Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Communal Conundrum

On the eve of its ninth anniversary the UPA government is besieged by scandal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is under personal attack from every end of the political spectrum, including from within his own party. These are the dying embers of a failed ministry and an election is the only remedy. So we must first attempt to pick through the fog of scam after scam that engulf our television screens nightly and only then look past the chaotic immediate to the far ground of the electoral battlefield, our ultimate concern.        
Modi, Rahul, Mulayam, Advani and the rest of the pack of aspirants have had their chances ebb and flow in recent weeks. But their prime ministerial ambitions have had to play second fiddle to an astonishing period of news that has involved everything from a border standoff with China, tit-for-tat murders of inmates in Pakistan and Indian jails, the Supreme Court ravaging of the government on the Coalgate cover-up, the Railway Minister involved in high corruption, the resultant sacking of two senior cabinet minister after their protector the PM was brutally and publicly cut down to size by the Congress President. The astrologers blame these events on Saturn’s presence in Libra, and no doubt there are more than a few politician like the desperate Pawan Bansal who will resort to such horrid rituals such as sacrificing a goat in full media glare to appease the gods. Indeed even the PM found a scapegoat for his troubles in the form of an unrepentant Ashwani Kumar.
How can a political novelist possibly compete with such a reality as currently exists in sarkari Delhi. The rules of the game in the political arena have been irrevocably transformed by a lethal combination of the Right to Information Act, feral television news channels, an aggressive Supreme Court, and a booming economy being matched by an exponential growth in opportunities for graft. But India’s politicians seem still to be playing by the permissive rules of the past, incapable of adapting to a new world, and so all their shady doings have become transparent to the world. It beggars belief that so many senior politicians thinks it a good alibi to claim to be blessed with a family full of genius entrepreneurs in industries that plainly mirror their ministerial portfolios. Times have changed and voters are angry. Thus, after nine years in power the UPA government has stalled under the weight of a lengthy incumbency, accentuated by it owns incompetence and blatant corruption. No CBI witch-hunts or glitzy PR blitzkrieg like the government’s recently launched Bharat Nirman campaign, carrying with it the stench of desperation as it does, are going to make people forgive and forget. It is time for an election, and for us to continue our foray into the electoral landscape once again. When election season does arrive at our doorstep in four to nine months the scams and cover-ups that so intensely cloud our horizon now will become a part of the larger tapestry of issues that will sway voters and affect the formation of post-poll coalitions. The communal conundrum is sure to be foremost in everyone’s thoughts.
There is no greater insult in Indian public life than to be tarred with the charge of being ‘communal’, even a murder indictment may not be perceived as being equally damaging to a leader’s electoral prospects. To explain how this state of affairs came to pass is also to retell the story of India’s creation and historical experience as a nation-state. The debate about who and what is communal and secular goes to the core of the argument of what is India and who is Indian. It is the defining issue of our times and shows no signs of being displaced from its perch in the foreseeable future. Without satisfactorily coming to terms with the secular-communal divide, no political party or leader can hope to rule India with any degree of coherence.
Let’s start at the beginning, as to how the word ‘communal’, generally recognised as a hospitable term for community and inclusiveness in the English-speaking world outside South Asia, came to take on a sectarian connotation in our part of the world. The British Raj and its cynical policy of divide and rule are to blame, initially at least. The Communal Award of 1932 provided separate electorates on the basis of religion, thereby assuring that division and discord would forever more be equated with the communal. It set the stage for the partition of India and extension of sectarian strife for generations into the future. It is the main fault line upon which India’s polity still rests.
At first there was a bit of confusion in south India regarding the meaning of the term as there had been an existing communal award in the form of a 1927 government order dealing with caste-based job reservation aimed at loosening Brahminical dominance in Madras state. But by the time India and Pakistan come into existence in 1947 there was no doubting what it meant to be communal, it was a lesson drenched in the blood of untold masses across the breadth of the sub-continent. The word embodied a scar to the national psyche.
Equations changed after Independence with the Congress and Muslim League rivalry giving way to the Congress and the Sangh Parivar. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination brought a flashpoint to the new rivalry that continues to this day with the argument ebbing and flowing with the tides of history. The Congress Party’s role transformed from being seen as a threat by Indian Muslims in the pre-partition period to being seen as their protector after partition. The Emergency and it excesses, particularly strong-arm tactics like forced sterilisations and slum removal, alienated the Muslims from the party. But by Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 landslide election win all was well again and they were firmly back inside the Congress electoral tent.
Meanwhile there was trouble with another minority, the Sikhs, who the Congress had enraged after Operation Blue Star and riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. A decade of strife followed before Punjab could be brought back into the stream, but return it did. In the meantime the forces of Hindutva had found their voice thanks to the ham-handedness of the Rajiv Gandhi government in its handling of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. While pandering to the ulema by legislating to overturn the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgement that awarded maintenance rights to Muslim women, the government sought to counter accusations of Muslim appeasement by opening the locks of the disputed site in Ayodhya, hoping to play the saffron card but not realising they had set in motion forces inimical to the Congress Party’s own political fortunes. Rajiv Gandhi’s irresponsible display of pendulum politics left the whole country dizzy.
L.K. Advani found his voice in his Rath Yatra that traversed the Hindi belt in 1990 as he accused the Congress of propagating ‘pseudo-secular’ policies, finally finding a political phrase that could act as a worthy rejoinder to the decades of unanswered political taunts. Although Advani immortalised the word, it is less commonly known that it was Atal Behari Vajpayee who is said to have coined it in his 1969 piece titled ‘The Bane of Pseudo-secularism’. Thus ensued a rivalry between the communal and pseudo-secular, for the first time it seemed like a fair fight and the BJP’s increasing seat tallies in election after election bore that out. Backed by a rising tide of support Advani seemed destined for the Prime Minister’s chair. But the Sangh Parivar overplayed its hand and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 took the steam out of the movement as nation-wide riots and the Bombay bombings that followed in retaliation awoke the country to the dangers of religious extremism in all its shades.
Nonetheless, in 1996 the BJP found itself the largest party in the Lok Sabha but politically untouchable and marooned, a pariah to most other parties. It formed a government that lasted a mere fortnight. The party realised Hindutva had only brought them halfway to their goal and it would take a moderating touch to take them the rest of the way. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say and that’s exactly what happened. Vajpayee gave one of the great parliamentary speeches of India’s television age, or of any age, when in a single peroration he reset the political map and how his own party was perceived by allaying the fears of voters by making a flawlessly delivered argument for the BJP as a safe pair of hands and the natural party of governance. Vajpayee single-handedly dragged his party kicking and screaming towards the respectability of the political centre. He won India’s trust that day, and became the dominant politician of the land for the next decade, decisively eclipsing Advani. He ended his speech by announcing his resignation, saying that the BJP had shown its mettle by fighting its way into the mythical maze that was the Chakravyuha and would soon enough show how to fight its way out and return to power. It’s a speech that I often return to, as a way to remind myself how political rhetoric, properly deployed, can inspire and sway minds.
Two years later Vajpayee was indeed returned to power at the head of a broad NDA coalition government. It wasn’t smooth sailing at first but after the Kargil War the NDA was re-elected in a mid-term election with an increased majority and the Vajpayee government found its footing. So much so that I would venture to say that in January 2002 had there been a snap election, the BJP on its own would have crossed the 200-seat mark. It was the only period in my adult life that I would have voted for one of the two main national parties, it would have been a vote for Vajpayee and not for the BJP. A lot of people felt that way at the time, they trusted the Prime Minister not his party. But then came the violence in Godhra and riots in Gujarat thereafter, followed by Vajpayee’s failed attempts to remove Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat. That was the end of the dream, the attempt to capture the political centre of India. So close, but not to be. Vajpayee would continue in office for two more years but it was not the same government and he knew it, almost resigning as Jaswant Singh has previously recounted. If he had resigned, Vajpayee may still not have triumphed politically but his legacy would have been unstained and set a precedent no PM has been equal to, that a leader is known by how he relinquishes office just as much as his conduct during his stay in power. One of history’s missed opportunities.
