Monthly Archives: September 2012

Who will India’s next leader be?

Fast Forward to 2014

All this talk about the upcoming November elections in the United States has me wondering what will happen in India when a leadership change becomes due. The next elections are slated for 2014. That’s not as far off as one might think. [By then, I hope to be safely ensconced back on U.S. soil, a country that is once more being led by one Barack Obama. Let’s see…].

Over these many months of living here, I have devoured all the information I could find on just about anything happening in this country. I’ve simply soaked it up like a sponge, knowing full well that it has been an unforeseen, unplanned happenstance to be here at all.  I am not about to miss the opportunity of experiencing life eyes-wide-open in India!

As for Indian politics, I have at various times been amazed, dismayed, dumbfounded, angered (oh my, yes!) and stupefied about what I have found and learned on the ground.

Leadership Change

Based on what I have been able to observe and absorb, I have come up with what I feel are the top choices (I’ve limited myself to just four) for the next Prime Minister of India, two each from the leading coalition governments – Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA.

This is who I think they are and how I regard each of them, in case anyone cares what an expat thinks –

If Congress-led UPA comes to power again in 2014 (something that looked highly unlikely just days ago, prior to the most recently announced new economic reforms – the success of these may actually serve to erase some of their tainted rule), here are the two candidates who could become the next leader of India –

1. Manmohan Singh

The current Prime Minister remains a good choice for the party except for two things – he probably doesn’t want the job and his age (79) may preclude him from serving. He is already the oldest head of state of a leading economy. But let’s not forget that one Mr. Morarji Desai became prime minister at the ripe old age of 81!

If not for these aspects, he remains the “best”, non-controversial choice for the party given his squeaky clean image, provided he can outgrow his reputation for silence and inaction as leaders from his party plunder the coffers. Just in the past few days, he has been able to shake up his reputation for “paralysis” by introducing new economic reforms and thumbing his nose at his opposition. About time.  Still, if all I could come up with for one of the choices in Congress was this, it should tell you something about the dearth of leaders in the party, current or emerging.  

2. Rahul Gandhi

This is the other popular choice within the party – the scion of the Nehru dynasty, the natural inheritor of the throne, and Indian political royalty. But, really this is a scary choice. Who knows much about this man? Rumors abound, some nasty, some frightening, some perplexing.

It’s very difficult to imagine what kind of leader he will be of this highly complex democracy but the signs are not comforting.  Is there time between now and 2014 to allay people’s fears and create a sense of reassurance and confidence that he can lead India? Unlikely. Yet, there he is (except when he simply disappears), the likely and prospective inheritor of the throne.

Singh and Gandhi are the top probabilities from the current leading political party.

On the other hand, if the BJP-led NDA party comes into power, here’s my take on the top two potential candidates –

3. Narendra Modi

He is already posturing to become the leader of the nation. There are simply no moderate, middle-ground opinions on the man.  People either love him, or quite the opposite. Controversy is his middle name. He gets top marks for governance – tough governance that puts his state of Gujarat as arguably the most progressive one in the country. He has invested, developed and advanced the state on all fronts of the economy, be it infrastucture, industry or education.

Yet, he is tainted by the past. The United States has refused to grant him a visa on humanitarian grounds. He attracts controversy – even within his own party. Having my own conflicting opinions of him, and if wishes could come true, I wish the incidents of 2002 could just be erased, because this country could totally use a formidable administrator like him to set it on the right path.  But (there comes the “but”). Wishes simply remain wishes and the controversies surrounding him are non-trivial, refusing to die down.  In spite of this, he is a leading contender to be the next PM.  This reflects India’s great longing for a strong leader combined with the sheer lack of real options available.

4. Nitish Kumar

He’s the dark horse (read this article in Tehelka) who denies any interest in becoming a national political figure. Ever since I discovered this leader, the Chief Minister of Bihar, I have been following everything about him. If I were to have one political hero in India, it is Nitish Kumar. [Unfortunately, if I were to have a second political hero, it would be hard for me to name such a person].

Nitish Kumar is politically astute and has taken the long, hard road to get where he is – suffering political losses over time and using them to strengthen his strategies and tactics, step by gradual step. The progress that he has led in the state of Bihar has become the stuff of legend. And the excellent work he is doing continues. You just don’t see too many good turnaround stories like this one in India. 

If wishes were horses

…and if opinions counted, why, my wish for this country would be for the dark horse to win. Because in my humble opinion, he demonstrates the best all-around characteristics to lead – astute, respected, determined, secular, hard-working, proven, honest and eager to serve.  He has the potential to succeed in taking this country forward the way it should. These are exactly the kind of characteristics that India is hungry for, ones that would build pride in her citizens – were they to be lucky enough to get him as a leader for their country.  

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Photo credits:

BRIC leaders: By José Cruz/ABr [CC-BY-3.0-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Gandhi family: http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.in

Narendra Modi: By World Economic Forum [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Nitish Kumar: http://biharzone.com/people/nitish-kumar-biography/attachment/bill-gates-bihar-nitish, by Aftab alam siddiqui

India Gate: By Amit Kumar (fl_amit@yahoo.com) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fl_amit/5109308509) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Cautious Optimism about Obama-2012 – Finally!

