It is quite likely that the next Prime Minister will be one of the current chief ministers. He will be a powerful regional leader belonging either to a party with serious provincial clout or may be, even a regional leader belonging to a national mainstream party, as in the case of the Gujarat hriday-samrat, Narendra Modi. But even if he belongs to the Congress, or more likely the BJP, he will be a significant regional leader who has gradually acquired a countrywide following.
If you look around at this moment, the emerging serious contenders are Modi himself, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has not really bothered to hide his national ambitions, and Nitish Kumar, who is subtly propagating his cause by championing the interests of the minorities and resisting the ascendance of the Gujarat chief minister.
Apart from these three, whose names are already being discussed as those of Prime Ministerial hopefuls, there are a couple of other dark horses like the Dalit leader Mayawati, whose supporters want her crowned in Delhi and even J Jayalalithaa, who has mysteriously positioned herself at a safe distance from the few who have declared their intentions either openly or indirectly.
One can never predict with a degree of certainty whether a Navin Patnaik or a mercurial Mamata will also throw his/her hat in the ring closer to the polls. Once the results are declared, the numbers may well indicate a scenario similar to the numerical mess one witnessed during the 1996 polls. An unknown regional satrap, bearing the stature of HD Deve Gowda, may be catapulted by the chaos as the consensus choice. So, the last word will not be expressed in this topsy-turvy journey till all the post-electoral consultations have been concluded.
As these names do the rounds, it becomes clearer that those, facing early elimination in the race, are the Delhi-based powerful political voices which have increasingly relied on television studios to spread their charm and gain a mass base. These leaders may wield enormous influence either in 24 Akbar Road and 11 Ashoka Road but they have lost contact with real people, the genuine voter. This is where the chief ministers have been leagues ahead of them. They are the ones who are voted in and out these days.
There is no denying that the general election has been reduced to a sum total of state elections with the average voter more concerned about state issues and hardly bothered whether an A Raja made Rs 176,000 crore disappear in the 2G scam. Unbelievable corruption in Delhi’s corridors of power was not what the voter gave much thought to in the recently concluded Himachal Pradesh polls.
Earlier, when the enormity of the 2G scam had only just sank in, Assam reposed its faith in Congressman Tarun Gogoi, West Bengal happily dumped the Left Front after 34 years and Kerala was busy wondering whether it should re-elect a scrupulously honest VS Achyuthanandan or give the Congress a chance. It only shows that, electorally speaking, the distance between Delhi and the state capitals have been increasing at a rapid pace. It’s almost an unbridgeable rift now.
Simply put, we are not voting for a government at the Centre; we are giving our opinion on the performance of the state governments. Delhi may be governing the rest of the country but the larger population feels that the huge megalith of the government apparatus at the Centre has nothing to do with their daily lives. In short, in the absence of national issues or national leaders, who can really bring about a difference, the union government no longer registers a countrywide presence. To a vast majority, it just does not exist.
Gone are the days when an Indira Gandhi could even consider contesting successfully from both Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and Medak in Andhra Pradesh. National acceptability no longer comes easily these days. Even at the peak of his career, Atal Behari Vajpayee was never a 200-Lok Sabha constituencies-leader. It was the first time after 1991 that the Congress touched the enviable 200-mark (which is still short of majority by quite a bit) in 2004.
Rahul Gandhi is barely in contention for the 2014 polls because he has not yet acquired the stature of a national leader, who can fly from one state to the other like his grandmother and hope to sway the electorate in every part of the country. The Uttar Pradesh polls in 2012 exposed his severe limitations. Even a Modi, who has electrified the BJP rank and file, may not prove to be a 170-seat national leader.
We shall have to wait for a regional leader, Modi included, to come out unhurt from the wreckage of the 2014 poll. He or she will be aware that maximum acceptability is a gift earned by those who are not given to creating controversies.
Diptosh Majumdar is national affairs editor of DNA.