Editorial: India's democracy faces a difficult choice

Why should anyone prefer the untested Rahul Gandhi to the experienced Narendra Modi, when all the former can offer is more of the same? The answer is in the question


With the selection of Narendra Modi as campaign chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party yesterday, the contours of next year’s contest to lead the 21st century superpower that is India are becoming clear. It is all but certain that the tough and business-minded Chief Minister of Gujarat will lead India’s main opposition party into the 2014 general election just as, with a fair degree of certainty, we also know who will run for the ruling Congress Party: the latest scion of the never-ending Gandhi dynasty, Rahul.

Cometh the man, cometh the hour, many say, looking at India’s worryingly long list of economic and social ailments and comparing them to Mr Modi’s tick list of achievements.

The western state of Gujarat has struck gold under the Chief Minister’s watch with  double-digit growth, rising incomes and scores of new businesses, all lured by Mr Modi’s intolerance of corruption and his network of newly built roads and canals. And he has not built without heed to the environment; Mr Modi has covered Gujarat in solar panels.

To many Indians, the man who promises “less government, more governance” deserves a chance to transfer that recipe from one state to  New Delhi. There he talks of shaking up education, selling off state firms, slashing red tape, focusing on key industries like defence and solving at least part of India’s chronic energy problems through solar power. No wonder some see him as Mrs Thatcher incarnate, a bourgeois revolutionary on a mission to realise India’s middle-class destiny.

In competition against the untested Rahul Gandhi, outsiders might be forgiven for thinking that there is no contest. Apart from being blessed with Bollywood looks, Mr Gandhi’s only real qualification to lead India is the fact that he is the son of one prime minister, Rajiv, the grandson of another, Indira, and the great-grandson of India’s independence leader, Jawaharlal Nehru.

His workload, as MP for a safe seat, as leader of Congress’s youth wing and now as the party’s vice-president, has not been onerous and his aptitude for talking in unobjectionable clichés about the multitudinous problems that India faces does nothing to suggest that underneath the bland exterior lie hidden qualities of resourcefulness and originality. Why, then, should anyone prefer Mr Gandhi against Mr Modi, when all that the former can offer is more of the same consensual, secular politics that the Congress Party has made its trademark? That is, in fact, the answer, which may well explain why Mr Gandhi, not Mr Modi, assumes the reins in 2014. 

The Chief Minister of Gujarat, besides a reputation as a champion of business, also has a less desirable reputation as a Hindu chauvinist – a worrying trait in a country as diverse as India. The great blot on his CV is that, as Chief Minister in 2002, he turned a blind eye to a series of anti-Muslim pogroms that claimed over 1,000 lives. A quarter of the victims were Hindus but most were Muslims and, according to Human Rights Watch, state officials and police in Gujarat aided and at times even directed the mobs. No one has suggested Mr Modi started the violence, but he did little to stop it and, significantly, he has neither apologised for what happened under his watch nor even expressed regret.

If the temptation of high office prompts Mr Modi to reflect more ruefully on the horrors of 2002, he may deserve to win next year. If not,  Indians may feel they have to stick with the dynasty and back Mr Gandhi. It is an unenviable choice. But it is up to Mr Modi to make it clearer that he deserves the top job.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

What on earth has happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions