Monday, March 16, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, March 16, 2009

A S E- DAY approaches, the bookies are licking their lips in anticipation of making a killing. This is probably the first time when bets will be placed not about the number of seats parties will win, but on which leader will get how many seats and who will be able to outmaneuver others into an unsteady stint at Race Course Road. Strangely, the leaders of the major parties, the Congress and BJP, despite their ubiquitous presence on the worldwide web, don’t seem to figure in the punters scheme of things. But the many other prime ministerial hopefuls promise to make this one of the grandest electoral spectacles ever.
Last week, Sharad Pawar was all over the TV channels and the crux of his argument was: each can project its own prime ministerial candidate. Contrast this with what he said two weeks back. On My TV show Seedhi Baat on Aaj Tak channel, he categorically told me that he was out of electoral politics and said he will not contest elections this time. As if to prove his bona fides, he nominated daughter Supriya Sule as his successor in Baramati. But on Friday, he was seen lighting a lamp somewhere in Mada, a new parliamentary constituency that has emerged from the delimitation exercise. He spoke about the time having come for the election of a Maratha as the Prime Minister, but crucially, his followers zeroed in and identified the Grand Maratha as that Maratha.

It is my belief that it is the ambivalence of the Congress High Command that prompted this Uturn. Look at the Congress campaign and you will see it’s all about Sonia and Rahul. Poor Manmohan Singh just about brings up the rear in the hoardings. This must be disquieting to a man who just a month ago had declared that the UPA will face the elections under Manmohan’s leadership. So, Pawar who had but 11 MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha and who cannot hope to significantly improve upon it in the 15th, set the cat amongst the pigeons. When Pawar does it, everyone sits up and takes note.

The UPA government doesn’t need the IB to tell them that Pawar keeps close contact with the Third Front. He has friends in the BJP. More importantly, he has corporate backers who have the money to dictate the agenda of many smaller political parties. With Pawar, the last word is always the next one.

But Pawar isn’t the only one dreaming. It was IK Gujral who proved that lack of support is no hurdle to realising dreams. So everyone is joining the race. Ram Vilas Paswan told me recently that “ if I am offered prime ministership, I will not reject it”. Such modesty can only come from a man who heads a four- MP party in the Lok Sabha.

Lalu Yadav has said often he “ would like to be prime minister one day”. He may believe the day has come. The fourth rebirth of the Third Front, in front of three lakh people at Tumkur, Karnataka is likely to encourage Deve Gowda to throw his humble farmer’s pagdi into the ring.
Mayawati discarded her trademark aloofness and invited all Third Front members for dinner last week. Add Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Jayalalithaa, whose ambitions are likely to soar if they manage to get into double digits. The challenge to Advani may not be from the dynasty after all.

Welcome to the Great Indian Circus.

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