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Big ideas? Don’t hold your breath

Narendra Modi says that we will take a tough stand with China. Are we in a position to do so? Rahul Gandhi talks of the ISI reaching out to our youth? Does he have any proof? Chanakya writes.

columns Updated: Nov 02, 2013 23:52 IST

I wonder if our main pugilists in the ring for Election 2014, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, have read the works of Goethe.

I raise the question because both of them seem to be following one of his famous dictums, “When ideas fail, words come in handy.” I don’t need to tell you that Modi is a compelling orator. Rahul speaks from his heart though he is not the orator Modi is. Both are in rally mode. Modi’s Patna rally is being compared to the crowds that Jayaprakash Narayan would draw in his heyday.

Rahul has been no slouch on the rally front too.

But, can you tell me what you have come away with from listening to either of these leaders? Modi has told us in eloquent detail how the shahzada (his moniker for Rahul) has no ideas, no interests beyond the dynasty, how the PM has no courage to stand up to China and Pakistan, how the UPA 2 has let the country go down the tube. All with some merit I might add.

Now let us look at Rahul. He has told us that his grandmother and father were victims of hatred. He says the BJP fosters communal hatred, he tells us that the Congressman stands for the weak, whether rich or poor, and that his mother has told him to tell us his stories and not hers. Great, we are listening.

While all this makes for splendid photo ops — the muscular and thundering Modi, the clean cut, long suffering young Rahul — what do they have in store for us? We were aghast when Modi expressed the view that foreign policy could be handled by the states, we were equally appalled when Rahul blithely spoke of the ISI getting in touch with youth in Muzaffarnagar after the riots.

Comparisons are odious, but I have to raise the example of the United States here. Though its system is different from ours, the people get to know in great detail the views of the main candidates on issues of foreign policy, internal security, the economy, gay rights, what have you. Many feel that the gaffe-prone Sarah Palin did much damage to John McCain’s presidency bid.

But here, where the winner will take charge of the lives of a billion plus people, we know very little about what either candidate, if indeed Rahul is going to lead the charge for the Congress, thinks on crucial subjects.

Foreign policy has a direct bearing on trade relations, which have a bearing on the economy. India is trying to showcase its economy as a major factor for it to be considered in the league of the big boys. Modi has told of the wonders he has performed in Gujarat. We applaud him. But traditionally, Gujarat has been a business-friendly state.

Modi is a one stop shop, so given the incentives he offers, he is bound to get business investment. But an India ruled by a coalition with differing economic ideologies is a different kettle of fish.

Rahul’s view on either foreign policy or the economy is still hidden to us. But from the way he has been espousing the UPA’s social welfare schemes, I will assume that he is cast in the socialist mould. Much like his mother. But, while there is no disputing that the poor need food and work, they equally need the skills to stand on their own feet and not be forever dependent on government doles. So does Rahul have any new age ideas on how to generate employment, on how to make our youth more productive? Does he have the Big Idea?

Then there is the issue of terror which raised its ugly head in Patna just before Modi’s rally. It is a major issue and India is a target of jihadis of several hues.

Neither has spoken about whether they will tackle the issue or indeed how they will do so. Internal insurgency has also become a major headache. Do our two contenders have any views on this? If so, I haven’t heard them.

I am not trying to be a Cassandra here. I am just saying that it is not enough to talk of history or the faults of each other. India needs direction, good governance and a reason to believe in the political system again. Name-calling doesn’t do it for anyone anymore.

Holding mega rallies is good for television cameras but equally important should be the sum and substance of the speeches. They must not cater to the lowest common denominator.

Modi says that we will take a tough stand with China. Are we in a position to do so? What exactly does ‘a tough stand’ mean? Rahul talks of the ISI reaching out to our youth? Does he have any proof?

The words of our future leaders, if they are to be that, must be measured, they must carry gravitas and they must not become the subject of instant controversies.

Of course, it is not just Modi and Rahul who have succumbed to the lure of the thoughtless sound byte. Our other leaders are not much better. Samajwadi party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had threatened to hold a rally bigger than Modi’s.

As if this was an end in itself. In the end, the rally was not quite of Modi proportions, but again, did not yield anything substantial except a lot of posturing by the Yadav chieftain. There has to be something more substantive than huge rallies and hyperbole. Young India needs new ideas, new messages and new reasons for hope. Covering up the paucity of ideas with words is to insult the intelligence of the Indian people.