Friday, January 17, 2014

BJP strategy: Older, wiser Modi versus immature, youthful Rahul, Kejriwal

New Delhi: It seems that BJP eggheads are thinking hard to formulate that would leverage party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, who is 63, against potential rivals, Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, who is 42, and AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is 46. The age gap between Modi and Gandhi is 22 years, and that between Modi and Kejriwal 16 years. One of the think-tankers of the party speaking on condition of anonymity has argued that every time a young leader took over the reins of power, it has been quite a disaster.

The examples followed. Rajiv Gandhi, the youngest prime minister at 40, brought doom on Congress party after an unprecedented massive majority, and ever since the Congress has not managed even a simple majority after that. The most recent examples of inexperienced youth raising expectations only to turn out to be big disappointments are Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah of National Conference, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

They have shown that they do not have the maturity to deal with complex situations. It was also pointed out that the first time Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, they were young and could not manage. Maywati was 39, and Mulayam Singh Yadav 50 in their stint as chief ministers.

In contrast, the examples of older folk at the helm who managed the show with impressive competence were that of P.V.Narasimha Rao, who managed the turbulent early Nineties which marked economic collapse, caste turmoil of Mandal politics and the communal frenzy of the Ayodhya issue, followed by that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who steered the NDA through the shoals of coalition politics. Both Rao and Vajpayee were over 70 when they became prime ministers. There is a grudging admiration even for Manmohan Singh, another man over 70 who became prime minister.

BJP’s conclusion: no one who is below 60 should be given the highest position of power. Modi’s passes the age test because he is 63. It would seem that the BJP is making a virtue of necessity because the party’s Generation Next is now above 60, including leaders of opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and party president Rajnath Singh. Swaraj and Jaitley are 62, Rajnath Singh is 63, former party president M.Venkaiah Naidu 64.

The BJP is of course walking a tight rope. It is very much aware that the country’s demography points to a younger electorate, but it is taking the conservative position that older and experienced people need to lead from top positions because India is a difficult country to manage. It is being argued that in a developed country like the United States, it is possible to have a president of the country who is in his 40s or 50s because there the systems are in place and all that the chief executive of the country has to do is to function like a chief executive officer of a private company.

In India, the situation is different, where diverse and opposing groups have to be managed, and contradictory situations have to be handled, and you need experience, patience to do so. Youthful enthusiasm is a disadvantage for a leader at the top. The BJP think-tanker was cautious enough to clarify that only the top positions of leadership should be given to the experienced folk and the qualifying age mark should not be less than 60.

Battle 2014 could very well be one between those in the 60s -- the present-day top rung in the BJP, and those in their 40s and 30s in the Congress and in AAP, led by Gandhi and Kejriwal. The demographic equation is being turned upside down in a way. Instead of a young leader for a young nation, the BJP is making the argument that a young nation is in need of an experienced leader.

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