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Race for 7 Race Course Road

Himanshu Shekhar for BeyondHeadlines

Although the general elections are 26 months away but the race for the prime job of the Indian democratic system has begun. The country is witnessing a neck to neck fight in BJP for becoming next Prime Minister Candidate. The tussle is growing by the passing of each day. Same is true for Congress. We all are aware with the fact that incumbent Manmohan Singh is playing his last inning as the Prime Minister of the country. It is believed that the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi is not in a haste to take over Manmohan Singh. In case of Rahul’s denial, senior leaders of the oldest party of India are looking forward with some hope to get the top job. On the other hand, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar seems to be in the race of leading the country from New Delhi. Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamta Banerjee and Orissa’s Chief Minister Navin Patnaik are new entrant in the growing list of probable prime minister.

Let’s begin with the curious case of Congress. It’s a well know fact that the important decisions in Congress come from Sonia Gandhi, the party president and more importantly the super Prime Minister. Keeping this thing in mind, most of the Congress leaders love to ferry around Sonia Gandhi because they know very well that in current Congress, power lies at one place and that is none other than Sonia Gandhi. Congress sources are saying the Gandhi family heir Rahul Gandhi is not ready to handle the pressure of prime job. However, the leaders like Digvijay Singh, a Congress General Secretary and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, are repeatedly trying to convince Rahul to go ahead and run for the post of Prime Minister. But, Rahul does not finds himself capable of taking the strenuous job.

There are two reasons behind this approach. First, the much hyped Rahul magic is exposed in different states of country. In a political system, one has to prove his impact and relevance with electoral gains. Till now, Rahul has not performed well on that front. He was campaigning aggressively in Bihar polls and even invited tainted leaders to his camp but the performance of Congress is at its worst. He tried his hand in other state too but always came back with no gain for his party. Although wherever he goes, the spate of people follows but coming to see scion of Gandhi family and casting vote on the appeal of the person are very different things.

The second reason is the experience of Uttar Pradesh. Rahul is eyeing to revive the party in UP. Even he launched Mission-2012 for party. He comes in parliament from Amethi and trying hard to develop his clout in whole state. Even he took yatra path to gain momentum but Anna Hazare agitation on the issue of graft has punctured the Rahul’s mission. The discourse has changed. Now, people are talking about scams and corruption and in that case they are not going to vote in favour of Congress because the party led UPA government at centre appears to be main villain in the eyes of a common man.

The politics of UP is driven by cast factor and on this front Congress has limited options to challenge Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. On the other hand, multi-starrer BJP is also ready to give stiff competition to Congress. BJP is also trying hard to increase its political stake in UP in 2012 and the inclusion of expelled Uma Bharti, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and Sanjay Joshi. Both of these leaders are working in UP to regain the lost political ground of party. Rahul seems to be aware of the possible result of 2012 and he appears to be convinced that there will be no major gain for Congress in UP assembly elections. It may be a reason of the politically incorrect comment of Union Minister and Congress MP from Kanpur Sriprakash Jaiswal regarding the imposition of president rule in India’s most populous state, in case of hung assembly. SP scion Akhilesh Yadav was quick to cash Jaiswal’s loose comment by saying that this comment is the result of frustration and the Congress has virtually accepted their loss in UP. Senior political analysts are of the view that there will be no major gain in UP at least for Congress.

If it happens, although it is unavoidable, it could be seen as failure of Rahul Gandhi and in that case he is not going to be a good candidate for the post of Prime Minister in 2014 parliamentary elections. Senior leaders of Congress are aware with the fact. So, they are vying to get the attention and nod of Sonia Gandhi for their candidature to lead the next government. According to Congress sources, there are two main groups. One is of Digvijay Singh and second is of P. Chidambaram, Union Home Minister. And a section of senior leaders are with Pranab Mukherjee, Union Finance Minister. It’s a well known fact that Digvijay is very close to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand, Chidambaram is considered as a close confidant of Manmohan Singh and holds good rapport in bureaucratic circle.

