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Dhaka Tribune

Rahul vs Modi: Are you entirely sure about that?

Update : 23 Apr 2013, 10:03 AM

Elections to India’s parliament for the next national government should be held around this time next year, if the present government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh completes its full term.

That, however, is starting to look unlikely, since the government is already in a minority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. It is surviving on outside support from a number of sometimes whimsical allies, such as the Samajwadi Party led by Uttar Pradesh politician Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mr Yadav has begun predicting elections later this year. That’s not a good sign for Mr Singh’s government, since he holds the rug the government is standing on.

The fact that the government is on shaky ground has not escaped any political party, or the loud and very active Indian media. The country, therefore, is moving into election mode. Television debates on the country’s main news channels are being accompanied by charts showing the numbers commanded by each party in Parliament.

Talk everywhere, in media, social media and business circles, frequently turns to questions of who will be the next prime minister of India.

At present, that question is usually met with answers naming Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi, 62, or Sonia Gandhi’s son, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, 42. The elections are being billed as a showdown between these two individuals.

Both scenarios are, in my opinion, rather far-fetched.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress has declared its prime ministerial candidate. Both parties have been asked the question a few thousand times by now, and consistently refused an answer.

Moreover, at least one of the presumptive candidates, Rahul Gandhi, has himself indicated on countless occasions that he is not in the race for the prime minister’s post.

It is quite likely that neither of them will become the next prime minister of India. The country’s political map offers clues to why.

Mr Modi, who has a reputation of being a very good administrator, is weighed down by what even his most ardent supporters describe as a terrible administrative lapse: the Gujarat riots of 2002, in which thousands of Muslims were killed in mob violence. His opponents and detractors have always charged Mr Modi with being complicit in the riots and ensuring the police did not get in the way of the mayhem.

As a result, despite all his wonderful work in burnishing the Gujarat economy, he remains unacceptable to most members of minority communities in India, and to secular Hindus, who are arguably the majority.

Rahul Gandhi, as the alternative, also leaves voters in many parts of India unimpressed.

This has been proved by the results of his campaigning efforts in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which are of great electoral significance because they send 120 members to Parliament.

Gandhi expended much time and energy on campaigning during local assembly elections in those states, but his Congress party’s performance barely showed a blip.

The fact of the matter is that every state in India has its own politics, with its own leaders who, on their turf, count for more than any “national leaders.

So, the politics in Uttar Pradesh is primarily a contest between Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, and Dalit leader Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. In Bihar, it is mainly between Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.

In West Bengal, it is between Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Left parties. In Tamil Nadu, it is between J Jayalalitha’s party and K Karunanidhi’s.

And so on, in state after state across the union.

What this means is that neither the BJP nor the Congress actually has much of a chance in roughly half the country. They are basically fighting for the remaining half.

It is rather unlikely that either of them will have a success rate so high that they manage to win more than 200 seats on their own in the 545 member Lok Sabha. At the present moment, it seems to me that neither of them will get much more than 150 or 160 seats out of 545.

This means that the regional parties may actually be the largest group in a hung Parliament.

They are currently too divided to cobble together a government, but given a stable nucleus, they could pull together to form one, possibly with outside support from the Congress or the BJP.

Or, the reverse may happen, where one of the two “national parties leads a rainbow coalition.

In either case, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi would make for very unlikely prime ministers. Rahul would probably not want to lead such a government, and Modi would not be acceptable to several parties.

That leaves the field to candidates with wide acceptability across the political spectrum - people like the unlikely politician who’s been PM for two terms, Manmohan Singh.

The writer is the consulting editor of The Asian Age, Mumbai, and author of The Urban Jungle (Penguin, 2011)

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