The Gujarat Snoopgate can play out three ways. In two variations Amit Shah may be guilty. In the third version Modi himself may be the culprit.
Amit Shah was either acting, at the behest of Modi, to help the woman’s father keep track of his daughter or was personally interested in the woman himself. The first is a quaintly “Indian”, fatherly action, which no one will lose much sleep over, even though it violates the basic governance principle that public resources not be used for private purposes. So, no surprises that the BJP has adopted this strategy for damage control. The majority of parents (though fewer of young people) would want a Chief Minister, so accommodating, resulting in a possible self-goal for the Congress if this turns out to be true.
If Shah had a personal interest in the woman and used “sahebs” name only for giving the unusual surveillance request, some political gravitas, it speaks poorly of the governance systems in the Gujarat government, but is still not a major issue for the BJP. Shah can be jettisoned, with not many in the BJP shedding a tear.
It is the third variation which could be the thorn in the BJPs flesh. If “saheb” actually has a personal interest in the woman, it would severely tarnish Modi’s Brahmachari image (Bhenji, Didi, Rahul and Amma have similar celibacy status). He would not be the first to “keep watch” over a significant other. Why he didn’t do it with his own money is a mystery, but then the distinction between public and private resources is very blurred in India not least due to the “beacon and security” culture.
Those doing “public service” jobs feel entitled to have the State as their nanny. This is common in revolutionary movements where resources are scarce and “moneybags” informally finance the movement. Gandhi lived simply, but it cost the State and the Birla group, a fortune to maintain the environment around his simple life-style, though undoubtedly this money was well spent. It is difficult, but those who work 24X7 for the public should not fall into the trap of assuming that their private life and their public work are coterminous.
If Modi fell into this trap, he must accept it and atone publicly by resigning his position and submitting himself to criminal indictment. Even if he is innocent, he has no option but to recuse himself from the CMs position, till an independent probe has cleared him.
In an unrelated but similar development the Aam Admi Party manifesto for the Delhi elections was released and Anna lambasted Kejriwal for misappropriating money collected for his movement.
The AAP manifesto was a huge disappointment! It promises free water, a 50% reduction in electricity tariffs, an increase in the supply of renewable energy (never mind that this would increase, not decrease, the cost of electricity supply and bankrupt the government), more legislation, a Lokpal (as if we don’t have enough oversight institutions). It demonstrates complete ignorance of governance arrangements in Delhi. It is full of “mother hood” statements and misleading, unrealistic promises with scant regard for their fiscal sustainability, economic efficiency or indeed their welfare benefits. Do the poor in Delhi want free water? Kejriwal should know that the poor never look for handouts. The poor are not beggars. They are value shoppers, as C.K. Prahalad taught us. They are used to paying for what they consume. It is the rich who look ceaselessly for freebies. What the poor want are jobs, protection from human rights abuses, access to good education, clean water and in times of distress and affordable health care.
The AAP manifesto proves what we already know. Kejriwal is a well-intentioned man but he, like Modi, is just one man without a party. Sans their good governance stance they are nothing.
Kejriwal tried to develop his party overnight. His political naiveté led to overextending himself by growing too fast and too loosely. The supporters he attracts are bound only by the glue of “change for clean politics”. They have very different views on what to do once they get into power. Hence the hopelessly inconsistent and regressive manifesto, promising permanent jobs for sanitation workers (to appease Dalits) and drivers in the government managed bus transport service (to appease Harayanwis), user charge concessions for special groups, special protection for Muslims against unfair criminal indictment, roll back of the University’s new, four year Bachelors program (to appease teachers) and other such “goodies”.
None of these proposed actions are reminiscent of the Disruptive Innovator Kejriwal once was. At some point, you have to transition to being a mainstreamed politician with an agenda for the post-change period which hangs together. In the case of the AAP, a brand new party, the speed and degree to which it has succumbed to political cynicism, “pork barrel” politics and identity politics is extreme and hence rankles. Kejriwal has already joined the ranks of those he once despised.
Modi is a RSS man but he knows that India’s needs are bigger than the narrow agenda of the RSS. His problem is how to shake the RSS off and yet have a field cadre left to fight the 2014 elections with. One hopes that he will continue to humour the past in Nagpur but reach out to India’s future elsewhere. Young Indians are not looking for a foster father in Modi. All they care about is growth, jobs, the economic freedom to innovate and the social space to forge a new Indian identity unrestrained by our obvious diversity of caste, religion and culture.
Kejriwal’s mentor Anna is hopelessly antiquated, but provides a “mask of morality” in these amoral times. Kejriwal desperately needs this link since the rag tag bunch around him, are unlikely to do much for his image of public propriety. He is doing the politically astute thing of being publicly “hurt”, at the allegations of impropriety, randomly hurled at him by his mentor, but privately relieved, that he doesn’t have to live under the same roof as Anna any more……as are many Kejriwal supporters.
Both Modi and Kejriwal need to change in the run up to 2014. Modi needs to loosen up, unbend and descend from the clouds of celibate power and walk-the-talk by going through an “agni pariksha” (trial by fire). If he is innocent this can will only boost his image. If he is guilty he cannot hope to become PM in any case, so he may as well come clean and live to fight another day. Voters admire Saints, but they also like human beings and accept their trespasses, so long as their own self-interest is preserved. What they don’t like are falsehoods. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Accept your limitations honestly and don’t light fires you can’t extinguish.