So this brings us to our current political scenario where the Congress and BJP fling charges related to the 1984 and 2002 riots at each other almost weekly. Each party and its allies try to win nightly debating point by saying your riot was much worse than our riot. Such is the state of political discourse in the India of 2013. Comparing the innocent dead from two politically-motivated massacres that the respective ruling governments oversaw and both used the same self-exonerating alibi that the bloodshed was an understandable reaction to an act of terror. As a Sikh who was in Delhi in 1984 which was my introduction to Indian politics as an eight-year-old, and then again as someone whose political worldview was completely transformed by the horrendous television pictures and stories of what took place in Gujarat in 2002 propelled me on the path to becoming a political novelist, I can unequivocally declare that there is no differentiation to be made between riots when innocents are murdered, raped, burned, mutilated, orphaned. Both riots brought shame on India and Indians everywhere, but even now the Congress and BJP are reluctant to accept  responsibility for the blood spilt by their leaders and cadres in the riots.
These differing perceptions and competitive propaganda about the riots is also reflected in the response of Sikh leaders to the Gujarat riots and Muslim leaders to the 1984 riots. BJP ally Akali Dal goes missing when any 2002 Gujarat riot-related court case comes up and similarly the part-time Congress ally Samajwadi Party goes uncharacteristically mute when 1984 riot-accused Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler burst into the headlines. Competitive secularism is a game that can only be played if you have a requisite quota of hypocrisy in the tank. Its this same fixation on sectarian politics that forces Narendra Modi to avoid skullcaps like the plague and confess to his biographer with pride that he never ever wears the colour green. Conversely Congress slavishly panders to Muslims on issues as varied as the Batla House encounter, religion-based reservation, and Rahul Gandhi’s continuing obsession with a mythical creature called saffron terror that is visible only to him and his acolytes. This dance between parties will continue till the 2014 elections and beyond as Congress tries to brand the BJP communal in the eyes of prospective allies and the BJP tries to evade that tag by winning so many seats that the lure of power attracts allies to their cause, even if the allies have to hold their noses while shaking hands. How the BJP fares in the coming election only time will tell but without Vajpayee, clearly irreplaceable, the BJP is struggling to find the right tone. Modi may be an electoral asset but he does not bring the BJP closer to the political centre, if anything he may push them further to the right. That’s not how you win elections or form stable governments. If the BJP does not heed Vajpayee’s example, it does so at its peril.
Nowadays the cloak of secularism provides the perfect alibi for every non-NDA party to trot out when caught in an act of loot or blatant political opportunism. A case in point, corruption-tainted Mulayam and Mayawati have for years proclaimed their dedication to secularism in order to avoid talking about how Congress ruthlessly extracted their critical outside support for the central government with the CBI used as a spear in their backs. To be secular in modern India is to be beyond the bounds of morality. Indira Gandhi used the fight against communal forces as one of her excuses during her infamous and shameful address to the nation on June 26, 1975, as she attempted to explain why she was declaring Emergency and stomping on her father’s vision of a democratic India. Just to drive home the point she even thrust the word ‘secular’ into the preamble of the Constitution. Needless to say the secular principle in its truest form is a non-negotiable part of what India must stand for, so there is no excuse for the Sangh Parivar’s utterly sectarian ideology that would leave no room for most minorities to live in India with self-respect. The Sangh must realise that though Muslims will not vote for the BJP anytime soon, the Muslim vote in the normal course is as divided as any other caste or community, unless they feel threatened and then they vote strategically for the party that assures them of security and the defeat of the BJP. There is a reason why Maulana Mulayam wears his title with pride. It is in the electoral interest of the saffron forces to put Hindutva in cold storage and provide some reassurance to Indian Muslims and Christians. I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one, though.   
Being secular to the Akali Dal in Punjab means to be pro-Sikh, to the Congress and Samajwadi in Uttar Pradesh it is to be pro-Muslim, and so on and so forth. To be truly secular is to speak against religious extremism in all its shades. The sad truth is that there are no secular parties left in India, the concept died with Pandit Nehru and he had no ideological heirs. Pandit Nehru, perhaps the most reviled Indian politician currently, understood something his daughter and grandson forgot, that the Nehru family itself was left refugees after the British recaptured Delhi in 1857 and wreaked havoc in the city. Which was why Motilal Nehru was born in Agra in 1861. You could say the carnage of 1984 in Delhi was also the second death of Jawaharlal Nehru, just as the 2002 riots in Gujarat showed how very far the land of his birth had strayed from Gandhi’s path. History has shown that without moral leadership, and left to its own devices, a nation will revert to its worst self.        
A symptom of this skewed perception of religion in India’s polity is the one issue that no contemporary political party knows how to deal with and that is relations with Pakistan. There is an impression among the so-called secular parties like the Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Janata Dal (United) that talking peace with Pakistan even in the face of terror will safeguard their Muslim vote at home. On the other side you have the BJP, its Parivar and not to forget the Shiv Sena whose hawks have yet come to terms with the very existence of Pakistan even after almost seven decades. But what is more interesting is how some among them like Advani and Jaswant Singh have tried to showcase their moderate streaks by bizarrely talking up the supposedly repentant deathbed pronouncements of  Jinnah, whom I personally consider the villain of the partition story and no amount of bogus revisionist history is going to change that reality. Jaswant Singh wrote a sympathetic biography of Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam and suffered expulsion from party and parivar. Advani paid his respects at Jinnah’s tomb in Karachi and was soon after forced out of the BJP’s presidency.
So both sides of the secular divide share a warped idea of how Indian Muslims and their place in India. Neither realise that Pakistan through its thoroughly dysfunctional history as a failed state is conclusive evidence proving that the two-nation theory belongs in the ash heap of history right next to Communism and the Berlin Wall. More than anybody Indian Muslims realise this reality and for the most part no longer think of themselves in relation to Pakistan, in fact they  yearn to break out of this enforced marriage of identities thrust upon them by every secular fundamentalist on a book tour. They want the same thing the rest of India wants, a chance to live in peace and have their children be part of the promised Indian dream. Our politicians need to bury Jinnah once and for all.
Political parties in India have a long electoral history of preying on the insecurities of the populace and winning elections as a result. The Congress won an unprecedented super-majority in the general election of 1984, and Narendra Modi swept back to power in the Gujarat elections of end-2002. The bare truth is that the politics of hate pays electoral dividends. That’s why they do it. Some believe that in the age of television news the atrocities of 1984 and 2002 cannot be repeated. Maybe not in metropolises like Ahmedabad and Delhi perhaps, but India is a large country and ancient animosities linger in innumerable dark and forgotten corners. Last year’s sectarian clashes in rural Assam also had chilling repercussions in Bangalore and Mumbai, showing us how new technologies can be used to spread fear and violence at lightening speed.  
We all bear hatred in our hearts born of prejudice, each of us has a small part within that is a bigot and a hater, it is the part most of us repress by silently admonishing ourselves when unacceptable feelings well up involuntarily. Whether we speak of the barbaric events of 1984 in Delhi, 2002 in Gujarat, 2008 in Orissa, or 2012 in Assam, our blood-soaked history is littered with countless similar atrocities where we the Indian people allowed these horrible little men, who call themselves political and religious leaders, access to that weak, insecure, hatred-filled, bigoted corner of our psyches and thereby ensured that we remain shackled to decades and centuries of contentious and ulcerous history that should have been wiped away when we started afresh with a clean slate on August 15, 1947, at the midnight hour when our poet-Prime Minister so eloquently declared a new beginning for all Indians and a promising future ahead. Whatever you may or may not think about Jawaharlal Nehru, unlike Jinnah he spent his life searching for the better angels in his countrymen and tried to inspire them to better action. He was not perfect, possessing some grave personality flaws, making more than his share of ghastly mistakes and, god knows, his last years in office were disastrous, but not since his death has any Indian Prime Minister really picked up the threads of the India story and spoken unreservedly in full voice about the principles of tolerance and strength though unity that above all else form the bedrock of the Indian ideal. Democracy is about more than winning elections and managing fiscal deficits, it is about a country’s common purpose as enunciated by its leadership. Indians are now thirsting for an inclusive and inspirational vision of India fit for the times.
No leader currently in Indian public life appears up to this task, at least as far as I can see, so let’s instead identify the qualities that would allow us to construct a composite of this purely hypothetical leader. A leader who will be equally at ease wearing a tilak on the forehead or a skullcap but would not hesitate to put a meddling Shahi Imam or a scheming Shankaracharya in their place when they tried to infiltrate the political arena with their medieval mindset. A leader who will accept that overwhelmingly terror in India is of Jihadi origin but also understand that an unacceptable proportion of Muslim youths in jail on terror charges are apprehended for no reason other than the names they bear and how they look. A leader who will take pride India’s multi-faceted heritage in all its hues but also understand scars of the past will not heal overnight by themselves and require the careful balm of rhetoric from the bully pulpit by a Prime Minister able to reach the hearts and minds of every Indian. A leader, in short, that India deserves and still awaits.
For these thoughts I fully accept some may think me among other things communal, pseudo-secular, na├»ve, insensitive, anti-Congress, anti-Sangh, and god forbid even a Nehruvian—or New Nehruvian if you please. Guilty as charged!   

