Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal: Soul brothers under the skin

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February 17, 2015

When Arvind Kejriwal faced off against Narendra Modi in Varanasi it was the climactic blockbuster of a high-adrenaline election. Groups of BJP workers roamed the city on motorbikes, saffron scarves streaming behind them shouting Har Har Modi.

February 17, 2015

When Arvind Kejriwal faced off against Narendra Modi in Varanasi it was the climactic blockbuster of a high-adrenaline election. Groups of BJP workers roamed the city on motorbikes, saffron scarves streaming behind them shouting Har Har Modi.

AAP volunteers gathered at street corners chanting "Abhi toh Sheila haari hain. Ab Modi ka baari hain." Modi won that round. Handily.

In Delhi this time around Modi was not on the ballot but his prestige was and Arvind Kejriwal gave the PM's prestige quite a bloody nose. The man derided as Bhagoda and AK-49 turned out to be a giant killer after all.

This is not the end of the story. Both will live to fight another round whether it's head to head or via proxies. But what's much more intriguing is that in victory, Kejriwal seems to have borrowed more than a few leaves from his bête noire's playbook.

The Muffler Man and the ten-lakh-rupee suit might be cut from very different cloth but their styles of functioning are starting to look eerily similar.

Unlike Modi, Kejriwal did not have to fight his way to the top of his party. The Aam Aadmi Party was essentially his creation and he did not have to push aside an LK Advani to become his party's candidate for the top job. But like Modi he has been ruthless in eliminating rivals and colleagues. Shazia Ilmi quit the party complaining about lack of inner party democracy and dictatorial style of functioning. Shanti Bhushan too complained about the lack of internal democracy. Like Advani, Kejriwal too had a miffed party elder in Anna Hazare but he refused to back down. Most other AAP leaders of any stature have been sidelined now or deserted the party fearing the ship was sinking… Had Kejriwal lost this election, it would have been hard for him to claw back into the race again but now after his big victory all bets are off. Now he is back in the game and just as Modi has Amit Shah as his strategist by his side, Kejriwal has Yogendra Yadav thereby turning Indian politics into a fascinating doubles game.

But the parallels between Kejriwal and Modi are far more deliberate than the trajectory of their rise to the top of their parties.

While Shashi Tharoor might have been the pioneer when it comes to politicians and Twitter, Kejriwal and Modi have certainly both used social media like an instrument of war. It has allowed them to bypass traditional media and turn their Twitter accounts into a way to directly reach their followers. Modi always had a difficult relationship with media post the Gujarat riots. Kejriwal was a media darling who then fell out with the media. His initial Delhi dialogue in his comeback bid in October 2014 got no live coverage writes anchor Rajdeep Sardesai. But Sardesai writes "The mainstream media's ambivalence to Kejriwal didn't matter. The AAP leader had gone over our heads, effectively used social media, but most importantly, gone directly to those who really mattered: the voter!" That's a strategy Modi understands well.

While Kejriwal does not Instagram yet, he is happy to use his Twitter account not just to share policy proposals but as his health bulletin.

Fever gone.Feeling much better. Restarted daily morn walk n yoga, which had stopped due to elections.My 1st day in office 2day. Do pray 4 me

– Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) February 16, 2015

Whether CM Kejriwal will start tagging celebrities and Twitterati for his campaigns like PM Modi remains to be seen. And if Narendra Modi had his Mann ki Baats to be his heart-to-heart with the people, Kejriwal also started using the radio not just for ads but as a forum for live chats with the people.

Now as CM, the parallels are even more striking. If Modi wants to be the people's sewak, Kejriwal is happy to be the "voice of the people" and let the profession of humility fool no one about the sizes of the egos involved. As their rise has shown, neither man brooks nonsense or has much appetite for opposition.

Kejriwal might hold no portfolios himself, unlike Modi, but make no mistake the CMO is the new PMO.

NDTV says Kejriwal seems all set to emulate the Modi style of governance. He plans to assemble experts who will be the nerve centre of his government. Earlier Kejriwal too had asked top bureaucrats to present their roadmaps to him. Clearly both Kejriwal and Modi understand that the need of the hour is put forth an appearance of efficiency and streamlined operations where bureaucrats report on time, single window clearance is the norm and there is an appearance of things on the move. They did not move fast enough to help the BJP in this election but that is the problem of oversell.

These similarities are not that surprising despite their mahayudh. During the last Delhi elections a CNN-IBN/CSDS poll had found more than half of those who preferred Kejriwal as their CM candidate wanted Modi as their PM candidate. Both had carefully built up images as the outsider to the Lutyens elite who would create a more transparent and efficient society for the aam aadmi.

S A Aiyar calls Modi and Kejriwal two sides of the same coin.

Both are widely seen as strong leaders who will end the old corrupt politics and deliver good governance. Both are admired as alpha males who act swiftly and decisively (and so are also called authoritarian and dictatorial). Both are crowd pleasers and charismatic spinners of dreams. But the media has highlighted their many differences much more than their similarities.

And in victory, at least initially both are trying to appear statesmanlike. If Modi scored a coup by calling the leaders of neighboring countries to his swearing-in, Kejriwal is buttressing his aam aadmi street cred by inviting one and all to Ram Lila for his. But more importantly just as post-victory Modi extended his courtesies to former foes like the Gandhis and Dr. Singh, Kejriwal too has invited his big sister turned foe Kiran Bedi to his ceremony. Bedi incidentally was not invited to the BJP meeting to discuss the party's poll debacle.

What this all really points to is a new breed of modern politician in India – one that's more technology-savvy and understands that while the business of government remains the same, the way of doing business needs to change. Government must appear streamlined, transparent and efficient. It's not that Kejriwal emulates Modi or Modi emulates Kejriwal but basically they are both following very similar new management guides to the art of the politics.

Now if Kejriwal can only refrain from co-opting and rebranding national holidays a la Modi. Otherwise Delhi-wallas might wake up to Holi suddenly becoming Anti-Bhrastachar Diwas.


Courtesy: Firstpost