A couple of months ago an RTI reply related to 2G spectrum allocation scam had created chaos in Congress and the union government. The reply was seen as an attempt to sideline Chidambaram. An RTI note revealed that Pranab Mukherjee’s ministry had written to the PMO saying that Chidambaram could have stopped the 2G scam if he wanted. A day after, the prime minister fully backed the home minister and made it clear that the party and the government is not ready to give in to opposition pressure. Manmohan Singh was in US and he took the pain of releasing a statement from there to save his close associate. He was quoted saying, “As far as Mr Chidambaram is concerned, he enjoyed my confidence as finance minister and continues to inspire my confidence as home minister.”

It’s needless to say that once Chidambaram resigns as the home minister and his role in 2G scam gets investigated, his candidature will come to an end automatically. In that case, party president has to make a choice from the other two options in the form of Pranab Mukherjee and Digvijay Singh. But, the name of Priyanka Gandhi is also doing rounds. Most of the Congress leaders and political analysts believe that she can bail out party in next parliamentary elections and she could be a trump card. She is believed to be more political in thinking and behaviour. However, in past, these things were told continuously and flourished by media headlines about Rahul Gandhi too but we all are aware with the reality.

When it comes to BJP, the list of PM-in-waiting is getting heavier with the inclusion of new names by the passing of each day. The list begins with its senior leader Lal Krishna Advani followed by Chief Minister of Gujrat Narendra Modi, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Party President Nitin Gadkari and so on.

In 2009, Advani was the PM candidate of BJP but he failed very badly in regaining the power. 2009 was considered as the last inning of Advani but scam tainted UPA-2 has provided an opportunity for him to start dreaming once again to be the prime minister of India. However, he was not quick in reaction but finally he announced a rath yatra. His yatra is going to start on October 11 from Jaiprakash Narayan native village Sitabdiara in Bihar. Advani knows the nuts and bolts of yatra politics. His first yatra was a launching pad for BJP and it helped a lot to earn electoral gain in the name of Rama.

But, RSS, the parent organization of BJP, is in no mood to bet on Advani again. After meeting RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at organisation headquarter in Nagpur, Advani hinted about the withdrawal of his name from the long ending PM-in-waiting candidate list of BJP. He was quoted saying, “I would only say that I first became a (RSS) ‘swayamsevak’, then a member of the Jan Sangh and then the BJP. I feel that what I have got from these organisations, from my fellow workers and what the country has given me is much more than the Prime Minister’s post.” According to some news reports, Bhagwat made two things clear to Advani: that he was out as contender for Prime Minister in 2014 and that he would be advised not to contest the next elections, whenever they were held.

Sources are also claiming that when it was suggested that a statement delinking his yatra from the Prime Minister’s race might “help” the BJP, Advani countered that it might spoil the show, “dampen” cadre morale and keep crowds at bay. He reportedly argued that a low turnout would eventually reflect “poorly” on the BJP and, by implication, the Sangh. However, Advani maintained that Bhagwat had “blessed” his yatra and said he wanted it to succeed. He also denied that there were differences between him and the Sangh. “There is no difference of opinion,” he stressed.

But, it seems that RSS top brass told him to pave ways for Narendra Modi. It is believed that Modi has been RSS’s choice as the ‘leader of future’ for quite some time now. The race has been flagged off, but Modi is yet to sprint several hurdles before getting formal nod. Keeping the age factor and seniority in mind, it was never been easy for top leaders of RSS to impose any decision on Advani. On contrary, it’s relatively easy to preach anything to Modi and let him do so. However, leaders who worked with Modi are of a different view. According to them, it’s not easy to suggest anything to Modi. Modi is believed to be the biggest financer for the party today, especially after the fall of Karnataka CM, B.S. Yeddyurappa.

