General elections in India are due in 2015, but already the race to designate the potential prime ministerial candidates is on. There are two main contending political parties in this contest, namely the Congress Party whose current chief is Italian-born Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Shri Rajnath Singh. It is to the eminent credit of Rajnath Singh that he does not consider himself a likely prime ministerial candidate, and is willing to be the facilitator and conciliator who will steer the National Executive of the party, which meets shortly in Goa, towards making the final choice.
This sort of pragmatism, if not magnanimity, ought to have been the hallmark – particularly at this stage of his life and career – of the veteran and patriarch of Indian politics Shri LK Advani. Instead of, as he has done, letting the cat among the pigeons as it were, by creating confusion within a party which he helped to create. In fact, still nurturing an ambition to be Prime Minister and perhaps prodded by those of the ‘Advani camp’ within the party, such as Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Ananth Kumar and others, he declared in public that Chief Ministers Vijay Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chattisgarh had done equally well for the development of their states, if not better, than Narendra Modi in Gujarat which, according to Advani, was already a prosperous state when Modi took over. His intervention was looked upon as a bid to scuttle Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate, which is increasingly both a grassroots feeling in the BJP electorate as well as pretty much a national feeling.
We will come back to that later. Let us look at what the Congress has on offer: a pet, and Mama’s boy. How did an economist of world renown, who had left his mark at the World Bank, become a ‘yes Madam’ Prime Minister is a mystery that India – and Indians, if the interest is maintained that long – will have to await history’s unravelling of. Suffice it to say that the current incumbent Manmohan Singh has greatly disappointed India which had a lot of expectations from him, and he has failed to meet them.
That’s why he is referred to as the pet to Sonia Gandhi, whose commands he can only acquiesce to, because he is beholden to her for the post of Prime Minister. Contrary to the humbug that, like a true Indian woman or bahu (daughter-in-law) Sonia Gandhi sacrificed herself in favour of Manmohan Singh, the truth is that, to begin with, it seems that at that time, she still had not changed to Indian nationality. But more fundamentally, although this is not written in the Constitution of India, it is tacitly understood that a foreign-born national cannot aspire to hold the highest executive post in any country. Thus, Austria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger could only reach up to governor level (in California) in America. More tellingly though, a certain India-born Ms Banerjee, though married to an Italian, could not aspire to higher than being a mayor in a town of her husband’s country. So, for heaven’s sake, mama mia!, let that myth of Sonia Gandhi’s ‘sacrifice’ be laid to rest once for all, shall we?
Further, the United Party Alliance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been so rocked by scandals and scams that it has lost any credibility, despite the win in the Karnataka Assembly polls recently. There is wishful thinking about Rahul Gandhi, son of Sonia Gandhi, becoming the next Prime Minister of India. No doubt he is a nice, handsome young prince, but he failed miserably to obtain the confidence of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. As a reward (!) or consolation prize, he was propulsed to No. 2 position in the Congress Party.
The problem with Rahul Gandhi is that, concretely, he has nothing to show in terms of India’s development, nor has he ever expressed himself on any of the major issues that should be the concerns of a country’s aspiring leader, more specifically on India’s foreign policy. It’s good to be nice and handsome, but that’s not enough to lead a country which, by virtue of the size of his population – over 1.2 billion and growing –, is for practical purposes a continent. Rahul Gandhi’s walk-about on stage ‘presentation’ at a meeting in New Delhi in February last to a galaxy of businessmen revealed his lack of maturity if not his amateurism, despite a few cliché themes he touched upon and the flattering noises of some who had been present there.
Frankly, Rahul Gandhi has a lot to learn and still a very, very long way to go before he can aspire to the top job in his country, not to speak of the aversion to dynasties that is increasingly felt by peoples around the world. Because of his youth, comeliness and his empathy for the poor, he has promise – but has to work hard and take patience and, above all, produce a credible track record of come concrete achievement(s). Let us be blunt: he is no match for Narendra Modi, thrice elected Chief Minister of India’s showcase state: Gujarat.
To return to the BJP, it is commendable that following Advani’s statement Vijay Chauhan declared himself as even further than No. 3, with Raman Singh as No. 2, and expressed his appreciation of the seniority of Narendra Modi. As for Sushma Swaraj, who has been Information Minister in the past, there is no doubt that she is both outspoken on many critical issues as well as a superb spokesperson for the BJP. If only because of that, along with her rich experience of political life and the present and future challenges for India, she should fully back her leader Rajnath Singh as he takes the BJP forward.
Both she and the ‘camp’ she is associated with in the BJP, as well as Shri Advani himself, should come to grips with a glaring reality: in 2015, Advani will be 88 years old. He is no doubt still in good health and, even assuming that he remains so two years down the line, does he really thing that India needs an 88-year old Prime Minister, even if – or especially because – ‘this is the BJP veteran’s last shot at the top post and he must not give up.’ Come on Dadaji Advani, you are no longer even in the vanprasti stage! But nobody is asking you to be sanyasa either. Honestly, veteran that you are, with over three decades in political life, and the unending record of your contributions to India’s national life, what more will prime ministership bring you in terms of fame and honour? Do you need to undercut someone else at this point in your exemplary life to prove that you can be better? At what?
No, Dadaji. Your moral stature, already immeasurable, will rise even higher if you choose to become guide, mentor and friend to the one who is showing the greatest promise to take India forward, and with a track record in fields as diverse as women’s health, education, the power and energy sectors, and attraction of FDI. That’s your Narandra Modi, who has already outshone at the Lady Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi and at FICCI earlier this year. Like Jimmy Carter at international level, what with your visit to Pakistan and your speech in Karachi – plus your reference to Jinnah’s speech copy of which you sent to Swami Ranganathananda, Head of the Ramakrishna Mission – you could be the regional ambassador for peace and understanding amongst nations which share so much in terms of cultural heritage and are faced with the same social and economic challenges.
After all, you only put it so beautifully in your autobiography ‘My Country, My Life’: ‘I can claim to have the practical and contemplative understanding that comes to a dedicated, long-standing and goal-oriented practitioner of politics. I felt it was time for me to share my experiences and understanding with my fellow Indians; and also to share, especially with the youth, my dreams and concerns, my aspirations and apprehensions, about tomorrow’s India.’
Compared to you, everybody around in Indian politics, including Narendra Modi, is a youth. So please, yes, share what you have to, and guide them to lead India as you would yourself have done. That is the best contribution you could make towards the end of your life, a true yagna for Bharat Mata.
India has had its Mahatma. It has had and will continue to have Prime Ministers, who by the very nature of things, function at the operational, prakriti level. But you are way beyond that, or should be – at the purusha level. What India has not had and needs is a national Dadaji. Will you please be Bharat Mata’s Mahapurusha Dadaji?
Thank you Dadaji.
* Published in print edition on 7 June 2013