Stakeholders: Government of India, various political parties
Run-up to Elections 2009
· With the elections just a few months away, the race between the top contenders is heating up.
· The era of coalition politics is far from over, and for that very reason it is impossible to accurately predict which group of allies will come into power at the centre.
· In spite of the uncertainty hanging over the final outcome, a few prominent names are being discussed as potential prime ministerial candidates.
· In this article, we take a quick look at the prospects of these candidates and the parties they represent.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, Party: Congress (I), Alliance: United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
· Dr. Singh is widely regarded as the architect of India’s economic reforms. The amazing growth that India has witnessed over the last few years is a result of these economic reforms.
· He has a reputation for honesty and integrity that transcends party boundaries.
· The signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal is one of the major achievements of Dr. Singh’s career as prime minister. To get the deal through, he even disregarded the opinions of his coalition partners, the Left Parties. This bold move earned Dr. Singh a lot of praise for promoting matters of national interest even when the fate of his government was at stake.
· After five years at the helm, Dr. Singh is a seasoned player of the coalition politics game.
· He is an acknowledged financial wizard. At a time when the world is going through a financial crisis of epic proportions, his experience at the top would be more than handy.
· Dr. Singh’s elevation to the top job came rather unexpectedly, after Congress President Sonia Gandhi pulled out of the race following uproar over her foreign origins. Unfortunately, he has never been completely able to step out of Ms. Gandhi’s shadow.
· The government has been unable to keep inflation in check. The rising prices of essential commodities could mean a dip in the popularity of the UPA. As head of the government, Dr. Singh will have to bear some of the brunt.
· The successful signing of the Nuclear Deal will not guarantee the UPA the votes of the rural populace, which has little interest in such matters and whose main concern will be the government’s inability to reign in the prices. So, the Nuclear Deal may not exactly be the trump card the Congress can bank on.
· Voters tend to lose confidence in incumbent governments. This anti-incumbency factor is something the Congress will have to guard against.
· At 76, Dr. Singh is not getting any younger. Recently, he underwent heart bypass surgery. This has raised concerns about his ability to lead the country for another term.
· The Mumbai terror attacks have exposed chinks in the security system of the country. This will have an adverse impact on the government and may become a major poll plank for the opposition.
· There are factions within the party which may promote Rahul Gandhi, a General Secretary of the Congress and a scion of the illustrious Nehru-Gandhi clan, as a likely candidate. This is considered by analysts as an indication of Dr. Singh’s diminishing influence over the party.
L.K. Advani, Party: BJP, Alliance: National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
· L.K. Advani is a seasoned campaigner. He has had experience at the top, having been deputy prime minister and home minister in the previous NDA government.
· He is a known hardliner. This will endear him to certain segments of the electorate.
· Though the economic reforms were introduced by a Congress government, the rapidest growth India achieved was under the NDA government. This will work in favour of L.K. Advani, especially when the economy is showing signs of applying the breaks.
· The BJP’s expected victory in Gujarat and its incredible win in the Karnataka by-elections have been a tremendous boost for the party in its race to the 2009 elections. Being the MP from Gandhi Nagar, L.K. Advani can take some of the credit for the party’s super show in Gujarat.
· In the absence of a reasonably sound political issue, the anti-incumbency factor will work in the BJP’s favour. The BJP would also want to portray the security lapse that resulted in the Mumbai terror attacks as a failure of the government.
· L.K. Advani is 81 years old. His age may prevent him from connecting with the youth of the country, who form a major part of the electorate.
· His Hindu hardliner image, which, incidentally, Advani is trying hard to shed, will not go down well with secular Hindus and people from other communities.
· He will find it difficult to live down his image as one of the instigators of the Babri Masjid demolition.
· The BJP got voted into power on the promise that it would build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Having failed to live up to its expectations, the party may have lost the support of Hindu hardliners.
· The BJP lost quite a bit of support when it failed to vote with the government on the Nuclear Deal. A lot of urban voters will have this in mind when they step out to vote on Election Day.
· Advani’s remarks on Jinnah during a personal visit to Pakistan, triggered uproar within the BJP. He lost the post of Party President to Rajnath Singh. This is perhaps an indication of his lack of popularity within his own party.
