There’s a very old RK Laxman cartoon where a voter is blocked by a Congress leader holding a multitude of placards which are election promises. The voter brushes him aside and says that he doesn’t know all that and points to a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru saying that he is just voting for him!
That’s politics in India for you. It’s not about the party. It’s about the individual who always looms larger than life. You can’t imagine DMK without M Karunanidhi and AIADMK without Jayalalithaa. The same goes for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress, Mayawati and the BSP.
Most voters vote for the person and not the party.
A recent case in point is Jagan Mohan Reddy. Despite having no experience in politics and no-one really knowing how he would fare if he became a Chief Minister, he stormed the recent by-polls in Andhra Pradesh with his new inexperienced party.
The cult of the personality transcends all walks of life and even a mediocre Salman Khan film will do roaring business thanks to the very presence of the star. In cricket, it doesn’t matter if Sachin Tendulkar wins India a match or not. He will still be worshipped as a God.
The post of the Prime Minister is no different. Either the person has the charisma and voters will flock to him or he doesn’t and will become a dud at the national level. That way the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has proved to a great magnet for voters all across India.
While Nehru strode like a colossus till his death, his daughter Indira Gandhi became equally popular with the masses. She definitely won the personality war with the likes of Morarji Desai who was eventually forced to leave the party.
Indira also would have never been voted out of power had she not done a series of silly mistakes culminating in the Emergency.
Her son Rajiv was also charismatic and would have definitely been PM had he been alive today.
The rise of the BJP was due to the two towering personalities of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. It is just as well Advani gave way to Vajpayee, for the former would never have been acceptable to a coalition in the 1990s.
While Vajpayee became PM by chance in 1996 and 1998, it was the elections of 1999 that proved to be a referendum of his national status. You could say that it was a Vajpayee versus Sonia Gandhi fight in that year and Vajpayee won hands down.
So one can ask, what happened in 2004? What happened to Vajpayee’s charisma? One reason for that was that Vajpayee turned 80 that year and was not expected to continue in office for much longer. It was the popularly held opinion that if the NDA was re-elected, then Advani would take over mid-stream.
So you could say that 2004 was actually an Advani versus Sonia battle for the post of Prime Minister. That is one battle that Sonia won hands down. That she couldn’t become PM for whatever reason she only knows is another story.
When Manmohan Singh became PM, the Sensex tanked and no-one expected the government to last for more than 2-3 years. Manmohan completed 5 years and earned great respect and admiration with his Nuclear Bill moment.
So in 2009, it was a Manmohan versus Advani battle and the latter lost for the second time running.
Now the interesting part is that both Advani and Manmohan will be out of the picture in 2014 and we will have a new PM.
In the Congress party, Pranab Mukherjee has become President of India while P Chidambaram has been caught in too many controversies. The clear favourite for the PM’s post is Rahul Gandhi.
In the BJP, while there are many claimants for the post, the clear front-runner is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. All the opinion polls for the PM’s post always show Modi and Rahul occupying the top two spots.
No matter what is projected by the respective parties, a person voting for the Congress will have Rahul in mind and a person voting for the BJP will have Modi in mind.
Of course there will be many issues like corruption and the economy. But the Rahul-Modi factor will be one of the most important by virtue of the personality-oriented nature of Indian politics.
And boy are they a contrast!
Modi used to run a tea stall once. He slowly worked his way from the bottom to become CM. After that in the last 10-odd years he has proved to be an able administrator and the Gujarat success story is there for all to see. He is definitely one of the most experienced and able person for the PM’s post. Millions admire him and will vote for the BJP in the hope that he becomes PM.
The biggest albatross around his neck is Godhra. It is for this reason that millions will never ever vote for him. Modi has severely polarized the nation and the two extremes are unlikely to change their stands in a hurry. It will be the undecided voter which will play a decisive role in 2014.
Rahul on the other hand gets the candidacy merely by birth and nothing else. Sure he has travelled the length and breadth of the country and shown great interest in youth politics, but that’s about it. He has no administrative experience and no-one really knows what he thinks about key policy issues and what his governing style will be if and when he becomes PM.
He hardly attends Parliament or speaks in it. He is in and out of the country and absent at key crises that the Congress party faces. In one way he is a Sphinx like his mother. No-one knows much about him and he is quite aloof.
But those could be his very advantages as he doesn’t have a Godhra-type repellent and the dynasty still holds sway over millions of Indians.
Modi’s contradictory issues of Godhra and development are too well-known and have been discussed ad infinitum. Rahul is still an unknown. It will be interesting to see how this clash will play itself out in public perception.
It’s the new Sphinx of the Dynasty versus the Tiger of Gujarat.
It is quite difficult to know which horse the unpredictable Indian electorate will back in the next general elections!
More by this author:
Rising Islamophobia in Europe a worrying sign
The Congress turns the tide...for now
Protest and make your enemies more powerful!
Post-9/11: Now our world is less safe
Cartoonist Aseem and India's new cyber rebellion
India Intolerance Incorporated
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/