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The War Ministry Contest: Short-list of 8 essays

ESSAY QUESTION: Azim Khan is India's first Muslim Prime Minister; is he an Indian Barack Obama or will he turn out to be another Jinnah? 
Winning essay was announced on 26th March by the chair of the judging panel, Ms Shereen Bhan, Executive Editor of CNBC-TV18. Video of the announcement. 

Azim Khan's journey into politics was borne out of a deep desire to make
a difference not just to his community but the country. To start off,
he used his community to plan his rise but slowly worked on expanding
his base. The culmination of this journey was his selection as the
first Muslim Prime Minister of India.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah entered into electoral politics from United
Provinces (currently Uttar Pradesh) after studying law and being a
prominent member of the Indian National Congress. Azim Khan too
entered politics from Uttar Pradesh through a targeted philanthropy
campaign riding on his grandfather's goodwill. Jinnah wanted to be the
spokesperson of the Muslim voice and was mentored by Mohammed
Iqbal, the advocate of the idea of Pakistan. Azim Khan too united the
Muslims under the auspices of the Nawab. Even in terms of lifestyle,
Azim Khan was similar to Jinnah. He married outside of his community,
had a suave and western outlook.

But the similarities with Jinnah end here. Azim Khan made concerted
efforts to reach outside his vote bank either through calculated
alliances or pan-India policies. Jinnah initially sought Hindu-Muslim
unity but after the 1937 election debacle became a vociferous
supporter of "Pakistan". Azim Khan on the other hand, was willing to
sacrifice his post for a national unity government.

Barack Obama became the 44th and the first black President of the
United States. The blacks like the Muslims are a minority community in
the US. But Obama didn't let this stop him from running for the top job or
hindering him in office. While Obama's election exposed the deep
fissures and prejudices in the country, Azim's selection as the PM was
hailed because the victory in the war sealed all doubts of his secular

Despite the Republicans enjoying a majority in the House, Obama was
able to push through some of his electoral promises like the Health
Care Act, Debt Ceiling Act etc through bi-partisan negotiations. Azim
Khan similarly was selected as PM after negotiations with Karan Nehru
and headed a grand coalition. Obama and Azim never let religion
interfere with their work and this can be clearly seen in Obama's case
in the public denunciation of his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Azim too
didn't handle the Ulemas and Maulanas very differently. When Obama
ordered his special troops to execute Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, he
was aware of the risks of such a mission and the international
reaction but he stuck to his guns. Azim, as a defence minister
displayed the same conviction when he sent his troops across
the border. The similarities don't end here because both had to deal
with an aggressive posturing China. Obama tried to push for market
reforms and monetary policy easing with China whereas Azim in
partnership with Karan had to placate them to prevent a full blown out

Despite beginning like Jinnah, Azim Khan diverged and displayed great
character as "India's Obama", a leader, a rare breed in India's current
political scenario.


a PM -

who 'prays' at the ALTAR of mother India with Gandhi, Nehru and Azad being his leading lights..

who leads the armed forces to victory on Pakistan and makes good on an old parliamentary resolution..

who stands up to the machinations of a superpower and who does not yield grounds to an irresponsible adversary to the east..

who pragmatically deals with a friend turned foe, endears himself to even the rightists..

who envisions a progressive, inclusive strategy for the country's growth..

who does not shy away from 'standing and fighting' while he delivers an extempore speech in the august house..

who refuses illogical alliances just to stay in power..

