Game of Thrones: Race for PM is among Modi, Mulayam, Chidu

The Freemasons, the esoteric 16th-17th Century society of masons that set great store by moral uprightness, believed earnestly in their motto of ordo ab chao: "out of chaos, order will emerge."

In the crafty world of Indian politics, too, some clarity, some sense of order,  is gradually emerging from out of the utter chaos that characterises it today.  The planets are gradually aligning themselves in a certain formation, and although there remains - as always - limitless scope for things to go out of joint, it's fair to say that interesting kaleidoscopic patterns are emerging from out of the many moving parts that are floating around.

On the BJP side, where both the need for clarity and the buzz of expectation is the most pronounced, it is becoming clear with every passing day that the party is graduating towards the merit of projecting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its candidate for Prime Ministership in the next general election, which is due in 2014, but may happen a lot sooner than that

The party's senior leader Sushma Swaraj's statement in Vadodara on Saturday - that Modi was fit to be Prime Minister - may not, as Firstpost noted here, have been a ringing endorsement. But it has had a catalytic effect in getting more BJP leaders to come out with public endorsements of Modi as the party's plausible candidate for the top job.

The BJP seems to be coming around to projecting Modi as its man for the top job.. PTI

Overnight, yet more BJP leaders came out to give amplitude to what is becoming the voice of the silent majority within the BJP - and the aspiration of  the hardcore supporters of the party: that Modi should be their man for 2014. With varying shades of nuance, Arun Jaitley, Gopinath Munde and Navjyot Singh Sidhu have come out to back up Sushma Swaraj's 'endorsement' of Modi's candidature.

Munde, who was campaigning in Vadodara for the Gujarat Assembly elections, said that he endorsed Sushma Swaraj's comment that Modi's "capability" made him a candidate for Prime Ministership.

Jaitley too said that the BJP was "proud" that it had a popular leader like Modi, and given his success as a Chief Minister, it was entirely natural that the party would keep his name ahead of the prime ministerial aspirants within the party.

But it was left to Sidhu, who brings to political stump speeches the same garrulity he inflicts on cricket-lovers with his commentaries, to say in forthright fashion what the other leaders were only tap-dancing around. Campaigning in Ahmedabad, Sidhu said that if there was a national leader after Atal Behari Vajpayee, it was Modi. The election in Gujarat, he added, wasn't just about choosing the State's Chief Minister: rather, it was an election for the Prime Ministership.

Likewise, CP Thakur, the chief of the Bihar unit of the BJP, said that Sushma Swaraj's endorsement wasn't made in just her personal capacity, but represented the "broad view" of the party leadership.

For sure, there are still some hold-outs even within the BJP, whose silence on the subject that has acquired much chatter value in recent days, is deafening. Party president Nitin Gadkari has been campaigning in Gujarat, but has not added to the decibel level in any way on this subject. Likewise, as Congress spokesperson Digvijaya Singh taunted, it isn't clear if senior leader LK Advani, who is believed to still nurse prime ministerial ambitions himself, is ready to publicly endorse Modi. Other leaders like M Venkaiah Naidu and Murli Manohar Joshi adroitly dodged questions on the subject.

In that sense, although the issue is far from settled, the BJP appears to be coming around to the view that given the current state of play, its electoral prospects in 2014 will perhaps be advanced best with projecting Modi as its candidate. The party perhaps calculates that even though Modi remains a polarising figure, public perceptions about his record of his having delivered good governance in Gujarat will play out well, particularly in contrast to the UPA 2's abysmal record on governance and corruption.

It is in this context that the Congress, from some accounts, may feel the need to project an "economic manager" - someone who is perceived as being as much of a performer as Modi is - as its candidate for Prime Ministership in 2014. Of course, the party's dynastic instincts still run strong, and even on Sunday, other dynasts like Jyotiraditya Scindia gave plaintive voice to the demand for Rahul Gandhi to be the Prime Minister candidate in 2014. But with Rahul Gandhi himself unsure of his political footing, and seemingly unwilling to be seen to be taking on Modi in a direct contest, so to speak, the party may feel the need to look beyond him at least in the short term.

In the estimation of some analysts, that search may result in Finance Minister P Chidambaram being projected as a potential candidate. The Economist saw some political significance in the fact that Chidambaram recently delivered his first-ever public address completely in Hindi in Jaipur. "The import is obvious," the magazine noted. "If you have the highest ambitions in India, Hindi helps. It is the official national language, and mother tongue of the politically powerful north."

Chidambaram may not seem a credible prime ministerial candidate: his aloofness and patrician air have a way of putting off leaders even within the Congress, much less in coalition partners. And it isn't entirely clear that Sonia Gandhi trusts him. But the magazine noted that if Modi emerges as the BJP's candidate, the next election could become "a contest over whom voters trust more with the economy". A contest that is framed on those lines would give the Congress a reason to field someone of the calibre of Chidambaram against Modi, it reasoned.

That argument is something of a stretch, but is not entirely without merit, particularly given Rahul Gandhi's seeming reluctance to step  up and take charge.

Meanwhile, there are stirrings on other fronts too. Congress leader ND Tiwari, who was last seen disporting with two commercial sex workers  in the Andhra Pradeh Raj Bhavan, has been stirring the political plot in Uttar Pradesh by pandering to Mulayam Singh Yadav's inflated sense of his own self-worth. The geriatric Tiwari has been singing the Mulayam chalisa, claiming that the latter has every quality needed to become Prime Minister.  The incantation seems to be working: Mulayam Singh Yadav said on Sunday that although he did not think of himself as being in the race for Prime Ministership in 2014, it would be for circumstances as they evolved to determine that outcome. He pointedly noted that he had never aspired to be Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, but had been compelled by political circumstances to take it up.

Tiwari's political strategy is evidently to prevent Mulayam Singh from floating a Third Front by holding out the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister with the backing of the Congress (in the event that the Congress does not do well enough to form a government by itself). Mulayam Singh too is looking to harvest the upper-caste vote in Uttar Pradesh by being seen to be close to Tiwari.

But there is much political import behind such parlour games. 2014 may still be a while away, but the political alignments are beginning to acquire some clarity. It is not hard to visualise a situation where Modi, Mulayam Singh Yadav and, to a lesser extent, Chidambaram emerge as the principal contenders for the Prime Ministership.

Advertisement
NEW EBOOK