When the Congress increased its Lok Sabha seat share from a shaky 145 seats to a commanding 206 in the 2009 General Elections, it seemed just a matter of time before Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi succeeded Manmohan Singh for the Prime Minister’s post.
There was talk of Manmohan becoming President in 2012 and some confident leaders also talked of the Congress getting 272 on its own in 2014. Then the scams started tumbling out of the closet one by one.
Rahul started making one bad speech after another and fell flat in the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. He became a laughing stock on Twitter and earned the nickname of Pappu. With each passing day he has shown himself more and more reluctant to lead the nation.
Growth has slowed down and the India story is no longer being looked at fondly by the world. Inflation is resulting in a disillusioned electorate.
When the Congress fortunes started going down south steeply, there was talk of the probability of a Third Front for some time. If either Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati got 40-50 LS seats, then they could stake their claim in a badly hung Parliament.
There was also Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who briefly seemed to enjoy the support of one and all.
However even that has changed. CM Akhilesh Yadav is losing ground rapidly in UP and it is the BJP which seems to be the rising power. Maya and Mulayam are both looking at a very grim 2014.
Nitish looks like a pale shadow of himself and is trudging from one tragedy to another. He is unlikely to pick up a commanding amount of Lok Sabha seats. The Third Front members are no longer as confident as they were say a year back.
With the way things are going and with the way the Modi momentum is building up, the most likely scenario is the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the next Lok Sabha. In fact the main question is: Will the BJP pick up enough seats to push Modi for the PM’s post?
The magical number could be in excess of 200 or even slightly lower at 180. If the BJP is well clear of the Congress, then allies would start flocking towards it. Power is the ultimate reality and not some vague concept like secularism or communalism.
But what happens if the BJP does not get enough seats to push Modi? In all likelihood a compromise candidate from the BJP will make the cut to lead a stable NDA2.
Six months back there were two clear frontrunners for that compromise. The first is LK Advani. Advani may be old, but he is as fit as ever. The mainstream media, the Opposition and civil society all seem to have developed a sudden fondness for Advani. He even looks “secular” in front of the “communal” Modi.
The other is Sushma Swaraj. She is the leader of the Opposition which is in fact a sort of shadow Prime Minister.
However things have changed drastically in the BJP off late. A mini internal civil war has taken place and the ruling triumvirate have emerged. They are Modi, party President Rajnath Singh and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Even if the allies want Advani or Sushma, the triumvirate will veto that because of their recent dissent.
This is where someone like Arun Jaitley comes into the picture. Jaitley is a shrewd networker and has maintained good relations with all sections of the BJP and even the RSS. He is on relatively good terms with the media, allies and Opposition.
He is also Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and was a Cabinet Minister in the AB Vajpayee government of 1998-2004. He is a lawyer by profession and has defended a wide spectrum of politicians from late Congressman Madhavrao Scindia to JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav.
He is the umpteenth lawyer to make it big in Indian politics. In fact the current Union Cabinet boasts of lawyers like AK Antony, P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal etc. Of course Mahatma Gandhi himself was a lawyer!
Either way, Jaitley’s proximity with various power centres means that he could well emerge as the dark horse of 2014 and make his way as the next Prime Minister of India without much fanfare or hype!
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