- how can such a PM be a Jinnah?? is he Barack Obama then??


he is PM Azim Khan - a nationalist, which is how it will/should remain.

Azim Khan, India’s first Muslim Prime Minister. A statement full of controversies. Mr. Khan, heading a shaky coalition also needs to prove his mettle. The question that arises when we talk about him is whether he is an Indian Barack Obama or will he turn out to be another Jinnah? I say that he is an Indian Barack Obama and not another Jinnah who not only divided our country but also initiated a bloodbath.
         Jinnah was always against Hindustan and the Congress. He never considered Hindustan his country and thus demanded another nation for Muslims. While heading the Muslim League, Jinnah’s foremost demand was a separate nation for the Muslims in form of Pakistan. He never deterred away from this demand of his. He was not a secular leader as well as his leadership was based on the fact that Hindus and Muslims are poles apart. He believed that Hindus and Muslims cannot unite and become ONE. He was the mind behind the thought of a country solely dedicated to Muslims.
               Barack Obama on the other hand is the total opposite of what Jinnah was. He is not only a secular leader but also a peace loving person. He ended the war with Afghanistan and also asked for his military troops to retreat back. Even in Iraq he ordered his troops to return back. He also won the Nobel Prize for Peace. He is a person who respects every nation’s individuality and aims to unite the world.
              Azim Khan, the then Defense Minister of India in the Naidu Government proved the world that he is first an INDIAN and then a Muslim. When he became the leader of the country, he was backed by the whole nation on the fact that he did not favour a Muslim nation. He is altogether an opposite of Jinnah because Jinnah fought for a separate nation and Azim Khan fought the same nation to save India from the clutches of terrorism. When the Shahi Imam, in a meeting with Ulema said obscene words to him against his Hindu wife, Radha Khan, he got enraged and warned the Imam of his limits. Even in his personal life he didn’t ask his wife to convert into Islam instead became part of all the celebrations whether it was Diwali or Holi. On the contrary he did not keep the fast of Ramzan. He possesses the skills of a good leader that is unlike Jinnah not biased to his religion. He proved his worth as a good leader when in the end he brought the opposition into the government thus silencing his enemies. He won thousands of hearts when he pushed Pakistan behind the Line-of-Control.
              Azim Khan is indeed an Indian Barack Obama and definitely not another Jinnah.

The book revolves around 2 main central characters Azim Khan and his once best friend and now the deputy PM Karan Nehru. There are mainly 4 political parties involved in the book that are Congress (I), Congress (N), IVP & the BJP.
As per my opinion after reading the book  I am taking the stand that Azim Khan is an Indian Barack Obama & he would not turn out to be another Jinnah. There are 2-3 instances stated in the book which make me lead to the above conclusion. After reading all the 2-3 instances written down under it be concluded that instead of favouring his decisions towards the Muslim community of which he himself was a part of – all the decisions taken by the Prime Minister Azim Khan were of maturity and in the best interest and security of his motherland and country India. He kept his country first in all his decisions and he did not allow his religion/his community to come in between his decisions.
1st Instance: Pages 104-105. In spite of the IVP party having secured a prominent section of its electoral votes from the Ulema which consisted of the Muslim community when Azim Khan was being asked by his close confidant Ajay to meet them in person and discuss with them if they have any issues under Azim Khan’s leadership he flatly refused stating that he had more important issues to handle which were of much more importance.  For him the issues that pertained to the security & interest of his country were much more important than a small cross section of the people that had constituted a large part of his vote bank.
2nd Instance: Pages 373-381. In Tibet with the self immolation of the monks taking place, it took a very sensitive turn and the entire pressure was on India as to how to handle the pressure so that the situation was not blown out of proportion. Azim Khan while he was giving the speech in the Parliament handled it very effectively and because it involved the government of 2-3 countries instead of blaming one particular community/religion/country for the incident he very politely explained to all the members of the Parliament what steps were being taken to avoid any further incidents. And at the same time after giving the due respect to the Tibetan community and the Buddhism religion he explained to all as to how it had its origin/beginnings in India and had now become a part of the Indian Culture. Also he made it very clear that terrorism would not be tolerated by India if it comes from across the cross border and it would be retaliated if the security of the country is being hampered at the cost of loss of innocent lives. By handling the situation in this manner he managed to respect the integrity and respects of all the nations involved and at the same time give a strong message to the other nations across the border that terrorism would not be tolerated at any cost.
3rd Instance: Pages 373-381.  In the later part of the book when it looked that the party of Azim Khan would fall from power and he would have to leave his post of the Prime Minister of India, he took upon himself to address all the doubts that were in the minds of his political counterparts in the Opposition party and all others in the Parliament & he choose to do that by answering each and every question that was personally asked to him by one and all. The only reason why he did that was because he held the interests of his motherland India first and his personal interests came later on. Even at the juncture of losing his power, all he wanted was that the next person who takes charge from him would accordingly take all decisions so that the integrity and security of India is not hampered with.
         From all the instances stated above – it can be clearly concluded once again that the actions of Azim Khan as an individual at the post of Prime Minister of India were being taken by him were for the protection, security & the overall development of the people and his country – India. This is similar to the characteristics that are possessed by Mr Barack Obama – current president of USA. The decisions taken by Mr Barack Obama – either spontaneously or after some thought are for the protection, security & the overall development of the people and his country – United States of America. And Azim Khan cannot turn out to be other Jinnah because for Azim Khan his overall goal was the development of people of India and economic prosperity and growth and not partition of India into smaller and smaller parts.

Azim Khan’s comparison to Barack Obama and Jinnah begins and ends with exceptional oratory skills and the “first” prefix. Although both Obama and Khan are leaders of the modern world and assumed leadership of countries in a pickle, their predicaments differ vastly, which allows little synergy in varied policies adopted by them.
            Azim Khan undoubtedly benefited from the Muslim vote; however, he does not wear his Muslim identity on his sleeve. He had no designs of either creating a separate state like Jinnah, nor was he solely advancing minority interests. His vision was clearly that of a secular and egalitarian state with a plain-speaking stance especially towards Uncle Sam. What is heartening to note in the end is the fact that, both Nehru and Khan overcome the toxicity and headiness of power and work towards the betterment of the country in unison.

Azim Khan will neither be the Indian Obama nor the Jinnah, for like the Zen saying - You can never step into the same river twice. Obama though a first Black president, inherited America and for a period of 4 years for sure and a maximum of 8 years, Azim Khan will have to defend his position every day as the coalition politics will continue in India. Obama inherited economic crisis, Azim gets a bit of that but a bigger moral crisis, corruption crisis to deal with. Like everything else in India his issues are diverse and exist in multitudes. Jinnah belonged to another era, those times have gone and so has the creation of leaders like him.