It is pertinent to mention that the road ahead for Modi is not going to be very comfortable. He is likely to face stiff opposition from the strongest ally Janta Dal (United). JD(U) leader and the Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar is likely to oppose Modi candidature for the top job. While Modi was sitting on his Sadbhavana fast in Ahmedabad, he was getting words of praise from all around the political corner but Nitish Kumar did not speak a single word to glorify Modi and his attempts. He made one thing very clear that his party will clear its stand after the formal announcement from BJP.

Nitish is attributed for changing the fortune of Bihar and his remarkable performance is earning words of appreciation from all around the corner. After the land sliding victory in assembly elections of last year, he might be looking for the top job of union government. However, he keeps denying and rejecting all speculations about the possibility of being a PM candidate. He is a great political player and aware with the importance of timing.

However, his rift with Modi is an open secret. In June 2010, Modi was scheduled to arrive at Patna, the capital city of Bihar to attend national executive meet of BJP. And, before his arrival an advertisement appeared in some local newspapers praising Gujrat for supporting Bihar at the time of Kosi deluge and welcoming Modi to Bihar. But the picture used in the same advertisement annoyed Nitish Kumar. In this picture ‘Bihar’s heartthrob’ Nitish was seen with ‘BJP’s poster boy’ Narendra Modi and both are clasping their hand. This was the picture of NDA pre-election rally, which was organized in Ludhiana in 2009. This controversial advertisement was given by those Bihari’s who live in Gujrat and doing well at the front of business.

JD(U) believed that the advertisement was given to local newspapers with the consent of Narendra Modi. Annoyed Nitish, withdrawn his dinner invitation to BJP leaders and that was enough for fuelling speculations. Nitish Kumar returned Rs 5 crore the Gujarat government had sent as aid to Bihar during the 2008 Kosi floods. Thereafter Nitish ensured that Modi will not come to campaign for BJP in Bihar assembly elections. Despite that, Nitish came back to power with heavy mandate. It was a lesson for BJP and Modi as well.

However, sources close to BJP claim that it was Arun Jaitely and Sushma Swaraj, who kept Modi out of Bihar using Nitish Kumar to prove that the electoral victories can be achieved without Modi. In fact, these two leaders are also in the race. Both of them are eloquent and hold important positions as well. They are talented and revered by a large section of party.

However, Swaraj was allegedly providing patronization to Bellary brothers in illegal mining. However, she denied but these allegations may hamper her chances when it comes to take a final call. Jaitely prospects are bright because of his acceptance among all supporting parties and potential allies. Till now, he has clean image. In post poll scenario, he may get support and in the name of generation shift he could be assigned top job. But, he is not a mass leader and it may work against him. The party like BJP, which is highly dependent on the RSS cadres for vote mobilization, would prefer a mass leader for top political job.

The results of Bihar assembly elections proved that the dream of garnering support from all sections of society in the name of Modi is very difficult to achieve. The burden of 2002 is still chasing the brand Modi and it’s not easy to convince current and potential allies on his name. Nitish Kumar is not a single leader who is likely to oppose Modi candidature. It’s not unfair to predict that no single party is going to win majority of seats in next parliamentary elections to form a government in centre.

If BJP and opposition parties gets benefit in next general election then they must have to come together to form a government and that could happen only by expansion of NDA. Without BJD, TDP and AIADMK, it’s next to impossible to form any non-Congress government. And for the expansion of NDA, a moderate face for the top job is a precondition. Here the race becomes more interesting. NDA top leaders are trying to woo Mamta Banerjee and Navin Patnaiak in the name of expanding NDA and ousting Congress from New Delhi. On the other hand, these two leaders are working silently for creation of third front. But, there is a very bleak possibility of any third front without left parties. It’s an open secret that Mamta and Left parties could not rub their shoulders in electoral politics. However, Nitish, Mamta and Navin are hopeful just because they believe that non-BJP parties of NDA are likely to win more seats in next general elections and in that case any political uncertainty may bring the top job into their lap.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy. 

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