If senior BJP leader L. K. Advani is right, and neither the Congress nor the BJP gets to lead a coalition government in the 2014 elections, who would be in the reckoning for the prime minister’s post? At the moment, the field is open.

What senior BJP leader L. K. Advani said on his blog about the next prime minister of India emerging from neither the Congress nor the BJP is something most Indians believe. We have seen such pathetic governance from the Congress-led UPA that it is a foregone conclusion that the Congress will not emerge the single largest party in the 2014 elections. That is, provided a mid-term poll is not forced upon us by one or two of the UPA allies withdrawing support.

The general perception is that by its lacklustre, scam-ridden governance, the UPA is unlikely to get another term in office. Normally, the alternative would be the BJP filling the vacated space.

But the BJP’s problem is the absence of a galvanising force like A. B. Vajpayee, acceptable not only to the BJP but also to the NDA allies. Advani, who was declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2009 elections, is no longer in the reckoning within the BJP.

With no “tall leader” in sight, except for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who continues to be controversial and unacceptable to NDA allies like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, at the moment, it is a free for all in the BJP for the highest office.

Sans mass appeal, charisma

That the BJP is not ready to fill the void to be created by the UPA’s probable exit, barring a miracle, is seen clearly by one startling factor: A leader like the BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, who is singularly bereft of both mass appeal and charisma, is hoping to jump onto the prime minister’s chair, more by default than merit.

There are so many camps within his party, each wanting its leader to be the prime minister, that one will prevent the other from getting there. So no prizes for guessing why Gadkari was so civil and courteous in the not-so-secret meeting with Nitish Kumar, where the latter is supposed to have officially conveyed his reservations against Modi being named NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in the next election.

The BJP chief is supposed to have assured Nitish that no decision on this “important matter” would be taken without consulting the NDA’s allies!

So far so good. But even those with over-arching ambitions should know elections are won through money and votes, and in most parts of the country, by muscle power.

In his own State of Maharashtra, Gadkari would be lucky to make it to the list of top 10 politicians, in terms of clout, popularity, money and muscle power.

All knowing ‘Bhishma pitamah’

So when Advani, undoubtedly the party’s seasoned Bhishma Pitamah, spells out the non-Congress, non-BJP prime minister bit on his blog, he should know what he is talking about.

But, understandably, BJP leaders are livid that Advani should put in the public domain his firm belief that the BJP has no hopes of coming to power on its own. And this, when several BJP leaders have been saying in private and public that the party will get 270-280 seats!

If Advani is right, and neither the Congress nor the BJP gets to lead a coalition government, who would be in the reckoning for the PM’s post? By opposing Modi’s candidature, Nitish has sent clear signals that he hopes to emerge the frontrunner in the NDA stable.

The stated and apparent reason for Nitish’s opposition to Modi being named the NDA’s numero uno in the next election is, of course, the danger of Bihari Muslims walking out of the Janata Dal(U). But if the PM’s chair is up for grabs, who would blame Nitish for eyeing it?

But politically savvier than Nitish, much more desirous of it and capable of manoeuvring the position for himself is Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh.

The huge victory he recently managed in the UP polls has strengthened his ambition and enhanced his belief that the SP will emerge from the general election with a huge bunch of MPs. And these, he believes, will provide him a smooth climb to the prime minister’s gaddi in Dilli.

A woman PM?

Close on the heels of the Bihar and UP satraps, are the two women politicians who have scored big victories in recent times — AIADMK’s J. Jayalalithaa and Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee.

But so temperamental and highly strung has Didi been of late that the very mention of her as prime minister would send shivers down the spines of many an Indian. Also, one must admit that there won’t be too many whoops of delight at the prospect of Mulayam making it to that hallowed seat either.

Coming to Jayalalithaa, mercifully, she hasn’t thrown any tantrums or made sweeping allegations against her political rivals as Mamata has — calling a college student a CPI (M) cadre during a popular TV show, must have been nightmarish for her PR managers.

The AIADMK supremo does have the combination of grey cells, charisma and administrative skills to make her an aspirant for the prime minister’s chair in a non-BJP, non-Congress-led coalition. Her great articulation skills would be an added advantage.

But does she have the grace, the temperament and the humility, and above all, the ability to put her ego on the backburner, as Sonia Gandhi did when she wooed allies prior to the 2004 and 2009 elections, is the big question.

Naveen Patnaik can be a dark horse too in a Third Front government, but the one most acceptable to the BJP, particularly Modi, will be Jayalalithaa. They have been great friends, and if Modi can’t get the throne for himself, he’d be most likely to back Jayalalithaa.

But the greatest difference in Modi’s claim to the throne vis-à-vis Jayalalithaa’s is that of development.

The Gujarat model is being praised to the skies. When was the last time you heard Tamil Nadu being mentioned for its excellent infrastructure, attracting investment, and related parameters of development?

If the capital Chennai is any indication, it is a city that is in decay mode. Whether it is power supply, roads and traffic management, clearance of industrial projects or something as basic as cleanliness, the journey has only been downhill.

At the moment, of course, it is like a game of musical chairs. Or, a cloudy sky. The match, as they say, is entirely open.

Responses to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 6, 2012)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.