To compare a fictional character to either real life Obama or the historical perception of Jinnah is a rather silly question and undermines what the character and the book is trying to do. For me, Azim Khan's character is foremost an idea. A concept and a vision of what can happen to this country, if a leader who has balls (or a vagina) enough to take on all the issues this country faces head-on, without flinching. Azim is ruthless in pursuing his ideas and his ideals, so much so that everything else becomes secondary for him--pure honesty, friendship or love. Since he is the protagonist of a world created by the author (who I might add seems to idolise him at many levels), I read him as an idea that the country dreams of. In that way, he's a representative of the subconscious of young India. I stuck to all three books because this vision, this hope stayed with me throughout. Reading Khan's character in the world Singh built was pure catharsis in that way. At no point was I scared that his journey in the fictional world might lead to real world destruction. It was like watching a Bollywood movie (sorry, KP!) where this awesome hero kicks the butt of all the irritating goons and you go back to the 'real' world, with a smile and pay a bribe to the traffic cop because you parked illegally. Only here, Azim's character is kicking political butts. If he was real, I might have been on the streets revolting against a lot of decisions he took. I might have been scared at his highhandedness and the fact that he hid his past from the citizens. But because he's fictional, I can sit back and enjoy the awesome exchanges of dialogues and negotiations in the PM's office.

Azim Khan of the India Vikas Party (IVP) creates history when he takes oath as the first Muslim Prime Minister in India. In some ways this was an epoch making event similar to Barack Obama’s swearing in as the 44th President of the United States of America but the first African-American to make it to the list.
         KP Singh through his trilogy has made enough references indicating Azim’s secular and cosmopolitan credentials including his unflinching contempt of Muslim radicals and mullahs after his appointment as Prime Minister, his marriage with a Hindu woman and importantly, his war with Pakistan in national interest and hardline stance in the peace process clearly indicates his nationalist credentials and his indifference for parochial politics based on caste, religion or class.
          All these decisions clearly indicate that Azim Khan disapproved of the two-nation theory and communal policy that Jinnah stood for[1] and can definitely be described as a truly liberal and secular leader of modern India.  Just like Obama, Azim tries to be a global leader of stature rising above petty politics, differences and bigotry and giving national interest and economic development paramount importance as the resident of Teen Murti Bhavan.

[1]  Krishan Partap Singh, The War Ministry, p. 323. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

India's Electoral Map

With the low-key election year Budget over and done with on February 28, the political positioning and shoving began with a vengeance. The last few days have seen a flurry of activity from the leading prime ministerial hopefuls. Narendra Modi did his usual grandstanding routine at the BJP national council in the capital last weekend, and gave a speech that was too shrill and mocking in tone to be appreciated by anyone other than his most hard-core followers. More interesting than his speech, I thought, were the sullen faces beside him on the dais and also the undisguised attempt by LK Advani in his speech afterwards to compare Sushma Swaraj with Vajpayee. And as if that were not enough to remind us of Modi’s polarising nature, hours later came news of the snub by Wharton Business School revoking his invitation to speak at their event under pressure from students and faculty. Unless the Gujarat CM starts to show some dexterity and modulation in his political discourse it may prove to be that his prospects have peaked too early in the electoral cycle, a shooting star instead of a rising star. The media spotlight on him is bound to dim with time and then he’ll have to fight it out in the trenches with the rest of the BJP leaders for the party leadership. Modi will require a much thicker skin as well, because it is becoming apparent that the effortless coronation he expected is not coming to pass.
         Meanwhile, Mulayam Singh Yadav was having an even worse time of it, confronted by a perfect storm in the Kunda stronghold of his favourite Thakur leader, the infamous Raja Bhaiya. What precisely happened there is unclear but when the violence ended a Muslim police officer and a village pradhan as well as his brother, both Yadavs, were dead. The Muslim-Yadav electoral combination has formed the bedrock of Mulayam’s ascent to power and it was Raja Bhaiya, after Amar Singh’s departure, that gave an upper-caste face, however controversial, to the Samajwadi Party, which gained them the extra vote share that took them over the majority mark in the last assembly election. Three dead bodies, one powerful don, and three political constituencies to assuage. The end result was that Raja Bhaiya would have to resign and the CBI brought in, but jailing him was out of the question for now. Political calculations and an impending general election would not allow it. If and when the CBI arrest Raja Bhaiya the Samajwadi Party can say it was out of their hands and I’m sure the former jail mantri will be placed in the cosiest of accommodations.  
         And then we come to Master Rahul Gandhi, the ultimate non-aspirant, who spoke off the cuff, and hidden from cameras, in Central Hall on Tuesday and left everyone scratching their heads. Calling himself a parachute, by which I suppose he meant he was a parachute artist who gained power by taking advantage of dynasty, qualified as my favourite line in his otherwise pointless and self-defeating testimony. If Modi seems grasping for power, Rahul baba is the political yogi of our times who thinks power is poison and he will have nothing to do with it—as long as, I imagine, he gets to stay comfortably ensconced in his SPG bubble. Rahul may be right in signalling to the voter that he is not yearning for the PM’s chair and only interested in selflessly fighting for their welfare, but this spiel may get old rather quickly, especially if repeated too often. I suspect Rahul knows the next election is an upward climb for his party and would be perfectly fine donning the role of Opposition Leader in the next Lok Sabha, gaining experience and stature against a third front government with a short life expectancy. A fatigued Congress Party certainly looks like it could do with a rest from government after a decade in power.
         In last week’s pre-Budget blog post I had asked the question about who would be Rahul’s Manmohan if the crown prince did not wish to take office. At the time I confess I never assumed that Rahul’s Manmohan could also be, well, Manmohan himself. If Chidambaram was put forward by Outlook magazine in its most recent issue as a prime ministerial prospect, it might have been just the spark needed to awaken our dear incumbent PM from his customary inertness in the Lok Sabha chamber on Wednesday to give his most effective parliamentary performance thus far, humbling the entire BJP front bench with a mixture of poetry, suitably self-serving statistics, and a fire in his belly that made everyone sit up and take notice. He even got in a nice jab at Narendra Modi. Could it be the old fox wants another go around, age and health permitting of course. I see no reason why the Gandhi family would protest. Dr Singh’s exuberance even went as far as predicting a third election victory for his government a year in advance of the elections. Too bad it took him nine years and two Lok Sabhas to find his footing. Or maybe Rajnath Singh, outshining the consistently lacklustre Sushma Swaraj, was right to mention in his reply to the PM’s speech that a flame that is about to extinguish always burns brightest in its dying moments.
         Such was the drama of the week in Lutyens’ Delhi, where personalities and their ambitions dominated issues and events. But the reality is that the next elections may have nothing whatsoever to do with the qualities of the individuals aspiring to be PM, and may just be decided by accretion of seats in state electorates voting within their own narrow polities on local issues, only marginally keeping in mind the national context. The strength of parties, national and regional, in their areas of influence could determine the result. So it is imperative that we first and foremost lay out the electoral map of the country. In other words we must ascertain the state of play, Lok Sabha-wise. Naturally, my knowledge and understanding of states in northern India will be better than states further away from Delhi, so if any of you readers would like to add your views on a state with which you are closely acquainted I would definitely look forward to reading your comments. Let’s begin setting the electoral table, region by region, state by state. What follows is my best analysis and prognostication about the current position of the major parties in each state. So here goes.