· The announcement of his candidacy came as a huge surprise to many. Coming as it did on the eve of the elections in Gujarat, many dismissed it as an attempt by the BJP to influence voters or a method to keep Gujarat C.M. Narendra Modi out of the race for the post of the Prime Minister.
The Dark Horses in the Race
While Dr. Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani may be the prime contenders for the top job in 2009, there are some dangerous floaters out there who could upset the apple cart at anytime. This has never been truer than at present, given the uncertainty of coalition politics.
Rahul Gandhi, Party: Congress (I), Alliance: UPA
· The Gandhi surname still matters in India, at least among the masses. It is not surprising therefore, that Rahul Gandhi has his share of supporters in the Congress Party. These are mainly old party loyalists who have served the party from the times of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and retain a fair amount of clout in party matters.
· Youth is Rahul Gandhi’s biggest USP. It is an advantage that the two candidates considered previously will never have.
· The Congress would want to project Gandhi’s youthfulness against Advani’s advancing years in the run-up to the elections.
· Comparison with his father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, will also work for Rahul Gandhi. In a country where sentiment can work wonders, this will only be in his favour.
· Rahul Gandhi could do for the Congress what Obama did for the Democrats in the US – present a fresh face and vision to negate the issues of terrorism and inflation that the opposition is sure to throw at the government.
· After being elected to the Parliament from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi went on a tour of rural India with an intention of connecting with the masses. This is being seen as an important part of his training to assume the leadership of the country.
· While youth is Rahul Gandhi’s undisputed USP, it is also his bane. His lack of experience may prove a decisive factor in his party’s performance at the elections.
· India is going through turbulent times. The country’s relationship with Pakistan is at its lowest in many years and a war-like situation might emerge at anytime. At this time, the country may prefer to have an experienced hand at the helm. This, again, could be detrimental to the Congress’ chances at the election.
· While old hands in the Congress may be all for dynastic politics, a majority of the electorate may not be too keen to be led by an inexperienced person, whose current claim to fame is just his surname.
· Projecting Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate would require the consent of the other members of the UPA. Having a consensus on this is never an easy task in a coalition.
Mayawati, Party: BSP
· In case of a hung parliament and post-election alliances, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has a great chance to become Prime Minister.
· Mayawati’s declared agenda is the uplift of the Dalits. As such, she does not have any strict ideology and is therefore acceptable to the leftist Congress, the right wing BJP and the Left Front.
· If a Dalit woman were to rise to the highest position of power in our political system, it would enhance India’s reputation as an empowering democracy.
· Due to ideological differences, the Left Front will never side with the BJP. The recent disagreement over the Nuclear Deal has fractured the Left Front’s relations with the Congress as well. This means that the Congress, the BJP and the Left Front will need the support of the BSP to form the government.
· The BSP may not win a lot of seats, but whatever number it wins will be crucial. There are not many who doubt that she will play the role of King-maker, but there are also those who believe that Mayawati may demand to be made Prime Minister in return for her support.
· The fact that the BSP may not win a significant number of seats should not be a deterrent because there are many instances of people becoming the Prime Minister in spite of not having the backing of numbers. Some names that come to mind are H.D. Deve Gowda, Chandrashekhar and I.K.Gujral.
· The BSP has the unique advantage of having a clear majority in the UP assembly. This means that for five years, Mayawati cannot be ousted. This has given her enough time to concentrate on the national front.
· The fact that the BSP has won 10 out of the last 11 by-elections means that Mayawati is living up to her promises.
· In June 2008, Mayawati pulled out of the UPA citing the government’s anti-people policies and inability to control inflation as the reasons. This came at a time when the UPA was battling the Left over the Nuclear Deal. This action of Mayawati may make other parties wary of aligning with the BSP.
· Her complete lack of ideology indicates that she will not hesitate to pull the rug from under the feet of her alliance partners and jump boats midstream.
· There are allegations of corruption levelled against Mayawati. One such scandal was the Taj Corridor project, wherein the Mayawati government started construction around the Taj without proper clearance from the environment ministry.
· Mayawati has also been accused of ordering the BSP MPs to illegally divert their funds to the party-fund.
· Mayawati also stands accused of forcibly collecting funds for her birthday. Recently, a PWD engineer was allegedly killed by a BSP MLA because he refused to contribute Rs. 5,00,000 as a gift for Mayawati's Birthday.
· Next PM: Mayawati has the best chance
· The BJP Dilemma