Arrogance is going to win this election in India. As to who loses, well, I would rather trust a roadside card-reading parrot before a psephologist. But arrogance comes in all styles and flavours. The most obvious is the Narendra Modi brand of arrogance and that of his ‘followers’. The Gujarat chief minister luckily suffers from no sense of irony as he discusses his 56 inch chest and how that is going to save India from all its woes.
Modi can change history and geography with impunity and can churn out little nuggets of nothingness to send his corporate and middle class supporters into paeans of ecstasy: The four Ps of development, the two Ms of chocolate, the three Is of I, Me, Myself and so on. His confidence includes changing Alexander’s Indian itinerary, shifting the location of ancient universities, confusing a Congress freedom fighter from Gujarat with the founder of the Jan Sangh (seen as a forerunner of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party by the way) from Bengal and sending a famous revolutionary Bhagat Singh to jail on an island of Modi’s choice.
Modi’s many followers see all this as proof of Modi’s manliness — facts are nothing when faced with the Modi juggernaut. Critics who discuss riots, fake encounters and stalking are dismissed with what they deserve: silence. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. Development data which counters his campaign’s versions are also ignored.
And if you mockingly call him a ‘tea vendor’, why he immediately starts teatime discussions on television.
Modi has been chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001. But he is matched in the arrogance stakes by Arvind Kejriwal who was chief minister for 24 minutes, hours, days, something like that. Do not let his favourite muffler fool you. When Kejriwal roars, TV studios shiver and the BJP’s campaign managers run to rework their calculations.
This is the arrogance of allegations. Arvind Kejriwal’s pet themes are: Ambani and Adani run everything. (This is a clear insult to the Ambanis who definitely run more things than the Adanis.) The media is controlled by them. The media says nothing about Modi, Ambani and Adani. And the media will be jailed when the Aam Aadmi Party comes to power. Kejriwal’s arrogance is novel because he is not a career politician and does not follow all the rules correctly. He is also self-righteous. He hammers on about corruption and has all the answers so doesn’t need your questions.
However, unlike Modi, he does not run away from interviews, so will speak quite charmingly with a toothy smile to journalists before rushing off to make speeches about how he will imprison said journalists. He has never mentioned his chest size so his arrogance evidently knows no bounds.
Then there is the most peculiar arrogance of all: The arrogance of Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. Indications are that the Congress is prepared to sit this election out in its usual arrogant manner, waiting for the opposition to collapse as it often does. But Gandhi says the Congress will win 200 seats. This is arrogance of the wishful thinking kind ... or is it? Maybe he has a better parrot than most psephologists. Maybe he has a better sense of irony than Modi. And maybe it’s not arrogance at all. We’ll have to ask that TV interviewer. The one Gandhi didn’t walk out of.
And then, how can I forget the best of the bunch? What you ask, better than Modi, Kejriwal and what’s-is-name? I give you the two most formidable names in Indian politics — J Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee. Jayalalithaa is Tamil Nadu and Tamil Nadu is Jayalalithaa and that is the price of naming your son Stalin. Jayalalithaa is also table fans, mixer-grinders, laptops, bicycles and a ticket to reasonably priced delicious idlis. Mamata Banerjee may have been dumped by Anna Hazare but so what? She is the ultimate common man, long before Arvind Kejriwal decided he was one.
She single-handedly destroyed the might of the Left in West Bengal, has no need for Stalin or his friends (not the Tamil Nadu Stalin, the other one) and hasn’t had to do anything ever since then.
Though to be fair to her, nor have the rest of them. Arrogance it seems will see them through. And you.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona