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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

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24 hours in a Democracy: A Comedy of Errors

A Ten Act Play Spanning ~24 hours

Prologue

Anna Hazare announces an indefinite fast to begin on August 16, 2011 in order to convince the Government to strengthen their weak Lokpal bill and really fight rampant corruption in this country.

Act I

August 16, 7:30 am – The Government of India, in the guise of Delhi Police, swoop in and arrest Anna before he ventures out for the fast. Anna’s message to the people: Jail is not going to stop this movement. You should protest, but do it peacefully, always.

Act II

August 16, mid-morning – Word spreads like wildfire about Anna’s arrest. 24×7 news channels, facebook, twitter are all super-active. People are enraged. People are engaged.

Act III

Early Afternoon: Meanwhile, Anna is moved from one secure location to another in the capital city of New Delhi. The impotent PM denies any involvement in what has transpired. Government leaders meet and strategize. They come up with a brilliant plan: Send Anna to Tihar Jail (where the most corrupt of corrupt politicians currently are held). Stupidity appears to prevail.

Act IV

India erupts!

Act V

7 p.m.:  The queen is currently ill and out of the country. But she has left the Prince in charge. The Prince meets with the PM and other Congress leaders. Virtuoso that he is, he says to them: This was a strategic mistake. Look at the support for Anna. Let’s release him from jail. (small print: with some conditions).

Act VI

Later that night: The benevolent government (in the guise of Delhi Police again) tells Anna in Tihar Jail that he is free to go (small print: with conditions on what, where and how he fasts).

Act VII

Anna listens patiently.  Then, he says: No, I am not leaving jail until I can leave unconditionally. When I leave jail, I am going straight to JP Park to continue my fast (which he started in jail).  Checkmate.

Act VIII

11 pm: Meanwhile, not just the country, but Indians around the world are chanting “Anna Hazare Zindabad”. The news channels are flashing headlines that say “Victory for Anna” and “Poeple for Anna”.  There are interviews upon interviews with “experts” representing various opinions. They include the ruling party; these people, caught with their pants down, sound like bumbling, clueless idiots. One expert gives some good advice: I think you people in Congress should stay out of public view until you have figured out what your message is.

Act IX

24 hours after Anna was arrested, he continues to be in jail, refusing to move or budge until he is freed unconditionally. Meanwhile, crowds outside Tihar Jail, across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and even the smaller towns, in New York, New Jersey, London, Dubai…everywhere that Indians live, their voices are getting louder against the government and against corruption.

Act X

August 17, 12 noon: The Prime Minister of India announces the facts and justification of why arresting Anna was the right thing to do for the nation. Match this with the high emotion of people on the streets. Idiocy continues to prevail…

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The End  To Be Continued

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