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Not heirs apparent to Congress
Sunil Khilnani in an Op-Ed published in the Times of India on 02 January, 2014, Lucknow edition, titled, “Heirs apparent to Congress” talks about how both Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal reject the Indian National Congress (INC) while following its leaders and many of its policies by choice.

According to Mr. Khilnani, Modi follows Sardar Patel who was “as resolute an INC leader as any one else” was in his times while Kejriwal follows Mahatma Gandhi. According to Mr. Khilnani, Modi “follows Patel’s strongman, rightwing mantle of leadership”. Kejriwal on the other hand “views with skepticism, as Gandhi did, all centralized authority and big government- which they see as hives of corruption”.

Mr. Khlinani concludes by writing that the solution to the problem faced by Indian polity “cannot lie in abandoning representative democracy, in favor of say, plebiscitary forms that promise either decentralization, or concentration of power in a strong executive.”

I think that Mr. Khilnani is wrong in case of both Modi and Kejriwal. First of all Patel was an active member of the RSS till the assassination of Gandhi and this fact can never be forgotten. Mr. Kejriwal just cannot be compared with Gandhi even if one takes him on face value. While Gandhi did campaign for the rights of unprivileged, underprivileged and outcastes and minorities, the fact is that he would never try to overhaul the existing system completely.

He would have preferred a rather consensual and gradual change to the way Indian society should function. I am not saying that Kejriwal challenges the basic ethos of Indian society but rather that he is too far away to the Left by the present standards to imitate Gandhi of the past when projected in present. Sure, if Kejriwal is not true to his words then it is an altogether a different thing.

But here again he differs a lot from Gandhi- Gandhi was true to his words but never questioned the basic foundation of Hinduism and in fact he was very much proud of ancient Indian culture. A similarity in approach in this regard can be labeled as an argument about political convenience and not any ideological convergence on behalf of Kejriwal.

Even at his best Kejriwal is more like an economic and administrative reformer than a social one but had he been so he would have been, unlike Gandhi, very critical of Hinduism. This is not to support an obstinate view that no one can supersede Gandhi but that Kejriwal as person does not have requisite integrity and commitment to become a Gandhi.

Now Patel was born in 1875 and Modi in 1950. There is a vast 75 years of difference in their birth years. India has evolved a lot since then and circumstances have changed a great deal since then.

Sure, Patel was a big leader of the INC but at that time the party was conglomerate of various opinions- right from extreme Left to extreme Right but with equilibrium positions at the Center. Patel belonged to the Right and this is the reality. In modern days; in 1950, if Patel were to be reborn he would side with the BJP definitely by the year 1990 and onwards and would be strong critique of the INC. There just cannot be much doubt about it.

Gandhi was born in 1869 and Kejriwal in 1968. Again there is a huge difference of almost a century in their births. What if Gandhi were to be born in 1968? He would have definitely belonged to the INC and would have never abandoned Centrist INC opinion but at the same time he would have been willy-nilly somewhat tolerant of the BJP. Reborn Gandhi could even tolerate some corruption. Why?

Because Gandhi born in 1968 would be more status-quoits than what original Gandhi was as there were hardly any British, colonial or imperial influence remaining left in India, at least on surface, explicitly. Also, he would consider the INC as having the best political opinion even in its decadence.

Reborn Gandhi’s economic position need not have remained as socialist-inclined as it was during freedom struggle and he could have supported capitalism in patches for the better future of the country. The same could be true of Patel. Their actual economic opinions would have been functions of their family histories and of the ways they hypothetically grew.

Patel and Gandhi both if born in modern times would have been lesser idealist, more pragmatic and better statisticians than what they were in their previous stints. In relative sense, Patel would have been more idealist and Gandhi more practical. Moreover, there was always a possibility of them immigrating to the West despite of both of them being highly nationalists. It is a bit difficult to predict the course of action of reborn Patel and Gandhi.

So people should be compared in their proper contexts. It is very difficult to imagine Patel and Gandhi in modern contexts. In the end let me clarify that while Kejriwal would believe in plebiscitary democracy for a while, though not always, there is no question of Modi resorting to such technique. All need to know that Modi is a conservative in Indian sense both in his words and deeds.

Also, all need to prepare for a possibility that positions of Modi and Kejriwal both would change with time and circumstances and they may not remain those big idealists: Modi towards Center, slightly away from Hindu Right and Kejriwal away from Leftist idealism in great deal, again towards a Center. It should be noted that their Centers differ from each other and that of the INC and the latter in recent times has mutated a lot since its past positions.

To be frank, none of the two follow Congress policies to the extent that such requires accusation of hypocrisy, turncoat or even ideological bankruptcy. In fact the policies that both Modi and Kejriwal follow differ a lot from those of the present INC and idealist strongmen with whom Khilnani compare them would in present times, in all likelihood, not the same persons as they were in the past.

While the fact is that Modi can easily imagine to become a Patel, the barriers for Kejriwal are too high for him to dream to become a Gandhi. This is a reality check and all need to be objective in comparing present leaders with those in the past. The fact is that by all normal standards both Modi and Kejriwal differ so much from the INC that they should not be called as heirs apparent to the INC.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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