I actually wrote this post a few months ago when things were not so fine and dandy for Obama, thank you very much. 🙂

At that time, this post was titled “Nail-biting Anxiety about Obama-2012”.  It’s nice to be able to change this title to something more positive, that actually reflects the ground reality today.

It’s amazing how much the race has changed in just a matter of 2-3 months! Today, I read articles with titles such as “Why Obama is Winning” and “How Mitt stumbled” (and has he ever!). While cautiously optimistic, I am not ready to declare Obama the winner and neither should any of his supporters. There’s also that article that says “Romney RIP – Not So Fast“.

After the two conventions,  this is what the NY Times was saying, Sept 8: Conventions May Put Obama in Front-Runner’s Position and they were right. And this op-ed piece called “A Sugar High?” is one I got great joy out of reading. Positive for Obama but still…

The fact is anything can still happen in the remaining six weeks. Yes, it can! So, I just remain with crossed fingers, devouring everything I can read about the political scene at home.  

The fact that things change so rapidly is reflected on what I wrote earlier:

Nail-biting Anxiety about Obama-2012

The last trip home in early summer was everything I expected. And more. On a personal level, it was all been about catching up with friends, cherishing new times with family, relishing home time and generally feeling very good about life. In a nutshell, it was a great time to make fresh, new, joyful memories.

But going home in mid-2012 also brought to the forefront something that has got me very worried indeed: the Presidential election of 2012 that will be here sooner than we think.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk with former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush in the Cross Hall towards the East Room of the White House, May 31, 2012. The President and First Lady hosted a ceremony presenting the Bush’s official portraits, which will be displayed in the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Given that I am from the South, it’s totally unsurprising that I am concerned about Obama getting a chance for a second term. None of the states in the deep South – Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi are even in the running for Obama. They are red, red, RED! So, the messages that I kept seeing and hearing in my friendly neighborhood were decidedly anti-Obama.

Interestingly, the majority of my Indian-American friends are either vociferously for Obama or are maintaining their silence – as if they feel like they cannot be vocal if in fact they are not for Obama (or maybe it’s just me that they’re silent with…now, there’s something unsurprising to think about). The pro-Obama desis are overwhelmingly in the majority and loud about it so I can’t name a single Patel, Rao, Sharma, Shah, Reddy, Singh, etc.… who claims to be backing Romney (yet).

Not so my American friends in the South. In this case, it’s quite the opposite – so hard for me to find anyone who is FOR Obama. 😦

These Americans are dear friends or respected colleagues of mine but many of them think that Obama is bad for the country – either he is a socialist (new myth), or fiscally irresponsible (wow…compared to W?) or they just have an innate dislike for him that they cannot or will not explain.  (At least not to me).

Of course, I am pretty passionate(!) about who I think needs to be President for the next four years. So perhaps I just make it difficult for people who don’t support my opinion to come clean with me. Yes, I can certainly see that happening. So, I tried to be prudent by avoiding talk of politics among these circles.  What’s the use? It’s not like I can get them to change their mind. And it’s not like their different political view changes my friendship or regard. 

What’s also interesting to me is the fact that I have yet to run into anyone who has not already made up their mind. Where are all those large numbers of undecideds and independent/swing voters lurking anyway?  Not in the South!

President Barack Obama gets ready as the G8 leaders line up outside of Aspen Cabin before the family photo at Camp David, Md., May 19, 2012. Standing with the President, from left, are: José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy, and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

What is so unsettling to me is that something that I and many others think should be a slam dunk for Obama simply isn’t.

Mitt Romney, his supporters and Republicans in general will be out-spending Obama almost 2 to 1 during the months and days leading up to D-day. That’s scary. Because we all know that marketing campaigns and promotion – especially negative (vicious!) advertising works so well in America.

I was only in the country for a couple of weeks and in spite of the personal joy and satisfaction that I got from being at home, this worry simply won’t go away.

I expect to return to the US to stay put sooner or later and I cannot imagine returning to a country where Obama has been a one-term president. I just can’t!  😦

But hey, who ever said life was fair, right?  History has only one chance of getting written and whatever will be, will be. So, why waste time worrying?

Instead, best to simply celebrate all the things that Obama has done to make the country a better one for its people during his first term (while remembering the 2008 alternative: McCain/Palin). And be so glad that he had at least four years to do it. [Here is an impressive list of his achievements. And here’s another one]. As a BIG bonus, the Supreme Court (and Chief Justice John Roberts!) in a surprise ruling to everyone, upheld the affordable health care act that was a key accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Not that I’m giving up on 2012 or anything like that. Far from it! I’m just working on stifling that worry disease I seem to have on this topic.

The other thing for me to do is to turn that worry into something productive and useful – by doing whatever (little) is in my control that I can put to work to fight for his second term.  I also turn to things like this fabulous electoral map and cartogram to keep the hope alive (hey, so what if it’s from huffpost?).  There’s also an earlier less positive view from NY Times that’s worth looking at which allows you to see various scenarios that could unfold. Great graphs and charts, all in all!

So, as I sit here writing this, I am telling myself more than once – don’t worry, be happy. At the end of the day, what will be will be. And if (god forbid!) what we are handed to us is indeed a lemon, we’ve got to figure out a way to make lemonade from it. It’s what makes life (and politics) so…interesting.

President Barack Obama talks to kids during a stop at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio, June 14, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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