ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Tale of Two Leaders

Should we really compare Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi?


Sometimes, personalities precipitate historic changes; but they do so as products of history. The current discussion on the similarities between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi, in the context of the former’s birth centenary on 19 November 2017, seems to miss the point. In this debate, some commentators have hastily drawn parallels between the two; others have dismissed the attempt as mere “cherry-picking.” Of course, Gandhi and Modi are vastly different personalities; their policy priorities are widely divergent; so are the historical circumstances that constituted them. But these should not blind us to some interesting structural commonalities. Fruitful historical comparisons involve recognition of symmetries and asymmetries, not a quest for sameness and absolute difference. In this spirit, an assessment of Gandhi and Modi may be revealing.

The prime asymmetry lies in the circumstances of their political ascendance. Gandhi’s only political asset was her father’s legacy. She had no political base of her own, either in any region or within her party. She was chosen by the “Syndicate” (the Congress old guard) because they thought she would be amenable to manipulation. There was no “Indira wave” that brought her to the helm of government; she had to create one. Therefore, her initial time in office was a tightrope walk. In contrast, Modi rode into office on a wave of mass popularity, with a strong foothold in Gujarat, and having already neutralised the party’s old bosses. What Gandhi could do only after some skilful manoeuvres, Modi did from the start. In time, however, both came to use policy as spectacles that projected the Prime Minister as the embodiment of sovereignty.

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Updated On : 24th Nov, 2017
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