The PMs-in-Waiting

Updated: Jan 29, 2013, 11:57 AM IST

The 2014 General Elections are round the corner, and the political parties have already started playing the campaigning-games. If the Congress has elevated the role of Rahul Gandhi, the BJP has elevated the status of one of its bankable candidates, Narendra Modi; and the smaller parties are already giving mixed signals. Like many times in the past, the game is not only about coming to power, but also about who will get the top-job of the prime minister, once in power.

The moot question is – how does a political party decide who should be chosen for the coveted position from amongst the many eyeing the post? Strangely, there are no pre-determined and universally accepted selection criteria. Each party has its own arithmetic.

The Congress has the simplest selection criteria – the ‘Gandhi’ surname, or proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Strangely, this arithmetic has worked for the Congress many times, however unpopular it may be with the thinking-class. So, keeping with its tried-and-tested strategy, the Congress recently promoted Rahul Gandhi; thereby sending an indirect signal to the voters that their good-old Gandhis will continue to lead the party, and with the help of their votes, the nation as well. During the times when none of the Gandhi family members is ready for the post, like it happened in 2004 and 2009, somebody close to the family is chosen.

The BJP prides itself on being non-dynastic in its selections. Given the increasing role of children of many BJP leaders in the party, this point of difference is at the risk of becoming a point of parity. However, in comparison with the Congress, the BJP wins hands-down on this front. The BJP-led NDA has many members like Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar, Arun Jaitely, and Sushma Swaraj, all of whom want to become the Prime Minister. The problem with the NDA is that it is an army with many generals and a very few foot soldiers. The party leadership, ironically, that is itself in a flux these days, is confused because it cannot afford to ruffle any of its equally-important feathers. It has a very complex arithmetic puzzle to solve – the very leaders who can help it come back to power, may end up bringing it down if their demands, however conflicting they may be, are not met. The BJP is like a parent that has to choose its favourite from amongst its quarrelling off springs. One uniting-figure that the BJP has, LK Advani, has been sidelined already because he failed miserably when he was given a chance in 2009. And, the search for an AB Vajpayee-like figure continues.

Other than the two big parties, there are the smaller parties that play much bigger roles when the time comes to form coalition governments. Like in the past, this time also these parties are playing hide-and-seek, and are keeping the two big parties on their toes. Mamata Bannerjee, BS Yeddyurappa, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, J Jayalalitha and the like are all regional satraps, many of whom want to be nothing less than the prime minister, if their respective party comes to power. Talks of a Third Front have been floating around, but given the ground reality, the likelihood of its formation, leave alone coming to power, is abysmally low. So, decoding the arithmetic that may govern this coalition, is a futile exercise for now.

Given the importance of the post of the prime minister in one of the most vibrant democracies of the world, it is strange that the selection criteria for the most desirable post with the most far-reaching consequences, are decided in such an ad-hoc manner, subject to the whims and fancies of the people in power at that time. Should not qualifications, experience, background, skill-sets, and competencies be the governing factors? Given that the rules are made by the very people who want to flout those rules, such criteria will remain a distant dream. Till then, family names, or personal motives, or muscle and money power, or personal connections, will continue to decide who will head the largest democracy of the world. Deserving candidates can wait, like they have many times in the past.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)

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