UPA-2: My Picks
Would love to talk about as many personalities as possible across parties. But, Congress being the single largest party that is part of the ruling coalition, we may restrict our discussion only to the top Congress leaders. May be, later on a different post, we shall talk about the others also. So, how many in the current government are promising leaders? In my opinion, it is worth talking about only these leaders below. Most others are mediocre or below average politicians, just politicians not leaders. I am surely open to revisit my thoughts based on your feedback, if I have missed out any.
Obviously, the first and foremost is Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the all rounder. He is the only efficient person that has remained meaningful from his batch. When I say ‘his batch’ it means the Arjun Singhs, N D Tiwaris, Shivraj Patils, Natwar Singhs, and so on. Wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the prime minister next. From his party's perspective, he also needs to be paid back for all he has done to help his non-political boss without becoming over-smart overnight to outgrow the boss, which is what usually such performers do in all offices. Coming from the state that has forgotten Congress as a party, it may not be possible for him, too. However, being a good subordinate is an art that many bosses have not mastered. It’s not too long back that Arjun Singh tried to act too smart and burnt his fingers.
Mukherjeeji has bailed out the government every time it needed such assistance. He has also won the trust of his party high command. The talks about making him the president and then dropping the idea considering his importance in the government and party clearly talks about his credibility. It also looked like he is the most liked Congress man for both Left and Right. Most people believe that Rahul will succeed Mr. Singh. But, we also hear a lot about Congress’s efforts to wipe out its dynasty image. If it is true, they should make Mr. PM (I mean, Pranab Mukherjee) the PM. Even then Rahul could assume office safely as Mr. PM wouldn’t want to be holding the position for too long considering his age.
Next comes in my list our home minister Mr. Chidambaram. He is one leader I have admired like mad. I also had the opportunity to observe him more closely even during his thin times, just because we come from the same region. There was a time when his honesty was unquestionable. He was the best find by Rajiv Gandhi for a long time. He never had to depend on politics to make money. When he is not in power, he just goes to practice in Supreme Court. He has a terrific command over both English and Tamil, which made him a perfect politician from the state where its politicians mostly speak more than required. His speeches are absolutely sensible. That may be the reason why he is still not able to get the mass appeal. People only want fire in political speeches, not any substance. Even today he does things in his own style. But, I also feel that during the course he has changed a lot. He is not the same PC that was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi. Perhaps, he has realized through his failures that he can never serve the country if he doesn't become street smart. May be, his ability to learn things quickly has also helped him learn the bad tricks of the trade. Even after hearing so much about him, I strongly believed that he was a good PM material. Looks like he has become someone who would do things that any ruler would do to retain his power intact.
In my opinion, he suited more as finance minister than as home minister. Rajdeep Sardesai calls him the best home minister after Patel (I thought it would be Advani!). Naxals are killing security forces in bulk week after week. Mr. Dig Vijay Singh talks about his intellectual arrogance, which also makes sense. May be, a better mix of compassion with intelligence would have worked wonders with Naxals. There was a time when he was the obvious choice for any educated Tamil to be the chief minister of the state. But, now, he can't think of that even if the miracle of Congress coming back to power happens in the state. The positions of planets have changed. As he himself admitted once, may be he doesn't have some qualities that are required for state politics.
He would have become popular if he had stepped down when the Indian government joined hands with Rajapakse. People would have at least spared a thought for him if he had decently walked off when he lost in Sivaganga. I have argued with many people in support of him. Now I realize that it is all meaningless. I have even decided to make some changes in this post. I said sometime back that writing sharpens the writer's thinking if not the readers. It has happened to me now. Because of this post and because of him. After lengthy discussions with many friends, I am convinced that I should make those changes. So, finally, I remove him from list of potential leaders now. Thanks to all those who made their points (including those who yelled at me!).
I also admire A K Antony for his simplicity from his chief minister days. Coming from his neighboring state, I had the opportunity to hear about his simplicity more often than about that of our own politicians. For a simple reason that there was no chief minister as simple as A K Antony in our state! However, he doesn't make news on performance front. I can hear what my Malayali friends are saying. I know that is the way you guys work. But, still Mr. Antony is not very effective in Governance. He is more like a communist. Clean but lazy! Unfortunately, you need to build a strong image of a development friendly, dynamic, and charismatic leadership to shine in national politics besides being a leader of extreme integrity. It may be tough for Mr. Antony. As one of my Malayali friends put it, Antony is very clean but he is not very dynamic whereas Karunakaran may be corrupt but he was very dynamic. What I have seen in politics is that most of the corrupt politicians are very dynamic unlike their clean handed friends. May be because they have a motivation to work!
I loved Krishna in Bangalore. He was very dynamic. He made the city and state more IT-savvy. He promoted performance everywhere. He maintained the highest level of dignity as chief minister. I remember Times of India conducting a poll asking if our chief minister was too decent to be in politics. When the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha was attacking him with unmanageable words day after day, he was just proving that he was more decent than her day after day. As far as I have seen in the inter-state politics, he was the first chief minister to listen to the Supreme Court. That is exactly what made him unpopular here. He had to bend to the sentiments of people eventually. Plus, the nature was not in his favor. The rains failed the farmers in both the states, which eventually failed him also in his state. Would have loved to see him continue his second term with Gowda’s support. But, what happened was heart-breaking. Such a great leader had to be victimized by substandard politics. Even now, I think Congress should have stood by him and told Gowda, “Either support him or get lost”. It is easier said in a blog than done in high value political deals. A friend of mine says Krishna is a leader of classes whereas Gowda is a leader of masses. So, it is natural that the leaders of classes spend their later years in the upper house in Delhi when the leaders of masses keep rising like phoenix irrespective whatever evil they do.
