Monday, February 4, 2013

The Great Reckoning ../Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 03, 2013

The great reckoning is in 2014 but next Prime Minister will emerge this year

Numerically 2013 precedes 2014. Normally, the past casts its shadows over the future. But such is the nature of the frivolous discourse of new politics and our opinion-makers that the present is ignored to build castles on the sands of the future. From individuals to institutions, many are spending sleepless nights debating the name and nature of the knight who would save India. They conveniently forget that Number 13 is considered an inauspicious number. It can’t make fortunes. But it can definitely mar and demolish the dreams of many powerful leaders. It is 2013 that will decide the contours of Indian politics in 2014. It will also seal the fate of many chief ministers and aspirants for the prime ministership of India.

The parties or personalities that explode the negative myth of 13 will not only determine the rulers of 2014, but will also decide the colour of coalition politics. While the media and some self-appointed claimants for the post of the prime minister of India are indulging in shadow-boxing, their cadres and middle-level leaders are concerned about the fate of their respective parties and that of local leaders who face state elections that begin from Tripura next month. In addition, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,  Rajasthan, Delhi, Jharkhand and Meghalaya will all elect new Assemblies before the end of the year. It is the verdict in these states that will decide the future politics of not only the national and regional parties but also of some prominent leaders who aspire or are in the race for the top job in South Block. These elections may even throw up new candidates for the prime ministership. In the cacophony of Rahul versus Modi is drowned the complex and explosive nature of the fight which will see regional leaders warring for a bigger national role. The BJP rules Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Congress runs Rajasthan and Delhi. If Shivraj Singh Chouhan is able to win his state for the third time for the BJP, the party may add his name to the list of possible leaders to lead the BJP at the Centre. The fight may become messier if Vasundhara Raje also delivers in Rajasthan and becomes the BJP’s second secular female face besides Sushma Swaraj, the current Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Both Chouhan and Raje have never displayed their national ambitions but they have much more acceptability not only within the party but also with NDA’s allies. Leaders like Chouhan, Raje and Raman Singh will play a dominant role if they win their state elections—between them, they control the outcome of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The party won a little less than half the Lok Sabha seats in these states in 2009. Even in Jharkhand and Karnataka, where the party won 28 out of 42 LS seats, the local leadership will have a major say if they are able to retain the same number of seats in their Assemblies. If the BJP is able to retain its states and win Delhi, Rajnath Singh’s promoters are bound to project him as the natural choice for PM. During his earlier term, the BJP won most of the state elections but lost the Lok Sabha elections. A victory in 2013 will also make the BJP less untouchable with the fence-sitters jumping on to the saffron ship, which is currently sailing in rough waters.
If the future of the current BJP leadership is linked with its performance in 2013, such is the case for Rahul Gandhi as well. Since there is no other visible contender for the prime ministership in the Congress, the electoral verdict of 2013 will also decide whether the vice-president of a political party will be elevated to the post of the prime minister of a country of over 1.2 billion people. So far, Rahul hasn’t been able to deliver much in any Assembly election. His aggressive forays into caste-based north Indian politics failed to pay dividends. The Congress lost badly in Bihar, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It was able to wrest power from the BJP in Himachal and Uttarakhand, and may do it Karnataka as well. But a loss in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or even Chhattisgarh may raise many questions about Rahul’s ability win an election for his party. Some of his close aides are resigned to the idea of sitting in the Opposition for five years, and rebuilding the party from scratch. Rahul has not shown any hurry to demolish the old order in the 129-year-old party, and has refrained from any direct interference in the selection of either the state-level candidates or the chief ministers so far. But with his new responsibility, he cannot evade accountability. 2013 will mark the rise of the Rahul Congress and the eclipse of the traditional Congress—a tradition that started with the anointment of his grandmother Indira Gandhi in 1967, and followed by his father later on. Both created their own versions of the Congress by placing greater premium on loyalty than on merit. There is, however, a qualitative difference between the politics of the 1980s and that of the 21st century. Now in the battle between perception and performance, those who deliver more than what they promise will rule the heart of New India. The electoral aerobics of 2013 will decide the decibel level and political health of the prospective heartthrob.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabwhuChawla

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