Will the millions of Indian voters trust a man like Rahul Gandhi by giving him the reins of their country?
The ruling Congress Party-led coalition may find it embarrassingly difficult to field Manmohan Singh once again as the prime ministerial candidate.
Hung up as the party – which once had extraordinarily great leaders and which won India its independence from the colonial British masters in 1947 — now is on dynastic succession, the most likely man for the top job is the forty-something Rahul Gandhi, the grandson of the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and son of the Congress Party president, Italian national Sonia Gandhi (widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi).
But Rahul is reluctant. He is untested, and the frightening question is, will he be able to run a nation as diversely difficult as India? Not just this, will he be able to pull India out of the huge pit of corruption it has sunk into?
And, in such a case, will the millions of Indian voters trust a man like Rahul by giving him the reins of their country?
Sadly, the Congress leadership is not even considering others for the prime ministerial chair. What about someone like P Chidambaram, who is now the federal finance minister, and who has alternately handled the important home and the finance portfolios. And ably too.
Chidambaram is certainly brilliant, but has some “drawbacks”. One, he is a South Indian, and although India has had a prime minister from the south, the northerners are never happy being “ruled” by a southerner.
Two, Chidambaram does not speak, I am told, the nation’s national language, Hindi. Three, he does not enjoy the trust of the Congress High Command, which today means Sonia Gandhi. And Sonia Gandhi alone.
These so-called drawbacks, to me, appear as silly reasons or mere excuses to propagate the Congress’ dynastic ambitions.
But, is the Congress going to field Rahul to fight the main rival, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP), seemingly sure prime ministerial nominee, Narendra Modi? Will the Rahul-led Congress ever stand a chance against Modi’s BJP?
However, not all is well with the BJP either. As the Economist quipped: “The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by contrast, trumpets itself as the ‘party with a difference’ where the best can rise.
This week it appeared to be badly split over leadership: the ‘party of differences’, as wags sniggered.
The BJP has a real problem. LK Advani may have led the party for years, but he is now 85 and yet, not in a mood to let go the possibility of being India’s next prime minister.
To Advani’s disappointment, the BJP has found someone that it may soon nominate for the nation’s top job. Modi. He is now the chief minister of one of the country’s most prosperous states, Gujarat. He was once Advani’s protégée, and has been mired in a controversy which followed the mass killing of Muslims in the state during the 2002 communal riots.
Modi’s advantage is his age, just 62, and despite his black mark, he has steered his state towards administrative and economic gains. So the people are happy, at least in Gujarat, and those elsewhere, even in the South, see him as a more viable prime minister than Rahul or even Advani.
Unfortunately, Advani has instead of gracefully stepping down, tried every trick in the book to block Modi’s ascendancy.
Modi has still other hurdles to cross, hurdles that he will have to jump over even after his nomination.
If he has to endear to people outside his state, he must present himself as a moderate – like AB Vajpayee, former BJP prime minister, was. One thing that Modi must do is to apologise for his role in the riots. If he fails to do so, the BJP’s chances of winning the federal elections can diminish.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]