New Delhi: How far do Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi compare, and where do the comparisons end? Since Modi occupies the office which once Mrs Gandhi held, some comparisons are inevitable and may even yield a few similarities. But it is lazy analysis and finally invidious intellectuality to make more of them than are reasonable and warranted.

Mrs Gandhi made India a regional power. The ignominy of 1962 was erased by Lal Bahadur Shastri but the 1965 war was still a stalemated war. By dismembering Pakistan in a just war in 1971 and by enabling the birth of a new nation employing the Soviet Union as a strategic partner, Mrs Gandhi took India to a higher geopolitical orbit.

She followed that up by absorbing Sikkim, integrating the island territories, and by authorizing the first nuclear test in 1974. If the test had been conducted ten or more years prior, India would have been a NPT nuclear power. Jawaharlal Nehru let India down with his poor strategic vision.

Indira Gandhi, however, failed India on other major fronts. Political corruption as we know today commenced in her time. There were the Jeep and Mundhra scandals in the Nehru era but they couldn’t be counted as systemic corruption. Systemic corruption began with the license-permit-quota raj of Mrs Gandhi. She used all means at her disposal to perpetuate her rule. This inevitably led to corrupt dynastic rule. Unchecked by sustained political opposition, it consumed India for more than sixty years, eating into the vitals of the state. It is significant that both demonetizations to fight black money, the present one and the one in 1978, were put into effect by non-Congress governments.

The Emergency was another major blot on Mrs Gandhi’s long rule. Mrs Gandhi’s 16-year reign was actually characterized by drift if you take away headline events like the 1971 war, the 1974 nuclear test, the Sikkim absorption, etc. She did not have a long-term vision for India. Her preoccupation was with herself and her family. In this self-love and obsession for dynasty, she destroyed all democratic institutions, and it was only a matter of time before her authoritarianism went out of control. The end result of this was the Emergency.

The disastrous consequences of the Emergency did not cauterize her basically authoritarian mindset. Seeking vengeance against the Akalis for opposing the Emergency, she ventured into politico-religious misadventure by propping up monsters. The monsters took her down and very nearly sections of the state. If Mrs Gandhi had been engrossed with a serious vision of nation-building, she would have easily escaped the trap of Operation Bluestar. But because she was limited as a politician, and she lacked her father’s charm, intellect and worldly exposure, she carried on dully and left no transformational impact on the country.

Perhaps in the security dimension, there may be likenesses between Mrs Gandhi and Modi. But overall, they cannot be more different. The big difference between the two is that Modi is not a dynast. Mrs Gandhi did not directly succeed Nehru. But he knew enough about her to know she would eventually gather his legacy. In the days and weeks after Nehru’s death, she kept poor Shastri on tenterhooks, and his death at Tashkent could not have come at a more convenient time.

Modi, on the other hand, has risen from nowhere. His off-and-on mentor, Eknath Ranade, was not even mainline RSS, having devoted himself to the lifelong mission of building the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. His emergence from a non-heartland state like Gujarat was most unexpected, and he came to Delhi as a complete outsider. His vote to power was indeed a no-confidence vote against the venal politics of Lutyens’ Delhi, and he has never forgotten his origins.

Narendra Modi is too intelligent to be ideological and he will draw the best from all quarters. He is neither Right nor Left nor Centre. He is pragmatic. He will turn around the public sector and keep disinvestment as the last option. He has no romanticism about poverty and is dead serious to abolish it from the country: This is not Mrs Gandhi’s flirtations with “Garibi Hatao”. He was born in dire poverty and knows more about the poor than most Prime Ministers before him possibly with the exception of H. D. Deve Gowda.

Because he is not a dynast, it follows that everything Modi does is for the country. To be sure, his party benefits from his actions. But he rarely keeps his party in mind when he takes major executive decisions. He did not order surgical strikes because the BJP would benefit: Something needed to be done against Pakistani terrorism. The demonetization has conceivably hurt his party as badly as the others in the opposition. But that didn’t stop him from authorizing it.

Mrs Gandhi was brilliant in the realm of security. However, she ignored or scorned other contributors to security like social and economic investments. Modi has a more rounded and mature approach to these matters. He is entirely geared for India’s rise, which can only happen if India rises on all fronts. To be fair, Mrs Gandhi did not have the benefit of success of the 1991 reforms which Modi has. On the other hand, Manmohan Singh had long been Mrs Gandhi’s economic advisor. Why ever didn’t she think of reforms?

Because Mrs Gandhi prioritized her rule and privileged her family’s control over politics, she gave short shrift to true national interest. She put the dynasty above the country. Since Narendra Modi has no immediate family, that will not happen. Just as he emerged in the BJP in a non-dynastic manner after A. B. Vajpayee, so will someone else after him. Such will be the course of Indian politics in the foreseeable future. Mrs Gandhi is rapidly becoming a footnote in history. Henceforth, non-dynasts will occupy pride of place.