Friday, May 27, 2011


Back in September 2006, when we launched The Sunday Indian, our first cover story was on the likelihood-some would say inevitability of Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister of India. Back then, we wondered how a Gandhi would handle the fact of being the first Gandhi to not be the unquestioned leader of the Cabinet and the nation. The only message that is loud and clear from assembly elections and bye elections held over the last one year is: there is just no way the Congress will improve upon its 2009 tally of 206 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The rest of the MPs required to cross the magic markof 272 will be supplied by Mamta Bannerjee, Sharad Pawar and perhaps even Jayalalitha, apart from assorted smaller allies. How then would Rahul Gandhi function as Prime Minister?

Let's look at the best case scenario for Congress, where it has a chance of significantly improving its tally. Out of the 112 odd seats in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Bihar and Karnataka, the Congress won just 16 seats. Let us assume that the Rahul Gandhi magic works in these states. Even then, the most hopelessly die hard supporter of the Congress would not bet on the party’s tally from these states going up by more than double. (Do you seriously expect the Congress to sweep Bihar, Karnataka and Orissa that give 87 MPs?) That gives the Congress 16 more seats. In effect, the Congress tally would go up to 230 if you are wildly optimistic.

But electoral politics is different from wild optimism. In U.P, the Congress already has 22 seats and cannot significantly improve; in Delhi, it has 7 out of 7 seats; in Haryana, it has 9 out of 10 seats, in Uttarakhand, it has 5 out of 5 seats, in Rajasthan, it has 20 out of 25 seats; in Madhya Pradesh, it already has 12 out of 29 seats and has 11 out of 26 seats in Gujarat. Worse, it has 33 out of 42 seats in Andhra. After the Jagan Mohan Reddy show, how many of you would bet on Congress retaining the tally? It then boils down to West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the UPA already swept the elections in 2009.

The most intriguing question then is: would Rahul Gandhi be amenable to being the Prime Minister of India and yet be at the mercy of temperamental allies? It is OK for a Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister in such a situation because he never was a leader anyway. But what happens to the fabled aura and charisma of the Gandhi family when Indian voters see Rahul Gandhi the way he will look after coalition politics inevitably takes its toll? Can the Gandhi family take that kind of risk?

My advice to CEOs of India Inc, start investing in another ManmohanSingh right now. There is little doubt that he or she will be India’s next Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi playing the now familiar role of being the real power behind the throne. Sad for Indian democracy, but then that is democracy, isn’t it?


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