India Insight

The race for India’s next prime minister

With the Congress-led coalition government more than halfway through its five-year term, the political temperature is heating up in the world’s largest democracy. The question on everyone’s minds is — who’s going to be the next prime minister?

A recent Nielsen survey had showed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was the top choice for the post, ahead of Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

But last week’s conviction of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker in the Gujarat riots is a blow to Modi, and the political fallout from the case may have dented his hopes of sitting in the prime minister’s chair.

Senior party leader Lal Krishna Advani had earlier stoked controversy by blogging about the possibility of a “non-Congress, non-BJP prime minister” after the 2014 elections.

It’s not just internal party dynamics, the BJP’s allies are also giving Modi sleepless nights. Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar has made it clear he won’t be happy if Modi is projected as the BJP candidate.

Congress reshuffling an empty deck?

The clock is ticking for the ruling Congress party. Ever since the national auditor’s report blew the lid off the 2G spectrum scandal, the second term of the UPA government has been clouded by incessant talk of premature general elections or who will lead India in 2014.

As rumours do the rounds of a possible reshuffle of the Congress party after the Budget session, one gets the sense that India’s grand old party is starting to prepare for national elections, even if they are two years away. And rightly so, especially after its disastrous performance in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament. While no political party is likely to secure majority if national elections were to be held today, regional parties could hold sway.

The Congress’ present situation is a throwback to the 1960s when the party was trying to revitalise its functioning in the face of declining popularity and vote share. Indira Gandhi ruled India for eleven consecutive years, followed by another term later that was cut short by her assassination. After her son Rajiv came to power and his destiny followed his mother’s, the Congress returned to power for only one term until the UPA government came to power in 2004.

Much ado about Rahul Gandhi’s ash claim

By Annie Banerji

Days after Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic motorcycle pillion ride to twin villages in Uttar Pradesh to quell land acquisition agitations between police and farmers, the Congress general secretary told Indian media that he found a 70-foot pile of ashes with human remains inside.

He added that women had been raped, people had been beaten up and the police had torn down houses during the protests.

On questioning the villagers of Bhatta and Parsaul, the Indian Express found that not a single person backed Gandhi’s assertions. The main refrain was that of police beating up villagers and mistreating them.

Shiv Sena, secularists and politics of regionalism

India’s ruling Congress party and main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have found themselves on a common platform after Gandhi family scion Rahul Gandhi slammed the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for their tirade against ‘outsiders’ – mainly north Indians – in Maharashtra.

Earlier, BJP president Nitin Gadkari invoked the constitutional right of every Indian to live anywhere, in a snub to erstwhile political ally Shiv Sena, whose agenda is to promote the interest of Marathis, sometimes with violent effect at the cost of non-Marathis, especially those living in Mumbai.

Waving the politics of regionalism is nothing new for the Sena and its breakaway faction MNS, who derive their political base from the ‘sons of the soil’ ideology.

Will the Congress party’s austerity drive work?

When India’s ruling Congress party asked ministers and bureaucrats to cut down on needless expenses at a time of recession and deepening drought, many in the country had one question on their lips: will the austerity drive work?Rahul Gandhi tried to set an example by travelling by train as an ordinary passenger. His mother, Sonia, abandoned her private army plane and flew economy class on a commercial flight for a party rally in Mumbai.But there is still a great deal of scepticism among people. Some of the doubting was fuelled after the train Rahul was travelling in was pelted with stones. Experts said Rahul’s train trip was a security risk, which could cramp the austerity drive.But it’s not just the security concerns alone. The austerity drive also drew ridicule following a controversy over two senior government ministers staying in luxury hotel suites priced at $1,000 and $1,500 a night until their official residences were ready.Both ministers said they’d paid for their suites themselves, but stung by criticism amid the government’s austerity drive, they moved to more modest temporary homes.However, it was too late to change the mind of ordinary Indians who over years of Nehruvian socialism had begun to associate Congress politicians as leaders in simple hand-spun cotton, or khadi, clothes who drove around in old-fashioned Ambassador cars.Now, the question many are asking is: will the austerity drive last with election campaigns for Maharashtra and Haryana about to begin?True, with the economy in trouble, the government is making an effort with the finance ministry appealing for fewer overseas trips and smaller entourages as well as a ban on conferences in luxury hotels.But it isn’t easy: one minister protested he was “too tall” to fly economy while another said their positions demand they entertain in style.So, will the government’s austerity drive last? The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t think so. A BJP spokesman said it was just an “election gimmick” and they would go back to their usual ways once the state elections were over.Will they?

Is Rahul Gandhi prime minister material?

He’s been called the “Quiet Revolutionary“. And India’s prime minister-in-waiting. But does Rahul Gandhi, a virtual novice in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, have what it takes for the country’s top job?

He didn’t exactly set the house on fire during his first five years in parliament. And until this election, Rahul’s only USP was that he belonged to India’s first family, the Nehru-Gandhi family which has given the country three prime ministers.

He’s only 39, and has no experience with complex subjects such as Pakistan or the economy.

Indian voters – spoilt for choice?

With 8071 candidates contesting 543 seats – that’s an average of 15 candidates for each seat — the 400 million Indian voters who chose to vote sure looked spoilt for choice.

But were they?

Though democracy means choosing who our rulers are going to be, many say there is a crucial missing link in Indian democracy — the lack of inner-party democracy.

This results in the lack of people’s participation especially in choosing candidates, unlike the U.S. where primaries are held by political parties to elect candidates.

Sonia keeps Indira legacy alive in election

With her greying hair, elegant cotton sarees and accented Hindi, Sonia Gandhi resembles her mother-in-law, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, somewhat.

It is a resemblance that Sonia uses to her advantage on the campaign trail ahead of the election, frequently referring to the contributions and sacrifices made by the Nehru-Gandhi family, particularly Indira and husband Rajiv, who were both assassinated.

Sonia, dragged into politics after a stunning defeat for the Congress party in 1998, is clearly the party’s star campaigner, speaking at three or four rallies everyday, criss-crossing the country in a chopper which holds as much fascination for people in rural India as a glimpse of the nation’s “bahu” or daughter-in-law, as Sonia is called.

Does youth trump experience in the Lok Sabha stakes?

Indian political parties and leaders are courting young voters for the upcoming general elections and the age of political leaders like L.K. Advani and Rahul Gandhi is being made into an electoral issue.

After all nearly two-thirds of India is below 35 years of age, the cut-off for ‘youth’ according to the National Youth Policy.

But does the electorate care?

A number of surveys and studies seem to suggest otherwise.

One nation-wide survey reported in the ‘Mint’ newspaper shows voters may not quite prefer “fresh and young” candidates, with two-thirds of the 17,640 people sampled preferring experienced candidates.

Do Indian voters really choose?

Rahul Gandhi spoke at a news conference in Amritsar last month. Somewhat predictably newspapers and TV channels covering the event focused on his comments on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and his defense against being called a rookie by a seasoned political rival.

They ignored the context of his visit — to review preparations for the local youth Congress elections, being conducted with greater involvement of party workers at the grass-roots level. It’s a practice he apparently wants to replicate across other states.

If Gandhi is serious about it and succeeds in doing so, it will further the cause of internal party democracy, which is a major blind spot in the working of our democracy.

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