         Beginning in the north, Jammu and Kashmir is a state where governments normally align with the ruling alliance in Delhi, explaining it to their voters as a compulsion since a good rapport with the centre is necessary because of the sensitive security situation prevailing in the state. This time around the Abdullahs look like they are on shaky ground in the valley, especially after the Afzal Guru hanging, whether the PDP or more extreme elements will gain from it is unclear. The results of the 2 seats in Jammu are a good barometer of how the BJP and Congress are going to perform nationally and need to be closely watched. In Himachal Pradesh we recently had an assembly election where the Congress triumphed, and the edge has go to them. On the other hand, in Uttarakhand the first hints of anti-incumbency have already begun to surface after a tight assembly election result and the new Chief Minister putting up his son as the Congress candidate in the by-election to fill his vacated parliament seat and losing to the BJP. The Bahuguna government has not started its term on a good note at all.

         In Punjab the Akalis have been through a torrid time with law and order-related bad new after bad news, but they seemed to have turned a corner with a recent by-election win last week in Moga after the sitting Congress MLA defected. The reverberations of the loss could be felt in the last couple of days when Capt. Amarinder Singh was replaced as President of the Punjab Congress. Mutinous murmuring from the Maharaja’s supporters could mean the defection of another Congress MLA or two and would further demoralise the party workers. The Badal family performs like a finely-tuned machine when it comes to fighting elections but, conversely, is anarchic in the realm of administration with the state treasury just about running on empty. In Haryana it looks like the hold of the Hooda government on the state seems finally to be weakening with anti-incumbency, real estate scams, dissidence, and sympathy for the jailed Chautala father and son combining to put the Congress Party’s 9-seat haul from the last election in jeopardy. The Aaam Aadmi Party too could play a role with two of its leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav from Haryana and expending a lot of energy in the state to build on the result of the Hisar by-election result in 2011 when the Congress candidate lost his security deposit in large part due to Kejriwal’s exertions. Not to be forgotten, and possibly entering the fray too, is former army chief General VK Singh who could stand from his home district of Bhiwani, unless he decides on Jhunjhunu across the border in Rajasthan. Speaking of which, a far worse fate awaits the Congress government in Rajasthan where the alternating pendulum of voter support is set to swing back towards the BJP, with Vasundhara Raje looking to oust for a second time the hapless Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, in assembly elections later this year. The Raje-RSS rivalry within the state BJP unit could be a spoiler were it to boil up again.

        The polity of Uttar Pradesh is so vast and complex that it may as well be categorised as a nation with its many and varied regions as provinces in their own right. If the rumours are true and Narendra Modi fights from a parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, the state will be front and centre in the 2014 campaign in a way not seen in many a general election. Rahul vs. Modi vs. Mulayam vs. Mayawati. I’m sure the political pundits are salivating at the prospect. The voters of UP have an opportunity to choose a PM if they decide to overwhelmingly back one of these leaders over and above the others. Mulayam is the veteran and it could possibly be his last bid for the top job, which could resonate with the voters from an emotional standpoint. As for Rahul, he will be a far more effective factor in the general election than the assembly poll because he will actually be contesting himself, and possibly with his sister as a candidate as well, and that always rallies the troops. But the Congress has 22 sitting MPs from the state and anti-incumbency in those constituencies will be a factor. As always Modi is the wildcard, capable of changing the entire race with his mere presence. As the poster boy for Hindutva and also an OBC, he needs to replicate what Uma Bharti managed in Madhya Pradesh. The difference, however, between the two Hindi-belt states is, of course, the significant size of UP’s Muslim electorate. The question is, whether the Muslim voters will consolidate in response to Modi, and if so, in whose favour. Will they back the man they affectionately call 'Maulana Mulayam' or will they overcome their residual distrust of the Congress and throng to Rahul’s flag. Many, many questions and all fascinating. An early election in 2013 would favour Mulayam because a breakdown of law and order in the state, especially communal flare-ups, could be incrementally eating into the gains his son Akhilesh made in the 2012 assembly election. On the positive side Mulayam’s vehement opposition to the constitutional amendment for reservations in promotions during the winter session of parliament earned him considerable goodwill with OBC and upper-caste voters. But a year still remains till polls are scheduled, an eternity in politics, and there could be many more ugly surprises in store for the rulers of Uttar Pradesh.

         Shivraj Chauhan, the BJP Chief Minister who is the antithesis of Modi, appears to be quietly popular in Madhya Pradesh, as best we can tell, and holding his own against a Congress party that is as faction-ridden as it has ever been. The situation could alter slightly if Digvijay Singh returns to the electoral mix after keeping his vow of staying away from elected office for ten years. His return to the field could give a much-need emotional fillip to the Madhya Pradesh Congress. Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh appears rock solid as always but can he repeat his stellar performance in 2009 of winning 10 out of 11 seats. What role will the Maoists play this time around. Naveen Patnaik in Orissa suffered dissident problems last year but has recovered confidently from that trying experience. Coal scams and increasingly violent protests against the Posco land acquisition could still be important election issues, though. The BJP and Congress have no state leader to match the stature of Patnaik and the state assembly election will take place simultaneously with parliamentary elections, which normally provides a boost to the Lok Sabha tally of the party with a strong chief minister like the BJD.

         If the BJP and Janata Dal (United) maintain their alliance in Bihar there is little doubting their chances to increase their already large share of the state’s 40 seats. Even if they do sweep, there is no guarantee Nitish Kumar will stay with the NDA thereafter, bolting if the BJP insists on a Prime Minister Modi or tempted by the prospect of joining a third front government. The Congress is waiting with open arms to seal a pre-election alliance with the JDU, but is in no position to make up for the loss of the BJP’s crucial upper-caste voting block that would ensue. Whether the resulting increase in vote share among Muslims, after the BJP’s departure, will deliver Nitish Kumar the number of seats he so desires is the dilemma. Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan wait in the wings marginalized and hoping against hope for Nitish to make a misstep and provide them an opening. The Bihar CM, a trained civil engineer, is not known to take gambles, calculated risks perhaps.

