The most valuable politician in India
So many rank themselves as indispensable to winning elections, but is there anyone out there who can do good? Here’s how they measure up
In one sense, everything has already been laid out for politicians in India. They have no necessity of inventing anything, for everything has been said and done, in India and outside.
For instance, moral codes have been handed down in the families that the politicians come from, the textbooks they may have studied and the religious texts they might have read. What then remains is how to do the best they can in a career of their choice.
Since public service is what politics is all about, Indian politicians are left with the task of correcting the wrongs of their time. If social injustice is the issue, as with the Dalit movement, then the liberation of slaves in the US is a template. If laws and jurisprudence are the issue, then the Magna Carta and the founding documents of the US are predecessors. If corruption is the issue, then there are numerous revolutions to study from – in France, Russia, Mexico and other countries.
The simplest lesson is this: nations have never progressed on greed. They progress from excellence in thought and act.
In India, politics has become so intricate that the mere act of winning an election is complex and tiring. A politician consequently may have no energy or motivation to do anything else. But that is not what our lives are about. Right now, it appears that acceptance of greed may be diminishing. Right now, there is a need to see who can do the right thing. What then are our options?
At the moment, the following personalities have gained a modicum of public approval. They are among the most important politicians in India right now. They have spent time in public offices and thus need to be assessed.
They are: Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Omar Abdullah, Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati, Prithviraj Chavan, Narendra Modi, Raman Singh (all chief ministers), Manmohan Singh (prime minister), Pranab Mukherjee (union finance minister), Sushma Swaraj, Mohan Bhagwat, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury (all in top party positions), and T Muivah and Ganapathi (heads of underground organisations that have shown the tenacity to fight the state for long periods with some success).
Generally, politicians need to possess some traits to win acclaim. For instance, they ought to be in some measure agreeable, open, conscientious, pacific, friendly, charming, kind, clever and ambitious.
In India, however, most politicians, barring, at times, members of the mainstream Left, have an amplified sense of self-regard, a noticeable degree of deception and dishonesty, a significant absence of remorse and an ability to twist things.
But in the end, they must possess value, as understood by the simple ability to do good.
For, by choosing to be politicians they have opted for a life in making decisions that affect life. India has elected 15 Lok Sabhas and numerous state assemblies. Many organisations have sprung up in this time to contest these politicians.
The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the People’s War Group (PWG, now the CPI (Maoist)) were formed around the same time, 1980, and are two of India’s biggest militant groups.
Born 1950, Thuingaleng Muivah, head of the NSCN (IM), holds the key to peace in the sensitive Northeast. The Indian state has travelled the globe to talk to this man for years, almost always outside India, in effect agreeing that Muivah is the most crucial extremist leader in the Northeast.
He is a longtime practicing Christian who wants to form an independent Greater Nagaland by changing the structure of states like Manipur and others. He is not comfortable with other Naga groups but maybe softening towards New Delhi. He is a crucial figure.
|Nitish Kumar is perhaps the most valuable politician in India because of his cool approach to crippling problems. He is almost unbelievable in Bihar and you can sense the relief in large parts of the state. New Delhi too learns much from him
Ganapathi, born 1952, is the elusive head of the CPI (Maoist), who is also one of India’s most wanted men. A former teacher, he has fought the state for years and has plotted numerous attacks on security forces including some huge murderous attacks.
Observers of the Maoist movement in India credit Ganapathi with moving out of Andhra Pradesh when things got hot and shifting the Naxal base to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. He is also credited with the mega move to unite India’s two biggest Naxal factions, the PWG and the Maoist Coordination Centre (MCC) into the CPI (Maoist).
He has often spoken of overrunning the Indian state militarily and New Delhi believes he has put together a credible force. Ganapathi is the man to talk to if India is serious about solving the Naxal issue.
Born 1946, Sonia Gandhi is astonishingly the longest serving head of the Congress party, which boasts of several luminaries with far better credentials in its history. She has, over the years, proven to be a conservative, left of Centre politician who usually prefers to maintain the status quo.
Her big moment came when she said no to the prime minister’s post, partially driven by the parties opposed to it and partially propelled by her own sense of right and wrong. She has held the Congress together better than anticipated.
She could be around for three years at least before she makes way for a successor, widely believed to be her son Rahul Gandhi. Her big contribution: she has kept the Congress left of centre and sustained a secular temperament in the organisation.
Rahul Gandhi, born 1970, is seen as a good bet for the Congress, which otherwise appears to be lacking in energy. Rahul tends to display a mix of his father Rajiv Gandhi’s idealism and mother Sonia’s caution. His big advantage is that he is India’s best-known politician around the age of 40. He has begun to take important decisions and is believed to be preparing for the top job after Manmohan Singh. His big contribution: the reform of the Congress.
