader from Gujarat.
Lets go back to the heady days of 1946 when it was clear that the British would quit India. It was also inevitable that the Congress, that had spearheaded the freedom movement, would take over power to rule India from the Imperial masters. The question was, who would lead the political executive in the new dispensation? Many think that Jawaharlal Nehru was the consensus candidate of the Congress to become the first Prime Minister of India. Nothing can be further from the truth. Nehru had a formidable rival in Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the strongman from Gujarat. Here is where it gets funny. When asked for an opinion, every single Pradesh Congress Committee chief wanted Patel, and not Nehru as their leader and the Prime Minister of independent India. While there never were any doubts about the charisma and vision of Nehru, grassroots Congress leaders were of the opinion that Patel was a more grounded leader who better grasped the pulse of India. But Mahatma Gandhi made his preference clear and even went to the extent of persuading Patel to withdraw from the race. A “ loyal” soldier of the party who idolized the fellow Gujarati Mahatma Gandhi, Patel unhesitatingly withdrew. And Nehru became the first choice to be the first Prime Minister of independent India. Historians may debate this, but common sense suggests that this one decision by Mahatma Gandhi changed the course of Indian history. Since then, the halo around Nehru has become so strong, and the stranglehold of “secular” media and academia has become so overwhelming that secular academicians and journalists now routinely slam Patel as a “communal bigot”. I was shocked beyond belief when one of my colleagues actually called Patel a communal bigot. And then I realized how degenerate, hollow and self delusional Indian secularism had become.
So when we look at the face off between Modi and Rahul in contemporary times, we must never forget these historical lessons; or rather the tendency of history to repeat itself. The battle between a Kashmiri Pandit and a home grown Gujarat leader did. It got over when Nehru sat on the democratic throne. Twenty years after the fateful decision made by Mahatma Gandhi, India and the Congress party were faced with yet another cruel choice. In 1966, the increasingly popular Lal Bahadur Shastri died “mysteriously” in far away Tashkent in the Soviet Union. The Congress party, which still was the undisputed political party and force of India, was facing an acute dilemma. A powerful leader from Gujarat Morarji Desai staked his claim to be allowed to become the next Prime Minister of India. Another strong contender was the daughter of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, a Kashmiri Pandit who had married a Parsi gentleman who coincidentally had a surname Gandhi!. Once again, there was a face off and a battle for the soul and the future of India. By 1996, the dreams and hopes that millions of Indians were nursing in 1946 were beginning to fade and the Congress was no longer as popular. Failed monsoons and a near famine condition had angered vast sections of the Indian electorate. The then Congress party was controlled by a bunch of back room boys called the Syndicate who would make the final choice. On one side was a seasoned and veteran leader with vast administrative experience in the form of Morarji Desai. His economic vision was clearly to the center of right and he wanted less government interference in wealth creation and economic activities. On the other side was an unknown quantity called Indira Gandhi who had never clearly spelt out her political and economic vision. After much debate, bitterness and controversy, the Syndicate opted for Indira Gandhi. Some say that she was chosen because she was a “gungi gudiya” who could be manipulated. Once again, the Congress and by extension India had preferred a Kashmiri Pandit over a Gujarati leader. Once again, this one decision changed the course of India’s history for the next few decades as political survival compelled and propelled Indira Gandhi to lurch towards the extreme left in economic policies.
India is still paying a price for that lurch. Of course,in what can be termed as poetic justice, the Indian electorate turfed out Indira Gandhi during elections held in the aftermath of the Emergency in 1977 and the Gujarati leader Morarji Desai did manage to become the Prime Minister. Since then, India has not seen a Gujarati leader who could play a prominent role in national politics.
Enter Narendra Modi and the media hype surrounding him nowadays. Look at how history is repeating itself. Once again, there is a Kashmiri pandit in the form of Rahul Gandhi who is pitted against a Gujarat strongman in the form of Narendra Modi. Like with Morarji Desai, Modi comes with vast administrative experience and expounds an economic vision that is decidedly to the right of center. In contrast, Rahul is an unknown quantity and nobody seems to have an idea of what exactly his vision for India is, though his recent public speeches reveal a decided left of center and Big Government ideology and approach. Like with Patel and Desai, Modi is a self made man who has risen from a humble background into a formidable political figure (And also a communal bigot like Sardar Patel according to the secular establishment). Like his grandmother and great grandfather, Rahul is a child of privilege and destiny. But there end the parallels between this one and the old fights that happened in 1946 and 1966. The Congress is no longer the ruling party of India by default. There is no Mahatma Gandhi and no syndicate to make the final choice. Of course, that old and deep division between an India that supports Rahul and a Bharat that supports Modi still exists. In this battle, it looks as if it is the much abused Indian voter who will finally get to exercise her choice. May the best vision win!
Incidentally, let us also not forget the fact that two Gujaratis of the same generation have played a key role in defining modern India. One was Mahatma Gandhi and other was the Father of Pakistan Mohhamed Ali Jinnah. Their divergent visions continue to cast a shadow over the sub continent. So the next time someone tells you it is U.P and Bihar that really matter when it comes to Indian politics, take a deep breath and remember Gujarat!