         Jharkhand is an electoral nightmare as usual, and currently under President’s rule. BJP is confident but they will need to do well to defend their tally of 8 seats from 2009. With the jailed Madhu Koda and his record of uninhibited corruption as Chief Minister still in the news, the Congress is less sanguine. Shibu Soren’s JMM and Babulal Marandi’s JVM are always a force to be reckoned with thanks to their tribal support base. The alliances will make the difference. In West Bengal, despite her chaotic approach to governance, Mamata rules supreme after having won the hard-fought ground war in Bengal’s rural areas. The recent underwhelming by-election results have got to be a worry, but nobody doubts that come 2014 she will at the very least improve on her performance from the last general election. On the campaign trail she is a force of nature and no other Bengali leader can compare. Whether the Congress will survive her electoral assault in its last remaining bastions of North Bengal will also be interesting to see. The Gogoi government in Assam looks vulnerable after last year’s sectarian clashes showed the Chief Minister and his administration in an extremely poor light. He is now making overtures towards the AIUDF, a Muslim-dominated party with whom he had earlier vowed never to ally, which could either turn out to be a shrewd gambit or a move that backfires with his own base. Whether the AGP and the BJP can take advantage of Tarun Gogoi’s vulnerabilities is not certain, especially after their poor showing in the just concluded violence-marred panchayat polls. 

         To the west, Gujarat should go with Modi in support of his aspirations, gaining seats for the BJP in a more convincing fashion than the surprising stalemate with the Congress in 2009. Maharashtra is anybody’s guess with Raj Thackeray giving strong signals of making peace and allying with his estranged cousin Uddhav Thackeray, thereby uniting the Shiv Sena in spirit if not in body. This will make a decisive difference to seats in Mumbai and neighbouring regions and cost the Congress-NCP crucial seats. Whether anti-incumbency affects the Cong-NCP in the rest of the state is hard to say as the alliance has been so resilient in past elections even when they seemed to be facing a wave of anti-incumbency. However, with much of Maharashtra stricken by drought and the state government bearing the blame after the uncovering of an irrigation scam that stunned the nation because of its scale and cold-blooded venality, this may be the final straw. Or could the much publicised shenanigans of Nitin Gadkari hold the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance back from effectively using corruption as a poll plank. And what impact will Anna Hazare have in his home state if he decides to campaign in the election. A great many variables to wrestle with in Maharashtra. Manohar Parrikar is a safe pair of hands for the BJP in Goa and its 2 seats.

         In the south, Andhra Pradesh is a train wreck happening in slow-motion for the Congress and with a current tally of 33 seats, YSR’s electoral legacy, they have a lot to lose. An imprisoned Jagan Reddy, like Mamata, has vowed vengeance and he will get it. Congress did respectably in recent cooperative society elections but these polls are hardly a genuine indicator of the electoral mood in the way the impending local body elections will be. There is a school of thought, a very short-sighted one, in the Congress that thinks granting statehood to Telangana will save them at least from a whitewash in the region’s 17 Lok Sabha seats. Possibly, but it will let loose demands for statehood across the country in regions ranging from Gorkhaland to Vidarbha to Harit Pradesh to Bundelkhand and beyond that will be an electoral headache many times worse than Telangana is currently. Divine intervention may be the only solution for the Andhra problems of the Congress. The BJP is in an equally desperate condition in their southern bastion of Karnataka, with Yeddyurappa’s revolt likely to cause them grievous electoral damage and resulting in a loss of seats to the benefit of the Congress and Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (S).  

         It will be tough for the Congress to repeat its stellar general election performance in Kerala with its state government mired in one scandal after another, whether related to sex or corruption. As for Tamil Nadu,  you will be hard pressed to find a single soul who believes the DMK is in any position to recover from it dire performance in the 2011 assembly elections, and therefore has little chance of maintaining their currently healthy seat total in the Lok Sabha. P Chidambaram’s re-election hopes are also in jeopardy here, with Chief Minister Jayalalitha targeting him for defeat.

         New Delhi’s 7 seats should swing back in a substantial way to the BJP, with the urban vote clearly moving away from the Congress and the electoral strength of Mrs Dikshit on the wane. Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party appear to have taken up the opposition space in the last few months, pressuring the Dikshit government in a way the BJP has failed to do during her terms in office. If the Kejriwal experiment is to succeed anywhere it would probably be in Delhi which was the epicentre of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption. But realistically the damage being done to the Congress by the Aam Aadmi Party is likely to help the BJP win seats. We’ll find out if that supposition holds true in assembly election later this year. Of the North-Eastern states, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura recently voted with the NPF, Congress and Left governments being re-elected, a voting pattern that should be replicated in the general election. Maybe Purno Sangma’s party will do better in a national election, especially if he himself chooses to stand from his old seat of Tura in Meghalaya. The Outer Manipur seat could also give the Congress some problems because of the recent increase in strife between Nagas and Kukis that led to duelling blockades of the valley districts. The North-East has some dominant chief ministers in office at present like the NPF’s Rio in Nagaland, Congress’s Ibobi Singh in Manipur and Lalthanhawla in Mizoram, the Left’s Sarkar in Tripura, and SDF’s Chamling in Sikkim. Parliamentary elections in smaller states like these with one or two seats are like single-ballot referendums on the state government, the quality of the chief minister the crucial variable. Every seat will matter in the 16th Lok Sabha. 
         I did not make an exact count of seats as we went from state to state in our journey criss-crossing the political landscape of India, but if you piece together my state by state approximations into a whole you will find one glaring trend. The diminution of the two major national parties. In a recent column for rediff.com Mr TVR Shenoy, the veteran journalist whose career and political memory stretches back half-a-century, terms it the ‘Bay of Bengal Problem’ for the Congress and the BJP. He posits a realistic scenario where the two parties are wiped out from all the states along the Bay of Bengal coast stretching from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu that together constitute a sum total of 145 seats, of which the Congress alone won 54 and the UPA tallied 91 in 2009. The BJP doesn’t exist in these states anyway—ignoring the aberration of Jaswant Singh in Darjeeling—having committed hara-kiri in Orissa last time around and parted ways with the BJD, its last ally in the region. Going by current trends the Congress is faced with the real possibility of being left with a mere handful of seats in this arc of states which provided so plentifully and decisively for the UPA in the last two elections. Demolished in Andhra, their ally DMK equally battered in Tamil Nadu and no Mamata to fall back on for support with her bounty from West Bengal, it would spell the end of re-election hopes for the government. I should underline, however, that though the Congress would lose seats it will not be to the BJP’s gain. The chiefs of regional parties are set to be the main beneficiaries in the coming election from the look of things. Not to mention President Pranab Mukherjee, who will decide which individual to swear in as Prime Minister after what could very likely be a fractured verdict. The man who once waited for the call in vain will now make the call. I guess you live long enough and anything is possible. 
         Thus our electoral table is set. It was exhausting to write it, and no doubt to read as well, so I can’t even imagine what stamina it must take to plan a general election campaign that has to reach every last polling booth in the most distant and diverse constituencies. May the best campaign win!

 Stay tuned for my next blog post: The Communal Conundrum

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

After Manmohan, Who?

