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Narendra Modi vs. AAP: Of constructing roads and delivering pizzas

Monday, 21 April 2014 - 11:29am IST | Agency: dna

Bad roads have come to signify bad governance in metropolises across the country. Perhaps even a bad government. The Congress party seems to appear like these roads – lying in ruins and waiting for some rescue, while others continue to work around its depressing state, with little or no regard. Meanwhile the rhetoric over change has gotten bigger with every passing month over the short span of the last 12-18 months. Lacking political will, governance deficit and corruption have been overstated as the culprits so repetitively that the words themselves cease to have much meaning. They are used to indicate the difference between the roads and highways that we envision to make in modular plans and the state of the urban transportation as we witness every day. Moreover, this gap between the vision and reality is also present in the two alternatives that have emerged in wake of the coming national elections.

The first alternative is premised on the promise of development by Narendra Modi and the second of a takeover of politics by the common man by the AAP; and both these alternatives have come to get support by wide urban constituencies. There could be two possible scenarios of why several in India’s different metropolitan centres seem to be convinced of Modi’s development paradigm or Kejriwal’s vision for change. No matter what their political rhetoric and the wars that the representatives of the two ideas fight every night on primetime news TV, these are not two mutually exclusive groups of ideas – as they are both showcasing that they would bring about structural changes, but in reality seem to be disconnected from the structural realities of society.

A dominant idea of the Modi plan is an aim to create more output driven corporate management structures. The belief is that in more careful management and accountability of the bureaucracy alone would there be results. More governance, less government, he says. Modi’s corporatisation of politics if we may call it that, is not a new stance and has been the right-wing economic or conservative/republican approach since decades, the world over. A recent study points out how the enforcement of corporate structures and jargons over time helps in building a perception of equanimity and neatness, but beneath it lay a long history of formalising and making more rigid the historical inequalities of society. It states that the structure of the modern management practices is in fact, in many ways derivative of the practices of medieval slavery – marking people with ID cards, entry-exit rosters, strict dress codes, even stricter hierarchical structures – embedding class and power in the most intrinsic ways into people’s working lives.

This idea bears resemblance to a pizza delivery system, wherein the service provider promises to reach your pizza order to you within 30 minutes, no matter the speed at which the delivery guy need drive his bike and no matter the casualties arising of this unnecessary rush to consume a pizza. In short, we are headed to a scenario where the ends have become bigger than our means to achieve them. Modi’s scheme just might get the work done and will make sure the pizza gets delivered before the 30 minute bell. But this need not be confused with any complete structural re-orientation and nothing more than a disciplining of processes into strict hierarchies. This schema would also follow the fate of the pizza delivery system, that not only has its share of big casualties, but is also increasingly being accused of perpetuating existing and creating new hierarchies, by classifying neighbourhoods according to ethnicity and withdrawing from delivering to certain ‘dangerous’ neighbourhoods completely. (For a counter argument of less government intervention and more market dynamism, see here)

Similarly if we were to consider Kejriwal’s case, all the humdrum of his resignation and his colourful mufflers apart, it has become really important to see who exactly constitutes this party. The AAP has claimed time and again that it is the party of the ‘ordinary man’, of providing alternatives and of no ideology. It has spoken of representation across the ‘traditional’ labels of caste, class and gender – claiming that these labels mean little to the party of all ordinaries. But the ordinary or the aam is a label in itself. Of course the many middle class professionals who make up the party classify themselves as ordinary with respect to their distance from the privileges of the political class. But this distance is relative. It might stretch one’s imagination a bit - but one can say that there are only degrees of difference when stating that just like some people are able to get a gas connection more easily than others, or some might be able to get their PNR confirmed more easily than others – similarly some might be able to fight (and perhaps even win) elections while there are several others who might not be able to even fathom fighting an election.

A major chunk of the fans of the AAP are from the range of middle classes who had over generations become apathetic to the Indian political system- with several ceasing to vote completely. There might be a counter argument to this - that the party also enjoys great support from classes of auto rickshaw drivers in Delhi for instance. To that, one just has to wonder whether the auto drivers are the people contesting the elections or the volunteers and supporters at rallies, with their middle class masters continuing to claim the right to speak for the former? AAP in a sense then is just replacing the existing ruling class with another layer of the higher classes. It may reduce rigidities within hierarchies and make some groups from the middle classes more upwardly mobile in the political landscape, but it is just that and need not necessarily be seen as a structural overhaul.

The crux of the argument thus is that both the Modi and AAP are waves and not seas of change as are often projected. They seek a replacement and shuffling of people- this is bound to upset some hierarchies, and might perpetuate some existing ones. Both are also equally exaggerated and removed from the ground realities. While Modi’s vision attempts to formulate a clear hierarchy of administration and society, the Kejriwal idea is to endorse a flattened leveled-playing field for all. However, the practical realities of the society are more complex and escape either of the two schemes – and both enforced hierarchi-sation and flattening will not occur without their concomitant ramifications and casualties. Just like the schemes for the super fancy roads and highways that we envision but almost always fail to build, schemes of change that are not rooted in practical realities shall remain just that- mere schemes or temporary tidal waves.