Foreign Policy tells us that Rahul Gandhi may well be the last Gandhi. The Economist calls Narendra Modi a stocky steamroller. But I know who the two men are most like. As a wannabe visionary who thought nothing of shifting his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, Rahul Gandhi is most like Mohammad bin Tughlaq. Like Rahul, Tughlaq thought big, but not always wisely. Like Rahul, he was a great believer in rural India, and set up a department for agriculture and land records. We don’t know about Rahul’s future, although he has declared he won’t be a status quoist, but Tughlaq didn’t have a son and was succeeded by his cousin. And well, what can I say, Rahul’s permanentaddress on the Lok Sabha website is listed as 12, Tughlak Lane, Delhi.
Modi is the absolute contrast, a low caste chaiwallah’s son, much like the mysterious Chandragupta Maurya, said to be the son of a royal father and low caste mother. Chandragupta had no aversion to power, nor any confusion about it. He created an empire out of nothing with the help of the wise Chanakya. As an administrator, he was a bigger success story than Ashoka, so admired by Jawaharlal Nehru. Both men had different visions of governance. Tughlaq was not short of imagination but woefully lacking in pragmatism. Chandragupta was a man who understood the power of strategic alliances and the value of a campaign-in his case it was to build an empire from scratch, in Modi’s case, it is to conquer Delhi. In Modi’s case, the role of Chanakya was performed by the rss which he left home to joinwhen he was 17. Modi’s Chandragupta complex may also be behind his chapati obsession-waging a war was much like eating a chapati, outside in, not inside out, Chandragupta was told. Modi’s chapati analogy is meant to demonstrate his veneration for Indian women.
Call it two visions of India. One of the privileged insider grappling with the demands of his dna and the poison of power. Think of Rahul as Tughlaq with a Che Guevara beard, experimenting with life, eating vegan food one day and doing Vipassana another, his head full of ideas difficult to execute. The other is the hungry outsider, who wants to overcome the geography of his birth and the limitations of his upbringing. Think of Modi as Chandragupta Maurya with an Amitabh Bachchan groomed beard, an inflexible discipline, and a daily dietof three and a half hours of sleep and 90 minutes of yoga. His head is full of the doctrine of statecraft, on how to win and keep a kingdom.
Yes, one is a realist and the other is a surrealist. And what of Manmohan Singh? Well, at this point, his party must be hoping he would be the Buddha or at least an ageing Prince Siddhartha who walks away from his kingdom. But Manmohan Singh finds it impossible to give up power, no matter the taint on him and on his party. And thereby he loses the war of perception. In India, two kinds of power have sanctity. There are those who take, sometimes even snatch, what they are not born into. There are others who come from a ‘chain of people’ and are in authority because of their surnames. Manmohan Singh is the third kind, in a tiny minority-one to whom power was given for safekeeping, as a trust by the Queen Mother worried by the heir’s inexperience. Manmohan Singh was not chosen for what he could do, but what he would not do. Such men should be the first to know when their time is up.
But perhaps the Prime Minister’s tragedy is that he studied economics, not history.