Last Saturday, the BJP National Council held a meeting to ratify Rajnath Singh’s appointment as party president — and ended up endorsing Narendra Modi for Prime Minister.

Vijay Goel, Delhi BJP President and convention’s host, is reported by a newspaper as having said: “Nobody in the country any longer thinks of Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. Every child wants Modi as the Prime Minister.”

The crowd, it appears, went delirious chanting “Modi PM, Modi PM”. Modi himself looked smugly on, as well he might. Then, quite unexpectedly, they all kissed the octogenarian L. K. Advani goodbye. “Henceforth he will offer only guidance”, it was said. Advani, reported a newspaper, “looked a trifle bewildered at the thought of passing into the sunset.”

This was not, if you reflect upon it, very different from what had happened at the Congress chintan shivir at Jaipur in January. But there were two major differences.

The Congress didn’t kiss Sonia Gandhi goodbye and it anointed, as a Webwag called him, “an unemployed youth of 42” to lead the party in the next general election. The question of whether he would also be the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate was left open.

Now, although the word in Chennai is that when the time comes Rahul Gandhi will indeed, albeit very reluctantly, agree to become prime minister, the word in Delhi is that he will look for a suitable replacement for Manmohan Singh while he himself does what comes to him best.

Manmohan’s replacement

That replacement, it is being quietly whispered, is Palaniappan Chidambaram. The country, the UPA and more importantly, Congressman, are being quietly conditioned.

Some very good and highly credible friends in the media have been enlisted. The process began in October last year.

Chidambaram is everything that India needs: suave in speech, modern in thought and outlook, efficient and diligent in work, clever in debate, and all that guff. And he has what the Family needs: No base from which he might, in a fit of viparatabuddi challenge the Family. As he himself said in his Budget speech, though in another context, there is a difference between what is necessary and what is sufficient.

Clearly, Soniaji has not forgotten the perfidy of the late V. P. Singh who deserted Rajiv. He was a very popular finance minister because he had cut taxes and gone after the rich. Nor of Morarji Desai who was finance minister in 1969 when he defied Indira Gandhi. She was forced take a huge risk and split the Congress. That political gamble, which Indira Gandhi won, set India back by two decades as it lurched blindly into mindless populism, labelled by the Congress as socialism. That virus still afflicts the Congress, or at least Sonia Gandhi.

Far more worryingly for Sonia Gandhi, both went on to become PM. Reason: Both had solid bases which Chidambaram, who barely managed to cling on to his seat in 2009, does not have. He won by the slenderest of margins on a recount.

Peas in a pod

However, quite remarkably, the Congress is saying the same thing as the BJP, that it will announce its candidate for PM when the time comes. (The two, if you ask me, are like peas in a pod when it comes to party matters.)

The reason for the coyness is that Modi’s name can’t be announced officially just now because many NDA partners have to keep their Muslim voters happy; and Chidambaram’s name cannot be announced because most Congressmen can’t stand him. They will start doing what they did when Narasimha Rao became PM in 1991 — pulling the rug from under his feet.

Meanwhile, everyone has to pretend that Rahul Gandhi will be willing to do the hard work needed from a prime minister until the time comes when he could do a Sonia 2004 — heed his inner voice and step aside for someone else.

The only person who meets the bill is Chidambaram. He alone has the seniority and the track record to take on Modi.

The Congress knows it, which is why it is preparing the ground for him to be PM in case Rahul starts hearing voices in his head. But can it afford not to announce his name, as the BJP more-or-less did on Saturday? Or, is that in a party of Northerners, a Southerner is at a disadvantage, as indeed Narasimha Rao was?

There are remarkable similarities in the attributes of the two men. Both are brilliant at what they do. Both are impatient with fools. Both are very good organisers. Both have very little time for the opposing views. Both regard legislatures as a waste of time. Both are softly arrogant. And so on.

But so similar have the BJP and the Congress become that they are refusing to do the most sensible thing by declaring their prime ministerial candidates. This, even though both will have to basically go it alone by minimising seat adjustments with allies.

How scared can you get of your own people?