An election campaign is a time for discord; an occasion to show how you are different from the others. The 2014 General Election has been rather mephitic. It doesn’t offer much scope for accord. It calls for fresh thought.
Two possibilities seem most likely: the NDA forms a government with or without Narendra Modi at the helm, or a host of parties cobble together a government headed by someone outside the Congress. Both will not have the support of the majority; more Indians would have voted against either of them.
It might be worth considering more options. The time may have come for a national government. There was talk of a national government twenty-five years ago when VP Singh headed a National Front government.
The idea was to include all the non-Congress parties in such a government. It didn’t happen because CPI(M) general secretary EMS Namboodiripad, CPI senior Indrajit Gupta and BJP point person LK Advani refused.
There is a difference now. A 2014 national government would in theory be different from what was proposed in 1989. If India’s polity has to truly put India first, it will need to be nudged in such a direction. A genuine national government would have to include all major players.
The purpose of a national government is to allow focus on India at all times. It would serve as antidote to the poison in politics. It would enable the political parties to work on themselves quietly, without the OCD urge to run the others down every day.
At the moment, all parties in India agree on three big challenges: black money, corruption in public life and judicial reform. There are thus three starting points for them to work together. There is much agreement on FDI as well with only the Left opposing it.
Most parties seem to have the same position on foreign policy as well. They are all unsure about the United States, China and Pakistan. They agree that trade and Indian interest has to lead. Only the Left is stridently anti-US.
There is disagreement on policy within India – like on Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and the Ayodhya tangle. But they are not deal-breakers; there is much room for debate on all of them. Most parties would be happy to put them on low priority.
This is a crucial moment. Sixty-seven years is a long time to search for solutions with the same prescription. India’s parties have thus far put themselves ahead of India. It has not worked. India still punches below its weight and the parties have not found universal support.
This needs to change if India has to be a global leader and a country worth living and loving in. A national government is a better option than a dubious centrist coalition or a disliked rightwing coalition. A clear majority naturally means India has a government it has to live with.
A national cabinet makes more sense if there is no majority. The following are people that India could benefit from if they are asked to work together. This might not make immediate sense, in the midst of an acerbic campaign, but it is where India may be headed eventually.
1. Narendra Modi. Not everything is wrong with him although it often appears so. He has management skills, political brilliance and fearlessness that ought to assist India on the global stage. He won’t help as prime minister of a national government but he could be fine in a cabinet. I might say defence is good to see what he can really deliver.
2. Rahul Gandhi. His primary weakness is that he hasn’t worked in the government. He ought to be a shoo-in if he wins Amethi. He has the appetite to improve the lives of India’s poorest. He is clearly not ready for the top post but he ought to be appropriate as cabinet minister. Anything that forces him to travel, work hard and show measurable success is good. But not the core ministries just yet.
3. Chandrababu Naidu. The man is killing himself because he is no longer on top of the shifty politics of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He had nine years as chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh. It is far too toxic for him now as possible head of a much smaller Andhra Pradesh. He would make more sense in a national cabinet. I would even say finance minister.
4. Mayawati. She doesn’t have a job currently but she has acceptance as the best of the Dalit politicians in India. She has skill and solidity that seem to make her unbreakable. A woman and a Dalit is far too good a combination to overlook. India would lay to rest a big demon by having her work honestly in a ministry that needs a taskmaster. Maybe home and minority affairs.
5. Sushma Swaraj. She ought to be the home minister if Mayawati is not. Swaraj should be so even in a BJP-led NDA government because it would give India its first woman home minister and allow for more gender dignity in the police forces. She has the strength and sensitivity to stay clear of a rampant Modi, which makes her an ideal counterweight to Modi. Plus, she really needs a job that challenges her.
6. Arun Jaitley. If he wins Amritsar, he could be India’s next minister of external affairs. He seems to be suave enough to suit the demands of international diplomacy. This is not a good time for him to be involved with law and justice as there is a strong desire for change in the way India’s judiciary functions. So, out of India he works. The US, China and Pakistan will keep him busy enough.
7. Shashi Tharoor. If he wins in Thiruvananthapuram, he should be India’s foreign minister if Jaitley is not. He has the necessary skills and the background. He is known in international circles and he is firmly centrist. UPA2 underutilised him. It won’t happen in a national government where India is the master and not a party or a family. Hopefully, he’ll stay off personal distractions because he needs to do far more for the country.
8. Arvind Kejriwal. He was not too comfortable with the limitations of a Delhi chief minister. He won’t be ready for the top job until five or ten years later. But he is razor sharp and knows the system. He could deliver in the war on corruption although he’ll need to stay the course. India could trust him in a union cabinet where his brilliance can bring unconventional ideas.
9. Prashant Bhushan. He is the best choice at the moment for law and justice. He knows it better than most, he has a stellar track record of fighting the good battles, and he doesn’t give up. They fear him in the judiciary and he has earned respect and loathing in corporate circles. Plus, he is probably the only one Kejriwal listens to. He is undeniably a friend of India although it might help to keep him away from Kashmir for the moment.
10. Jairam Ramesh. He can do anything and it is a shame that UPA2 did not give him the scale to challenge him. He is intelligent and focused and was just beginning to warm up to India’s interiors in the ministry of rural development. He could be asked to helm the development programme for India’s interiors, or for its cities. He did a fine job with environment too.
11. Sitaram Yechury. He has a strong economics background and could even be the surprise pick as finance minister if Naidu doesn’t move out of Andhra Pradesh. The CPI(M) never gave Yechury the freedom and respect he deserves. Yechury is often described as India’s most credible politician. His big drawback is the CPI(M)’s insistence on never having anything to do with a union government unless they head it. If the party is open to new thought, Yechury is in.
12. Azim Premji. He is India’s best Muslim entrepreneur although his religion has nothing to do with it. His sense of India ought to work well in the cabinet. He knows what it takes to survive the system; he is socially conscious too. He could bring a calm and professional touch to an otherwise politically hypersensitive cabinet.
These are the top twelve.
The next ten could be: Jyotiraditya Scindia, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee [he is wise and would have learned from Singur], Omar Abdullah [he could do better in the cabinet], Nandan Nilekani, Varun Gandhi, Sharad Yadav [the best of the Yadavs], Sushil Kumar Modi [as bright as the other Modi in many areas], Baijayant Panda [the best from Odisha], Rajmohan Gandhi [good for HRD if he wins east Delhi] and Gurudas Dasgupta [the only one active in the CPI].
This makes it twenty-two.
There are eight who are short in experience but tall in ability and promise: Jayaprakash Narayan [a clean politician from Telangana], Ajay Maken [if he wins New Delhi], Meenakshi Natarajan [unimpeachable Congresswoman], Soni Sori [if she wins, who better for India to make a point about tribal development and gender dignity], Mary Kom [the best from the northeast], Medha Patkar, Naresh Gujral [he seems the best option from Punjab] and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore [he has an Olympic silver medal and Rajasthan really has no one else].
A cabinet with thirty ministers is good for India’s size. The only ones this cabinet might accept as prime minister are Abdul Kalam and Anna Hazare. Kalam, if fit, could be appropriate. He is Muslim, Bharat Ratna, top nuclear scientist and someone Modi would respect.
Hazare is a decent second option. He doesn’t have the government experience but he is a moral compass. That is all he would need to be in a cabinet of such dexterity. And, Modi could accept him too even if for just one term.
Chew on it. This is not as fanciful as it appears to be.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.