With Budget day coming up tomorrow, we are fast approaching the terminal phase of the 15th Lok Sabha. Thereafter the electoral cycle will kick in and every action of every political party will be geared towards the 2014 general elections. And with that, our current term-limited incumbent Prime Minister will be well on his way to lame-duck status, or shall I say, even more so than he already is.
         Before we come to the candidates who could succeed Manmohan Singh, it is important that we look at the state of prime ministerial authority that Prime Minister Singh will be bequeathing his successor. To put it bluntly, the office has never been in a more emaciated condition. I would even go as far as to say that we have not really had a Prime Minister for the last nine years, not in any form that would be recognisable to the framers of our Constitution, and it is my belief that much of the political turbulence that we have endured in recent years is a result of this vacuum of authority created in South Block. It was a premiership designed as such, when Sonia Gandhi decided to opt out of consideration and hand the job to a loyalist, one who could be trusted to keep the ship of state on course but be devoid of ambition, especially not of the wily PV Narasimha Rao-variety, a nightmare scenario the Gandhi family wished never to replicate. Thus, the prime ministership was splintered with Manmohan Singh charged with administration, Sonia Gandhi with overall political management, but leaving the vital public role of the job totally ignored. In the Lok Sabha there was left a void as well, with Leader of the Lok Sabha, the overburdened Pranab Mukherjee, doing the best that he could but unable to overcome one of the eternal verities of our parliamentary democracy that an Indian Prime Minister's mettle has to be tested on the floor of the Lok Sabha and it is there that he must prove his worth as a leader by dominating the proceedings by weight of performance and personality; the sine qua non of the Westminster model of government if it is to run successfully.
         Instead we were made to suffer, session after session, year after year, the statue-like visage of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sitting in Parliament, unmoving and seeming utterly miserable. His negative body language in the form of crossed arms and a morose expression said it all. A good man perhaps, but certainly the wrong man for the job. In office a decade, he should have changed the face of the country in the way that the long tenures of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi remade India in their image. Alas, I fear history will judge Sardar Manmohan Singh harshly, because in the ultimate analysis it does not matter what his coalition limitations were or whether he had ultimate political authority or not, he voluntarily chose to take on the challenge of sitting in Nehru's seat and was found wanting.
      Having written three novels about an Indian Prime Minister, I could with some reason be accused of overstating the power of the post, irrespective of the talents of the occupant. It is true that India has become an increasingly difficult country to govern with the polity fractured by region, caste and religion, and untidy coalition governments a certainty for the foreseeable future. But it is my contention that the situation can be made manageable for the next PM if he or she is able to reclaim the prime ministerial powers that have been allowed to lie unused this past decade. Some of the extraordinary events of recent times involving corruption by coalition allies, protests by civil society, an activist judiciary, and the unprecedented behaviour of a serving chief of army staff, were perhaps unavoidable occurrences but each episode was allowed to reach unmanageable proportions because a political vacuum had been allowed to form and was then filled by these non-sarkari forces who sensed weakness on Raisina Hill. In the era of the Right to Information Act, carnivorous television news channels, and an angry middle class, the diffused decision-making mechanism of the UPA government is slow to take cognisance of unexpected events and even slower to take countermeasures. It is a recipe for disaster in a new political context where even an hour's delay can wreck the reputation of a minister or even a government. The rules of political discourse have changed for ever but politicians, as a tribe, seem to have either not comprehended it or are incapable of adapting to it, in which case extinction is the only possible result. That is why the run-up to the 2014 election will be so fascinating and almost impossible to predict. Almost.
       Who will inherit Nehru's seat? In the handful of weeks since the start of 2013 the Congress and BJP have gone a long way towards clarifying their leadership choices. Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi will now almost certainly lead the general election campaigns of their respective parties. Whether they will end up as PM is less certain. Both their credentials to be PM leave a lot to be desired in terms of temperament and the necessary command of national and international issues, ignoring what their hordes of acolytes may have to say. The next candidate in the line-up is Mulayam Singh Yadav, hoping to be the last of the generation born pre-1947 to lead India, whose right to form a government will depend on an outstanding tally of seats from Uttar Pradesh touching at least 40 and his ability to put together a broad coalition with the help of one of the national parties. Ideally, he would like to have elections right now but the stolid support of the BSP to the UPA government and an ever-present fear of the CBI case against him and his family have left him appearing strategically confused. Then come the satraps from other states like Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Jayalalitha, and Mamata, who will need a perfect confluence of events if they are to become first among equals. In reality, this group is more likely to be kingmakers rather than the king or queen.
      We must also not forget to include in our list the second tier of senior leaders in the BJP and the Congress who could take advantage of a confused post-election situation and grab the top spot. I had taken it is a given that Rahul Gandhi's ambition was to become PM, that is until I heard his heartfelt speech on January 20th in Jaipur, during which he emphatically said that political power was poison. It was a stunning statement from someone who wields unquestioned power within India's ruling party and is seemingly destined to be PM, even if he has to wait an electoral cycle or two. I do believe Rahul was being truthful about his feelings, and if we are to take him at his word then I am starting to doubt if he will want to become PM, instead perhaps retaining the Congress Presidency like his mother, especially if it is to be a coalition government. It may be a blessing in disguise, given his lack of administrative experience, simplistic world view, and conflicted feelings. So then who will be Rahul's Manmohan Singh? Definitely someone from an older generation than the Congress scion, implicitly trusted by the Gandhi family, and with senior cabinet experience. By a process of elimination this would leave us with the triumvirate of Antony, Shinde and, to a lesser degree, Chidambaram. Or it could very well be some other dark horse, after all we never thought of Manmohan Singh as being in the prime ministerial race until he was anointed.
      Then we turn to Modi and the many road-blocks that await his path to power. An abrasive personality, inability to get past the events of 2002, which thus limits the pool of allies to choose from, means everything has go just perfectly for him to become PM. The moment of truth will come on counting day 2014, which could possibly leave the NDA as the largest alliance but with a shaky majority, and it is in such a scenario that the BJP's allies like the JDU and potential allies like the BJD could band together and veto Modi. At this point the BJP will have to make a fateful decision, whether to stick with Modi but suffer more years in the wilderness or to compromise and put forward a more moderate face like Arun Jaitley or Sushma Swaraj or even Yashwant Sinha to head the government. I doubt BJP would give up the PM's seat to a junior ally, but still join the government, as some of Nitish Kumar's supporters have conjectured. Who then Modi throws his support behind at this crucial juncture will decide the choice of the substitute BJP candidate but the country may again be saddled with a PM who owes his or her position to someone else's political wherewithal. Not ideal, to say the least.
      As you can see the possible permutations and combinations for the 2014 election are endless. I will try in the weeks and months ahead to profile each of the prime ministerial candidates mentioned in this post and also to delineate the issues, electoral and ideological, that could affect the outcome of the election and decide who will be India's next Prime Minister. Stay tuned.