Mohan Bhagwat, born 1950, is the intriguing head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who is quietly trying to reform the RSS. He is the first post-Vajpayee, post-Advani RSS head, which helps him deal with most seniors in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
He has no patience for much of the ancient thought in the RSS and its uniform. He is expected to be around for a while. His biggest contribution: trying to modernise the RSS.
|Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem
Sushma Swaraj of the BJP and Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) are seen as contenders to head their respective parties. They are survivors and they have the task of winning over reluctant colleagues before they take a shot at the top posts.
Yechury is believed to have a better chance after the recent Left debacle, though the CPI(M) often tends to give its leaders many chances, which means Prakash Karat may still be around. Swaraj has to fight her way through as well. Yechury’s biggest contribution: keeping the Left credible with his openness and moderation. Swaraj’s biggest contribution: she is the first woman to go that far in the BJP.
Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee have lost traction over the past few months after a series of old and new scams began to be reported on. Singh is Sonia’s prime minister and Mukherjee is Singh’s prime minister.
Singh had incredible goodwill, last seen for Rajiv Gandhi in his first year as PM, but he has lost some lustre because of impudent colleagues in the union council of ministers. It appears that Singh’s concept of giving ministers a free hand has not been reciprocated with integrity and this has hurt Singh.
His biggest contribution: a wise head that almost never gets provoked. Mukherjee is Mr Governance. He could have been bolder but he has done his bit in managing things for Singh. Mukherjee’s greatest contribution: he may be the best number two since Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
This brings us to the chief ministers. Raman Singh matters because he has gained priceless experience, and a fair bit of notoriety, in dealing with the Maoists. He has had several crises and these have made him a man to watch in the BJP. But his ability to gain wide trust is suspect. His big thing: he has come across as a centre-right politician with a tough mind.
Naveen Patnaik is the subtle one. No one expected him to survive this long in the tricky Odisha political set-up. Patnaik presides over some of India’s biggest conflicts over land and mining and has successfully been friends with the right, the Left and the Centre. His big thing: staying Spartan and staying personally free of corruption.
Omar Abdullah is the young hope in Jammu and Kashmir. He has survived initial scorn to make a few friends. His big gestures have been to forgive opponents, most notably when a constable hurled a shoe at him.
Abdullah went to the constable’s home, talked with him, withdrew the cases against him, forgave him and sent him home to his family in an official helicopter. His big contribution: keeping the lid on the stormy Kashmir dispute and staying the course. He also gains points for being a secular Muslim.
Prithviraj Chavan has been pushed into tricky Maharashtra politics when he was least expecting it. Maharashtra is perhaps among the most corrupt states, with a dangerous mix of politics, land issues, the underworld, big business and Bollywood. It’s also the state of Anna Hazare and Bal Thackeray.
So far, Chavan has done well to keep ambitions in the Maharashtra Congress under control and send a message that transparency and integrity matter in politics. Veterans tend to treat him as a passing phenomena but Chavan has done well to stick around and retain control. His big contribution: refusing to sup with shady figures and sending a message that honesty will be rewarded.
Narendra Modi, born 1950, is the man most people look to in the BJP. He is the best administrator thrown up by the RSS and the BJP and is often pitched as an opponent to Rahul Gandhi. But Modi hasn’t been able to effectively shrug off the stigma of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, which makes it difficult for him to make a move in New Delhi.
Another issue with him is his disdain for colleagues and peers in the RSS and the BJP. He barely speaks with anyone and this makes the others in the rightwing nervous. His big thing: he has stayed free of corruption personally and has led a performance-driven administration.
Mamata Banerjee has become the big hope in West Bengal after a long hard struggle to best the Left Front. Her victory in the recent assembly election sets her up for what could be one of the toughest tasks in India.
She has begun well, taking land back from the Tatas and offering them a new deal at the same time, and rushing to deal with tempers in Darjeeling. She has solid pro-people instincts and there is a tad too much expected of her. She has some way to go in putting together a second rung but she has the goodwill, which offers space for unpopular decisions. She is among the best new hopes in the country at the moment. Her big contribution: her Spartan life and an unrelenting commitment to the poor.
Then there are Mayawati and Nitish Kumar. Mayawati matters because she represents a formidable anti-Congress force and because she heads the Uttar Pradesh government.
She is the best hope for the Dalits of India and is relentless in her political energy and ambition. Her big contribution: battling great odds to create an option for Dalits.
However, Nitish Kumar is perhaps the most valuable politician in India because of his cool approach to crippling problems. Nitish Kumar is almost unbelievable in Bihar, thrashing opponents, making integrity attractive and making some very important policies like the bill on corrupt officers and their assets.
You can sense the relief in large parts of Bihar because of him. New Delhi learns much from him and he is probably the best bet, acceptable to everyone at the moment.
Vijay Simha is Executive Editor with Tehelka.com.