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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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Who is Rahul anyway?

The land of the Maharajas banished the idea of Maharajas early in the 20th century.  That does not mean that royalty is dead in democratic India. Witness the crown price and heir apparent of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi.   In some circles, it appears that it is not so much a matter of “if“, but more one of “when” he ascends the throne, i.e., becomes the Prime Minister of India. As you can imagine, there are at least two diverse points of view on whether this would be a good thing for the country or not. But, based on what? History perhaps and family heritage, the party he belongs to, definitely, but what about him, as an individual?

When I first thought about writing this post, I thought it would end up being very interesting because it would be a learning experience.  Most of these posts demand that I find out more about the topic at hand because I just don’t know enough. So, finding out more about the crown prince of India ought to be fun, right?  Wrong.

You know why?  Because there is very little information that is interesting and more surprisingly, just very little, period.

For someone who belongs to the Gandhi family – great-grandson of Nehru, grandson of Indira Gandhi, son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, and heir apparent, there is surprisingly not very much that one can gather from media archives. Google’s answer to “Rahul Gandhi Interview” pointed me to two, yes just two, interviews. Both were from circa 2004-05; I believe that was around his launch into politics.  Let me tell you, they were pretty light.

Oh yes, I know the basic facts – that he is 41 years old, leader of the Indian Youth Congress, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee and Member of Parliament. He contributed to Congress winning various seats across India during the last election, including those of some hand-picked candidates of his own. He gives an aura of contemporary thinking, change, and working for the aam aadmi (ordinary man).

But is that just an aura?  Darned if I know! I can’t tell what he thinks and believes in, what his philosophy is, what his strengths are or his weaknesses.  Is he a good leader?  And, if so, why? What does he really aspire to and what are his goals and objectives for himself and for India? I have been unable to find any columns where he has expressed any opinions. There are too many unknowns, and this after the man has been in politics for a few years now. Is this a deliberate obfuscation of facts? Or are there simply no depths to plumb?  I just can’t tell.

One Q&A from the dated interview I reference above goes like this – Q: What is your mission as a politician? Rahul’s Answer: I will create a new brand of politics in India. Just wait and see.

I don’t think I am overstating anything when I say that the time has come to learn more about Rahul Gandhi – the individual, the politician, the potential leader of the county.  Something with depth. There’s a perfect opportunity in front of him – the crucial fight for winning UP back for Congress during the next election. There’s been some noise and movement by him in that direction; perhaps it will turn out to be his first (real) moment in the sun. Indeed, that would be something to look forward to.

But for now, so much for this post about Rahul Gandhi.  Enlightened you, did I?  I can’t say the same for myself. It’s a shame, because I was looking forward to learning quite a bit about the Gandhi scion.

It’s time to set this aside and move on to more stimulating and interesting topics, while hoping this one gains depth and breadth over time, and that I can, in fact, return to it someday.

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