Today, from various quarters, I hear about the comparison between Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Imran Khan. Since the subcontinent is having its own bouts of democracy these days, such comparisons have become common. The primary reason for the comparison is the vigorous and over enthusiastic presence of their supporters and their campaign machinery on social media. Besides this, the comparison emanates from the nature of support base for both of them. It has been observed and alleged that they are primarily middleclass heroes. They are the ones with whom middle class, with all its ambitions, reservations, confusions and self-serving presumptions can identify with. The overarching presence of social media in their campaign machinery has brought them more or less in the same league.
But, I feel that these similarities are superficial and they end here. One need not draw too many political theories and conclusions about political processes, developments and thoughts from this superficial and the so-called digital cloud which hides the reality.
As far as support base is concerned Mr. Khan could purely be categorized as a middleclass candidate but Mr. Modi is much more than a middleclass hero. He is a trained RSS (Rashtriya Svayasewak Sangh) cadre who has spent years, spreading Hindutva ideology and, doing social work in rural areas, among the tribal community. So, he possesses a great understanding of rural society, its concerns and culture. His supporters, not only in Gujarat, but also in other states of India have strong rural base. He is a quite popular character in rural areas of India. The imagery, examples used by him in his election speeches and political rhetoric are often reflective of his rural experience and connect with the masses. Besides this, there is an additional reason for his support in rural areas. Mr. Modi’s support and popularity emanates from two sources: a) His governance model and development initiatives; b) Hindutva ideology, brilliantly spiced with rousing communal rhetoric.
In urban areas, Modi Ji is better known for his polarizing agenda, dictatorial approach and efficient governance. The urban middle-class, though likes him for his smart and high-tech governance, but it also has some soft corner, if not for his communal and hatred agenda, then at the least for his nationalist, pro-hindutva ideology and his opposition to extreme minority appeasement. In rural areas his efficient governance model (real or hyped: that needs to be investigated) may not be that popular but, without doubt there is a big constituency for Hindutva ideology. In addition to this the farmers have lately started identifying Mr. Modi with 24 hr. electricity, excellent agricultural extension facilities and a helpful bureaucracy.
I have often observed in my personal conversations with the people of Gujarat, from all the communities, that they neglect his polarizing agenda for his efficient government. Even the Muslims of Gujrat have opined, in my personal interactions with them, their preference for Mr. Modi.
The next important issue regarding middleclass support base is the role, nature and strength of middleclass in both the countries. In India, compared to Pakistan role played by middle-class in political processes and economy is much more significant than the one played by its counterpart in Pakistan. The nature of middleclass, its voting behavior is different in both the countries.
In Pakistan, the middleclass apparently is not committed to democracy the way Indian middleclass is. It often indulges in romancing with dictatorial utopias and corruption-free bacchanalias. Its support for Imran Khan was not, because of any love for democracy but, because of a certain image i.e. of an honest, handsome and promising man with solutions for all the ills of Pakistani society and polity, which Mr. Khan projected against the corrupt and status-quoist government of Zardari Sahib. This support comes out of the tendency to look outward for all the solutions. It comes out of the psyche of waiting for avatars (incarnations) to solve your issues, when talking actions on your own gets you out of your comfort zone, physically as well as mentally. Then the middleclass do not play a very important role on opinion making and government decisions. It does not have a strong impact of government policy.
On the other hand, Indian middleclass has no demonstrated love for any form of dictatorship. Indira ji’s emergency taught the lessons of dictatorship to Indian middleclass. There all fantasies of dictatorial utopias vanished with that dark phase of Indian democracy. In spite of the fact that Indian middleclass wants efficient and quick-decision making government, it shows no penchant for any dictatorships. The anti-emergency protests were led by middle-class student groups and leaders. Indian middleclass is the bedrock of India’s political and economic growth. This major presence in the political and economic growth scenario could be traced to a different growth trajectory that the political and economic institutions took place in India.
Hence an outright comparison between the two, without taking into account the contextual factors, will be meaningless. Nevertheless, broadly speaking we can say that the two sets of ‘Imran khan-Pakistani middleclass’ and ‘Narendra Modi-Indian middleclass’ should be seen and analyzed in more detail, capturing those nuances and subtle features which arise out of broader socio-economic and political forces and the course of development these institutions took in these two countries. A comparison based on literal or conventional understanding of the terms would be superficial and misleading. Therefore the origin, attitude, nature and the role of middleclass in both the countries needs to be studied in more detail
Besides this, it is not the case that entire middleclass uniformly supports Modi ji. A major section especially the intelligentsia does not approve of the polarizing policies and communal ideology of Mr. Modi. There are several other chasms. The middleclass is divided along the lines of caste, community and ideology. Even among Muslims there is a strong middleclass and surprisingly even in that group, one can very often find Modi supporters.
Both the leaders have glaring differences in their personalities. Mr. Modi has led a religious, regimented life of a Sangh worker, steeped in Hindutva ideology. He has been trained and has retained his own strains of fanaticism from Sangh background. On the other hand, Mr Imran Khan has led a very, flamboyant, and glamorous life, basking in the limelight of cricket and his adventures with white beauties. There is slight funny, comparison which can be drawn. People like Mr. Imran Khan have already been through the ‘Jannat’(heaven) promised by religious scriptures, where as people like Mr. Modi are in the preparatory stage for the so called ‘Indralok’(Hindu notion of heaven) or ‘Jannat’. Despite being at two opposite ends, still there is something that connects them!!!!!
Besides this, Mr. Modi has served almost three terms as chief minister so he is a well trained politician in realpolitik, where as Imran khan has no actual experience of being in power. He still dwells in the comfort zone of a naïve and moth-eaten visionary, confused between the idealism, pragmatism, religious fundamentalism, opportunism and of course, last but not the least ‘pleasure…ism’. His development agenda based on ‘Bihar model’ and his panacea to tackle fundamentalism by appeasing Taliban smacks of sheer immaturity and lack of understanding.
Basically, the societal contexts in which the two leaders are operating are very different. In Pakistan, the issues of development and corruption are not the real issues. Mr. Imran khan has not been able to identify the real issues impacting and dismantling that society. Those real issues are religious fundamentalism and its increasing and over-arching presence, devastating almost all the political, social and cultural institutions and the last remnants of state power and legitimacy.
The society in which Mr. Modi flourished i.e. Gujarat is also a highly communal one, but its, more important concerns are material prosperity and economic growth. So, in that society the issues of development, corruption and effective governance are the real issues and State government’s better performance on those fronts won support and nation-wide popularity for Mr. Modi. All over the country, not just middleclass but people from all classes, communities and backgrounds now feel connected with these issues. In fact in Indian politics these days, the trend is not of ideologies but substantial developments.
The days of dreamy ideologies, religious passions and narrow minded caste fraternities are more or less gone. This is the reason why Mr. Nitish Kumar has been successful in Bihar. If not Mr. Modi anyone who has proved himself as pro economic reforms and efficient administrator would have been able to woo the masses.
In the light of above analysis, I prefer to conclude that Mr. Modi’s electoral future could most certainly be very different from that of Khan Sahib. The current state of affairs in India is marked by status-quoism, complete policy paralysis and corruption, demands a leader who means business and efficiency. Hence in spite of intense hatred for his communal ideologies the sections of intelligentsia has also started nurturing hopes in Modi ji. They have seen a government full of brightest intellectuals performing worse on the front of governance so now the search is for sound and effective leadership.