On 16th May 2014, India witnessed the spectacular victory of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, with Narendra Modi spearheaded to be the 15th PM of the country. If that is a numerology coincidence, and 16 is indeed a lucky number for Narendra Modi, I would not know. There are numerous ongoing analysis of different factors to pinpoint what all made BJP such a grand success while UPA story went horribly wrong, and AAP, in spite of all the noise, failed to make any dent.
Of the various factors, the projected personality of the PM candidates, and how it was perceived by Indian citizens makes an interesting comparison.
This election came at a time when the country was starved of a leader and yearning for change. After the numerous scams and a steadily slowing economy, people were clearly frustrated with an under-performing and corrupt government and a Prime Minister who remained silent on most of the issues. We got a glimpse of this yearning towards the end of 2013, when Arvind Kejriwal ‘s AAP gained enormous popularity within a very short span and emerged as a party with the potential to challenge the existing regime on grounds of corruption.
Kejriwal came across as an upright person, who gave up his IRS job to join the movement against widespread corruption in India. The middle class people could identify with his personality. We felt he was one of us when he raised questions that were pertinent to all of us. Notwithstanding his elite education and his background as a bureaucrat, he projected himself as a ‘Common Man’. Leveraging on Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, AAP rapidly found resonance with the frustrations of the common people and Kejriwal found himself elected as the Chief Minister of Delhi.
The problems started when Kejriwal continued to use his activist mechanisms instead of focusing on organizing the capabilities and setting up systems and machinery to promulgate good governance. He functioned more or less like the founder of a startup mostly adopting an adhoc approach to deal with the problems, often reiterating the problems, but offering no structured solutions.
In his zeal to project himself as just another common man, he refused to take security, in spite of being repeatedly attacked by common hooligans. In the process he displayed the helplessness of the common man and symbolized their vulnerability and victimization.
But does the common man want to feel helpless? Hell No !
The common citizens want a leader they can look up to. People want someone who can solve their problems; someone capable of steering the machinery to get work done without making much ado of the efforts that go into it.
Finally, with his resignation in 49 days, Kejriwal came to be perceived as over ambitious and not too keen on delivering upon his promises. With too much of a focus on expanding the base too soon, he contested from 434 seats to the Parliament in the process alienating a lot of people, including many of those who empathized with his causes, and losing credibility even amongst people who had voted him to power in Delhi.
The next 5 years will be a learning ground for Arvind Kejriwal to hone his skills as a political leader, organize his party and remain relevant in the system while working on his quest for a corruption free India.
As for Rahul Gandhi, the lesser it is said, the better it is. The reluctant politician, with the dynasty tag, never seemed quite at ease or interested in politics. Whether he rattled off the same memorized answers to each question during an interview, or posed in the campaign hoardings with farmers and workers, he could neither inspire confidence nor did he look convincing in his posturing.
The leadership void was filled by the projection of Narendra Modi as a leader who could help India to realize its dream. He was catapulted to a cult figure with the administrative prowess to free the country from the shackles of under-performance and corruption and steer India towards economic growth. Given his humble beginning, he represented the masses, while his penchant for growth, development and technology struck a chord with industrialists and the corporate class. He comes across as an authoritarian figure and projects the image of an able administrator capable of getting work done.
Campaign after campaign, as he spoke of progress and stressed on good governance, people saw in him the passion for development. He had the Gujarat model to showcase his successful performance and impressed upon people his desire to replicate its success at the National level.
While the US had questioned about the nationalistic and sectarian aspects of the campaign and shown skepticism about the future, in India these aspects were dwarfed in the wake of optimism, dream of progress and his vision for a strong, developed and economically sound nation.
Well, from the mandate it is clear that people are willing to overlook certain aspects and give Narendra Modi a chance to deliver on his promises and steer the country towards good governance and inclusive growth.