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Prime Ministers in waiting

 | September 16, 2011

Will Priyanka be willing to lead a tainted Congress and a nation sick of the party and disgusted by corruption?

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Recently even as Anna Hazare was on a fast-unto-death demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill to end corruption, many wondered why the Congress-led government in New Delhi or the main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not in a mood to call for an early election, which is scheduled for 2014, a good three years away.

An answer now seems to be emerging. There really is no prime ministerial candidate in either of the parties.

With LK Advani a little too old, a little too spent to head the world’s most populous democracy, the BJP is but left with Narendra Modi, now Gujarat’s Chief Minister.

Modi has two sides to him, and neither can be ignored.

Though handicapped by a black record during the Gujarat riots of 2002 in which thousands of Muslims were butchered, Modi, who was even denied an American visa, has turned his home state into a shining example of what the rest of India can be.

Gujarat’s growth rate has been an impressive 11 per cent with remarkable progress having taken place in infrastructure.

Gujarat has attracted important foreign investors, and with just five per cent of the country’s population, the state’s exports average a fifth of the total.

And this week’s Supreme Court ruling directing a trial court in Gujarat to take the final decision on a petition filed by the widow of a politician killed in the riots would  have come as a great relief for  Modi and his supporters.

Given all this, it is not surprising that a recent US congressional report should see him as India’s future prime minister. In fact, it says that the 2014 polls will witness a direct contest between Modi and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress. Rahul is the son of Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi.

“The 2009 polls may have represented a coming out party of sorts for the younger Gandhi, who many expect to be put forward as Congress’ prime ministerial candidate in the scheduled 2014 elections,” said the report.

“Yet this heir-apparent remains dogged by questions about his abilities to lead the party, given his mixed record as an election strategist, uneasy style in public appearances and reputation for gaffes.”

But what many are missing is another crucial factor in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty:  Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister. Priyanka bears an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother and onetime India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

Priyanka is undoubtedly bright, and as some aver, brighter than her brother, Rahul.  There was a point not long ago when she was projected as the nation’s future prime minister.

Renewed speculation

Nobody knows what exactly went wrong: Priyanka effectively disappeared from public life, while Rahul emerged.

Rahul — like his father and late prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who was pushed into the political arena by the assassination of his mother, Indira — has been hesitant to get into the thick of things.

Even during the Hazare movement, Rahul came on the scene probably because Sonia was ill and away in a New York hospital. After a few days, he vanished.

Rahul is a member of parliament from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and is being groomed as a prime ministerial candidate – much like the way India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru mentored daughter Indira to take over the reins.

The Gandhis and the Nehrus have, in an undemocratic  and unhealthy way, dominated the Congress Party since India’s independence 64 years ago.

It is only when Sonia found herself discredited because of her foreign origins that she chose Manmohan Singh as prime minister to head the Congress-led coalition at the federal level in 2004.

Singh, who was re-elected and reappointed as prime minister in 2009, is unlikely to retain the post after 2014.

Though Rahul is widely believed to be the Congress Party’s prime minister in waiting, the recent appearance of Priyanka in Parliament to hear her brother speak has led to renewed speculation about her.

With a new hair style that made her look so much like Indira, often described as one of the world’s strongest women leaders, Priyanka may be a much better bet than Rahul to take on Modi, provided the BJP selects him.

But, will Priyanka be willing to lead a tainted Congress and a nation sick of the party and disgusted by corruption?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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