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25 June, 2013

PMs in search of a nation

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Constitution names the country India that is Bharat. It also has a third name, Hindustan. This was in fact the name of the last Indian state before the British takeover. The letter of credentials which Queen Elizabeth I gave to the first British expedition was in fact addressed to Akbar, Emperor of Hindustan.

There may be many names but there is only one country to govern. Yet, as the country approaches the national elections due in a year’s time, the political scenario is so crowded with prime ministers eager to govern that the intriguing title of Nobel laureate Louis Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of a Play comes to mind.

A PM’s post is no doubt up for grabs. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, hit hard by multiple scams and double anti-incumbency, has little chance of staging a hat-trick. Even if it pulls off a miracle, the Congress may opt for a younger captain for the team in pace of Manmohan Singh, an octogenarian whose political failures now outweigh economic successes.

Though Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who was recently elevated as party vice-president, continues to play the reluctant bridegroom, the party is in the happy state of having a readymade prime ministerial candidate.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the opposition National Democratic Alliance, was not in such a situation. With Atal Behari Vajpayee, who headed NDA governments twice, in retirement and Lal Kishen Advani, his chosen successor, failing to deliver in two elections, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the fountainhead of Hindutva, decided that Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi was the best bet and subtly manoeuvred him into the prime ministerial stakes.

For the RSS, Modi was a logical choice. He had delivered the party three successive electoral victories in Gujarat and built up the image of an able administrator. But the Janata Dal (United), the second largest party of the NDA and senior partner of the coalition government in Bihar state, was unwilling to accept him as he bears the stigma of being the facilitator, if not author, of anti-Muslim riots of 2002.

The RSS calculated that dissident voices within the party could be silenced and the JD(U) mollified by naming Modi, for the time being, as the chief of the campaign committee for the 2014 poll and not the prime ministerial candidate. Advani still sulked. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sacked the BJP ministers, and the JD(U) quit the NDA.

The JD(U) pullout testifies to the general unease Modi’s quick ascent in the BJP hierarchy has created. This may make it difficult for the BJP to woo back the regional parties, which were its allies in the previous NDA regimes and whose support appears essential to return to power.

Modi wants to be prime minister of the Hindu rashtra (nation) of the RSS concept. He launched his Kashmir-to-Kanyakumari campaign on Sunday with a massive rally, which, on practical considerations, was held at Pathankot, just outside the Jammu and Kashmir state. Earlier, landing in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand with a team of Gujarat officials and air transport to save an estimated 15,000 trapped pilgrims from his state, he provided a glimpse of the Rambo-like ruler he imagines himself to be.

The attempt to upstage Central and Uttarakhand officials who were engaged in the biggest disaster management operations in memory irked the Congress, which accused Modi of milking political gain out of the human tragedy.

Pollsters have predicted that the BJP does not stand to gain as many parliamentary seats as the Congress is set to lose. This has kindled hopes in the minds of leaders of small parties which dominate several states, some of whom have prime ministerial ambitions of their own. Among them are Nitish Kumar, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, both of whom have been chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, and Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalithaa and Navin Patnaik, chief ministers of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha respectively.

The limited geographical reach of their parties need not inhibit these leaders since favourable circumstances have propelled small-time chiefs to the prime minister’s post in the past. But there is another limiting factor which cannot be lightly dismissed. The concept of the Indian nation embedded in the minds of most of them does not extend much beyond the borders of their own political fiefdoms.  -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 25, 2013.

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