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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

Two More Wins for Bihar (that’s right, BIHAR)

Bihar continues to surprise

Just when I thought it cannot get better, I find out something new that is fascinating. Trust me, if anyone told me that as an US expat in India, specifically Mumbai, I would be writing about some backward northeastern state – not once, not twice, but three times in the span of a few months, I would have said you were crazy. Bihar is not exciting. I have only been there the one time, and while that visit was a fun-filled one, it did not give me any illusions about the state.

Frankly, for me to write about it at all, you better believe that it is because of something extraordinary or innovative or unusual or amazing.  That’s why, I hope you read on about what I consider Bihar’s “wins”. 

Win #1: From Loot to Schools

Over the weekend, the government of Bihar seized the mansion of a government IAS officer who is accused of corruption. This has been happening in the state whenever an official’s assets are disproportionate with respect to his sources of income (as I had written earlier). Yesterday’s paper talked about this house (worth some $1.25 million) being illegally acquired through bribes; the plans are to now turn this into a school.  Bold move!  And what a statement-making one to all the others who might be thinking of taking a bribe.  It says:

1.  Don’t fool yourself, this government is very serious

2.  If you take a bribe, you will pay for it dearly

3. Not just monetarily, but in full view of the public

4. Therefore, just DON’T do it. 

Setting an example can’t get more sharp and resounding than that!  It is expected that this would be the start of Bihar’s Chief Minister fulfilling his promise of converting illegal properties into much-needed schools in the State. Simply brilliant.

Win #2: Basic Rights. Delivered On Time.

On August 15th of this year – Independence Day for India, the government of Bihar introduced a new act – the Right to Public Services (RTPS) Act. Implemented both online as well as manual (where online is not available yet), a citizen can expect mandated services in a timely manner.

Yes, I know this would be a standard expectation from any government. But this is India, and that has never been the case. To get anything, you have to run around the block a few times, then grease some palms, and then maybe you will receive what was your due all this time – after a long wait. 

The ultimate stated objective of the State: Transform governance within Bihar

The objectives of RTPS: Be transparent; deliver essential services to people efficiently.  

A crucial, beneficial side-effect: Curb and/or eliminate corruption

Services – anything from getting a ration card to registering a property deed, would have to be provided in a stipulated time. For example, say getting a ration card will take 10 days (this is just an example, but specifics such as this are provided to the public). It is the responsibility of the named official to provide this service within that 10 day time period. In case this does not happen, the citizen can appeal to two different named levels both for correction and to issue penalties to the officer.

In the initial phase, RTPS covers some 50 services to citizens from 10 different departments. Just during the first two days after activation, there were some 40,000 applications received across Bihar. Within five days, as of August 20th, the number of applications swelled to 280,000! This clearly showed the pent-up demand and expectation of people. An idea whose time has obviously arrived!

RTPS – the why and how – was yet another superb brainchild of Chief Minister Extraordinaire Nitish Kumar. Since June, he has been promoting it widely through a series of advertisements across the state. Even better, check out this facebook page for Right to Public Services!  The main website is here.

Undoubtedly, there will be some pain during the initial execution, but what a great move by the state government.

Could this state known for its sluggishness in the past, turn out to be a model for others across India? Indeed, it could!

Win #3 (Bonus): He’s the Man

Last month, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stated that RTPS was another way to curb rampant corruption at the State level.

He then asked the Anna Hazare team to help draft a Lokayukta (State level ombudsman being proposed as part of Jan Lokpal) for Bihar that covers the Chief Minister as part of its scope.

I am full of admiration for this leader! All I can say is that India could use a few (!) more Chief Ministers and political leaders like Nitish Kumar. Indeed, that is what voters and political parties alike should aspire for!

Credentials for the job:

  • Honesty and transparency
  • Political will and savvy
  • Strong beliefs about service to and uplifting of people
  • Bold action and solid execution to turn these beliefs into reality

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Frankly, I believe he is really Bihar’s biggest win. Lucky Bihar.

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Map of India: By Created by user:Maverick.Mohit.Maverick.Mohit at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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