From Indira Gandhi’s emergency to the mess created by the Janata Party to Rajiv’s inability to explain Bofors to VP’s flirtation with Mandal to the India vs Bharat conundrums of Rao and Vajpayee, elections in India have always been lost, not won. In fact so set is the voters mind that in 1977, 1989, 1991, 1996 and 2004, he/she did not even bother to check who would lead the government if the party of choice actually won.
History is kind. Gives adequate notice before repeating itself but when it does, it does so with disdain.
We are currently going through a combination of fascism we saw during the emergency, social re-engineering like we saw during VP’s rule and the drift we saw in MMS’s last two years. Each of these had independently felled a government in the past; unless the country has changed very radically, we are in for a triple whammy. You should take heart from the fact that this does not seem to be a major cause for concern for the government.
Maybe things will improve but you, Rahul, should be prepared for the eventuality of having to form a government in 2019. You may, of course surprise us by doing a Sonia at the last moment which this writer thinks you will btw. But this letter assumes you won’t.
A former British PM put it well. The only power the Prime Minister enjoys is the power of persuasion. Our founding fathers designed an intricate system of checks and balances only to ensure that as head of government, the Prime Minister has no option but to collaborate. With all the trappings of power around you every day, it is easy to forget that all you have is the responsibility to decide the strategy for the country, but to execute the strategy you are dependent on other sets of elected representatives some of whom may belong to different shades.
Which explains why several CMs have lasted two, three and even more terms while only one PM has. Chief Ministers operate at the last mile; they are the ones who open schools, hospitals and factories, build roads and canals while Prime Ministers, much like Xerox machines are noticed only for the gaps in performance/governance. Their chances of making it to the second term are slim. And it will be no different with the incumbent whose 288 seats hide the fact that his party won a paltry 31% votes and since then his support base has constantly been diminishing.
Why did I give you this gyan? For two reasons. To convince you that you have more than a decent chance though not because of anything spectacular that you have done but because the dice is loaded heavily against the incumbent who is already floundering. And secondly to suggest to you the skills and competencies you need to hone in to be seen as an appropriate choice once the incumbent has done himself in by 2019.
First, the ability to carry the legislative and governing ecosystem along. This includes the cabinet, state governments of all hues, MPs, the bureaucracy and last but not the least, the Opposition. Our constitution frowns at unilateralism. Ironic that we should talk about our diversity at every forum and then elect easily the most divisive figure ever on India’s political horizon in 2014. But mistakes happen.
By 2019 the country will be in pain from the excesses of fascism and in desperate need for a balm. And you would be expected to provide the healing touch. That by itself may not be tough but expiating the hatred that may well be a part of our DNA by then and carrying the opposition with you will not be easy.
Incidentally, the Prime Ministers who brought in the most profound changes were Rao and Vajpayee, both running minority governments. Both well known for their relationships across the spectrum. Surely there is a lesson in it for us.
Secondly, the ability to attract quality talent
This should be a huge area of strength for you. The eclectic nature of your party will ensure access to a huge pool of talent without the baggage of bigotry and antiquity. If ever called to the government, this could separate you from the incumbent.
Talent defies limits. MS Swaminathan, Verghese Kurien, Manmohan Singh, E Sreedharan, Nandan Nilekani. Each of them was discovered by someone and allowed to fly. Each created history. It’s a simple truth that an ideology-led party will never understand. But you should not repeat their mistake if ever you get the chance.
Thirdly, high EQ or emotional quotient
Politics can either be driven by ideology which subsumes all other concerns or by an instinctive understanding of what the people want. We are currently passing through a phase where the former is dominating as that is the ruling party’s perspective. Understandably there is neither need nor value for EQ. From what we have seen, you appear to project a high EQ. Even if it is just an act, at least you thought it appropriate to put on the act. For the incumbent the entire idea of listening to someone is alien. And so if at all you are called to form a government it would mean you have a headstart.
Fourthly, a road map.
Politicians are so used to treading softly that they forget that they have been elected for a bigger purpose. On the other hand people demand specifics not motherhood statements. We were never explained the Gujarat model by the incumbent and all of us made our own assumptions. We assumed that at least the PM would know but apparently neither did he.
With you we have an even bigger problem. The Gujarat model, whatever it may have been, did somehow suggest rapid industrialization. With you we are completely blank. Frankly if the BJP had not glorified bigotry and made you a kind of secularist, we wouldn’t have a clue as to what you stand for. What is your road map? You have the luxury of defining yourself as un-BJP but only till they pursue bigotry as a national agenda. Chances are they will junk it at some stage. Leaving u high and dry.
So tell us what u stand for. The country will want to know how you may be similar and different from UPA and from the BJP.
Fifthly, moral authority.
Hemmed in by a parliament and opposition on one side, bureaucracy on another, judiciary on the third and expectations on the fourth, the only weapon the Prime Minister really has is moral authority. This is different from popularity which can often cut both ways.
Popularity shackles. Moral authority liberates.
Popularity prevents you from doing the right thing if you fear some may resent it. Moral authority gives you the confidence to do it regardless. People who keep looking at the score-board can never hit six sixes. You have a major deficit in this area at least among the chatterati. The deficit needs to be bridged. Three years is a long enough time provided you feel this is necessary.
As for the rest, stuff like better speaker, broader chest, swift decision-making are at best good-to-have but after having tried all those for five years, people may not have too much value for them by 2019.
In any case, if they still do, there is little risk of the President calling you to form the government in 2019.