Monday, April 21, 2014

Battle 2014 is between visible Modi ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/April 20, 2014

Battle 2014 is Between Visible Modi and Invisible Club of Other CMs 

May 16 will mark an inglorious rite of passage. The top-down economic model of an outgoing Prime Minister will fade into a lugubrious sunset. It could also, perhaps, signal the debut of a bottom-upwards political model in Indian parliamentary democracy. If opinion polls and media hype are proved right, India would have a PM who is not the nominee of any New Delhi cabal. For the first time, the power to choose a head of government appears to be shifting from Lutyen’s Delhi to state capitals. For the first time, no political party can stymie the anointment of a grassroots leader as India’s 15th Prime Minister. It is certain that either a sitting or a former CM would move into 7 Race Course Road. Though Narendra Modi is the only CM who has been officially declared as a PM candidate, others like J Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and former CMs such as Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chandrababu Naidu consider themselves credible candidates for the catbird seat. In the new political taxonomy, old is gold and experience is bliss. Instead of powerful party forums like parliamentary boards, it will be a formidable club of current and former CMs who would not only choose the next PM from among themselves, but will also dictate the colour and size of the next government.

Modi is not the only CM in the fray who aspires to be PM, but he is the only CM to contest without quitting his post. Twenty-nine other former CMs are seeking entry into Parliament from various states. Karnataka, with six former CMs in the ring, tops the list followed by five from Uttar Pradesh. Three are from Uttarakhand; two each from Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand. Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Northeast, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have one each. Of these, there are three former women CMs. The JD(U) has chosen Ram Sundar Das, a 90-year old former CM from Bihar, to fight under its standard. Arvind Kejriwal, 49-year-old and 49-day CM of Delhi, is Modi’s challenger in Varanasi—he is not only the youngest but also has the least governing experience among former CMs. Sushma Swaraj had served in the same job for less than 100 days. In Karnataka, H D Devegowda and elder son H D Kumaraswamy have been CMs. Since Lalu Prasad is barred from contesting elections, his wife Rabari Devi—a former CM—is engaged in her maiden contest for the Saran Lok Sabha seat. The other former CMs in the fight are Purno Sangma, Babulal Marandi, Shibu Soren, Farooq Abdullah and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The maximum number of this fancy fellowship belongs to the BJP with 10 former and sitting CMs. The Congress has put up eight former CMs. Undoubtedly, the former is totally committed to installing Modi as the next PM, but two former saffron CMs Rajnath Singh and Sushma are considered to be powerful alternatives in case Modi fails to make it. Others in this genre are Uma Bharti from Uttar Pradesh and Shanta Kumar from Himachal Pradesh. The BJP has also chosen three former CMs from one picayune state, Uttarakhand, to join the MODI4PM battle. In Himachal Pradesh too, the situation is the same. In Karnataka, Sadanand Gowda and B S Yeddyurappa are fighting to secure their seats. The beleaguered Congress has also chosen former CMs to bolster its electoral prospects. It has asked Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan to contest from Maharashtra, Dharam Singh and Veerappa Moily from Karnataka, Amarinder Singh from Punjab, Giridhar Gomango from Odisha, Ghulam Nabi Azad from Jammu and Kashmir, and Shankersinh Vaghela from Gujarat.

It is not just mere coincidence that the two national parties have made their old and tested former state satraps pick up the poll gauntlet. Ironically, both outfits have been verbosely vehement about the role of new voters and young leaders, but when it came to selecting crucial candidates, over 70 per cent of party tickets were granted to leaders 65 years old and above. Most of the contesting former CMs are in their late 60s; some even in their 70s. Both Modi and Rahul are convinced that by fielding these venerables, their outfits would not only win their own seats but also ensure the victory of their favourites elsewhere. And their spheres of influence would come in useful in determining the formation of the next government at the Centre.

In case none of the contesting former CMs make it to South Block, one of the running CMs would claim the Prime Minister’s chair. Only two regional parties—the TMC and AIADMK—have formally announced the candidature of their respective liege ladies, Mamata and Jayalalithaa, because both leaders can capture over 30 seats each in their states. Prominent non-BJP and non-Congress leaders have already started informal power parleys with various current and former CMs, including Mulayam Singh and Mayawati. Their objective is not only to stop ‘Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkar’, but also to promote a third alternative. Now it appears that Modi was aware of the combined power of the Chief Ministers’ Club. While unfolding his model of governance, Modi promised that he would constitute a council of chief ministers, which would take decisions in the national interest and protect the stakes of all states. But so far, he hasn’t found any traction as other CMs feel that their experience in dealing with PMs is superior. Almost all other former and current CMs, barring Naidu, have spurned Modi’s indirect overtures. In the next couple of weeks, it would be evident that the battle of 2014 is not between Modi and Rahul. It is not even between the Congress and BJP. It is between a highly visible Chief Minister like Modi and a wily, invisible club of other chief ministers. Who will make it to New Delhi? The jury is still out.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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