Indian political scenario has witnessed a sea change in the last more than fifty years, especially after Independence. Some say it reflects the change in aspirations of the polity that is the people. However, this is not peculiar to India. The world over this change can be seen. One important change is the political leadership, and the style of functioning. Political leadership is increasingly becoming devoid of ideological content. There is now an element of generality in every leadership, belonging to any party, region or country. Considering this situation, it becomes imperative to compare political leadership. This comparison is also necessitated because of the present conditions. Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu represent this change of leadership style in their particular era. In both of their times, poverty has been on the rise, widening gap between rich and the poor, and accumulation of wealth at particular levels. There was a ‘threat’ to each of their political careers, and their responses have been the same and also different.
There are lots of things common among them. Both of them are autocratic, in the party and also in the governance. They have always never allowed anybody to speak except themselves. They ruled with an ‘iron’ hand, and talked very emphatically. However, both of them were vulnerable, like any dictator, always living under the fear that they will be thrown out. This fear psychosis prevented them from confiding in anybody, not to trust anybody. However, their ‘policies’ and responses are different. While Indira Gandhi nationalized major financial institutions, reflecting the supremacy of ideology in political decisions then, today, Naidu talks of privatization of everything reflecting the void in political decisions. Indira Gandhi tried to be populistic, Naidu armed with modern communication facilities is trying to popularize his approaches by adopting Goebbels strategy. Despite the ‘best’ strategies of both these leaders to hoodwink the democratic processes, both of them could not prevent dissent and revolt. Ultimately, Indira Gandhi had to impose emergency to safeguard her rule, which became her undoing. Naidu is using police, repression, secrecy, and media to browbeat democratic aspirations and processes. It is already becoming apparent that it would not be easy for him in future, and is looking into angry faces both in the party and society. Ms. Gandhi and Naidu both tried to take support from outside, and always wanted ‘certificates’ from everybody. They went to any length to win accolades and praises. While Indira Gandhi talked about Garibi Hatao, Naidu is bent upon ‘Garib ko hatao’.
Chandra Babu Naidu’s rule is coming under increasing scrutiny by supporters and adversaries. Supporters of his ‘policies’ have been looking at his leadership as a model, while adversaries are critical about the impact of his policies on the polity. His strengths so far has been his ability to utilise the media, Corporate power and the World Bank. This is a powerful combination with which he is able to fend off any criticism. Added to this, he promoted himself as a messaiah, talking of all the ‘good’ things in life. A novel approach, this has endeared him to the middle class and upper middle class sections. These sections have been ‘vexed’ by the vote politics and quibblings of other politicians and parties. Shrewd as he is, Naidu has always been careful not to antagonize these classes in his speeches and public posturing. He became a champion of modern, sophisticated technologies which made him a dear boy of middle classes and upcoming millionaire classes.
Modern communication mediums like newspapers and Televisions, full of middle class people, have been very supportive of his programmes, irrespective of the quality of their implementation. A feature of his time is that today politicians are now falling over each other to be seen in the company of big corporate leaders, unlike in the past, where meetings with them were almost private. Today, a politician with a vision is one who can be accepted by the corporate leaders in their clubs and meetings. It is increasingly becoming apparent that government policies are being framed in the corporate boardrooms than in Secretariat and legislature. Unlike the previous generation of politicians, Naidu is ‘openly’ championing the corporate interests in the name of globalisation and liberalization. The financial muscle of World Bank and other multilateral institutions can be clearly seen in the promotion of Naidu as ‘leader with a vision’. Principal support for him, not surprisingly, is only from outside. Today, a common man is not in a position to understand this web of deceit in the politics and policies, leave alone providing an opinion on the rule of Mr. Naidu. They are merely awed by the publicity he receives, but never misled by the ground realities of raising prices, increasing crime, deteriorating law and order, drought and water shortages, and unemployment.
Meanwhile, the World Bank through an army of consultancies and consultancy firms is ready to help Naidu by churning out studies and performance reports which show his policies in favorable light. Thus, the AP economy continues to be ‘bright’ while there are suicides and hunger deaths. World Bank-led reforms in power and irrigation sectors have nowhere been able to deliver the services promised in terms of efficiency and quality. But, people have now to pay for the same mediocre services through their noses. Tail end farmers are yet to be assured of irrigation water, under any dispensation, but the water cess has increased many more times. Consumers of electricity have to pay inflated bills, while there is no assurance of assured power supply. Overall, the mark of Naidu’s rule on APs economy is so deep that there are more number of people looking for employment, more industries are being closed down, more number of farmers are committing suicides, more number of people are being killed by police, or lathicharged, and there are more number of poor people and lesser number of millionaires. His vision of Swarna Andhra Pradesh helps a few sections of contractors, politicians, officials and consultants, while millions of children are under the threat of losing their vision due to malnutrition and food insecurity.
Overall, there can be no comparison between Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu, basically because of their personalities, times and circumstances. Yet history, past and recent, has proved time and again that ultimately people and the democratic institutions will prevail over every powerful combination of vested interests. It is just a matter of time. Personalities never mattered before or even now.