Last time, when he was made the governor of Maharashtra after being shown the door in the state on Mr. Gowda's demand, I prayed for him to get some key cabinet portfolio in central government instead. It didn’t happen then. But, it did happen eventually in UPA-2. I felt as though my prayers were overheard by someone. Having said that, how good is Krishna in Delhi now? I am not sure. Haven’t heard of any great news. I only hear a lot of criticism often on the functioning of MEA. I really don’t know how good or effective he is in his current position. May be, due to the age or bigger politics being played in the super capital which he is not used to or something else, he is not able to make his presence felt as he did in Bangalore. There was a time when I used to have him also in my wish list of prime ministers though it is nowhere close to possibility. Now, I can no longer keep him in that list. But, would surely like to try him with different portfolios (certainly not the kinds of finance, home, defense, etc.) to see if that makes things better. May be, he is not suited for MEA. I don’t see any other reason for his mediocrity.
This post wouldn’t be complete without talking about Mr. Kapil Sibal. My opinion about him was not that great until he proved his mettle in HRD. I only thought of him as a very talented lawyer with a powerful tongue, who is just capable of justifying anything that his party does like any other good lawyer does. I have seen him convincingly win many arguments at ease in most of the English channels, but they somehow failed to convince me about his abilities as a leader. But, today, I think, he has a great role to play in the Indian politics. He has been extremely successful as HRD minister. From ‘Right to Education’ to getting rid of public examinations, he has been extraordinary in everything that he does. He is surely one of the best performing ministers in UPA-2. It is so good to watch some people's performance speak instead of they doing it, even if they are great orators. We make them so ineffective in action by making them having to speak too much. Mr. Sibal is one such leader about whom I only want to hear news, not to watch him in talk shows. I sincerely think the Congress party should make the best use of his brain than his powerful tongue. Education being the beacon of all our hopes, it is more than critical for us to move in that direction.
Next in list is Mr. Controversy. Was so happy when I heard that Mr. Shashi Tharoor was joining politics. It was a similar feeling like the one that I had for Manmohan Singh. As I said in the last post, we need more and more people of this sort to make our politics better. The happiness doubled with his victory from Trivandrum. Was expecting that he would become the senior MEA. It would have been great for someone who has contested for the post of general secretary in United Nations. But, somehow Congress had a different plan. He became the junior MEA. That wasn’t bad too. But, he kept on getting into controversies one after the other. He may be justified in whatever he did. But, you surely need to play differently in the Indian turf. I think, it is the problem of his western connections. He is too westernized to be in Indian politics. He couldn’t learn to be Roman in Rome. When you don’t behave like the rest of the crowd, they start biting you from the back. Our politicians are no exceptions (Rather, they are the best examples!). Had high hopes until the IPL controversy burst out. Don’t know if he was at the wrong side. But, he was surely getting into unwanted issues at wrong time. The last nail was hit when he had his third marriage. It may have no relevance to his abilities as a politician. But, I don’t think it (three marriages) is received so well in our culture unless you are a mass leader like MGR. We could still hope that he won’t be let down by his people as the electorate in Kerala is different from that of the rest of the country. But, I am not very sure about Congress’s plans. May be, we have lost a great talent and a potential national (he is more than that indeed) leader because of his own limitations in adapting to the system that he is not best suited for or the one that is not best suited for him.
Then, though he is not part of UPA-2, I like Mani Shankar Aiyer’s courage and intelligence. He doesn’t mince his words when it is coming to criticizing the wrongdoings, even if it is Congressmen. He has never tried to be ‘goody goody’ with anyone, be it his own party men or alliance partners or opposition. He has made remarkable remarks against both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha without being worried about anything. Would love to see him as some minister as soon as possible. We can’t afford to keep him in the pavilion for too long when his party is ruling.
Jairam Ramesh is another intellectual, whose presence in the government makes its average intellect higher. The country is lauding him for the change he has brought to the Indian outlook on environmental issues. I am sure at the end of his five year term in office he would have made an unprecedented impact as an environment minister. I wish for his promotion at the earliest.
I like both Scindia junior and Pilot junior. I am very impressed with their intelligence and the ability to clearly communicate their views. They will have great roles in Rahul’s team as their fathers did in Rajiv’s team.
I am not very impressed with the rest, i.e. people like Sharad Pawar (NCP), Veerappa Moily, Gulam Nabi Azad, Jaipal Reddy, Kamal Nath, etc. It's time Congress comes out with retirement plan for these people, either voluntary or forceful, according to their convenience.
Shall cover leaders from other parties in another post when time permits. And, shall also write about the Gandhis in a dedicated post, as they are larger than life in our politics. Isn’t their presence in our politics literally larger than a life… continuing generation after generation!?