Management gurus often tell us, there is always vacancy at the top. But the UPA often reminds us that the top is always crowded. Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh has deliberately set the cat among the pigeons when he raised the UPA leadership issue at a time when the general elections are more than a year away. He has done it earlier too. But this time his message is that under Dr. Manmohan Singh the party is doomed. This has also brought the succession war in the UPA to the fore.
Arjun Singh is a compulsive sycophant in the old Congress mould. In fact, that is the sole raison d?etre for his position in the Union Cabinet. So it is not easy to believe that he said anything that the family did not approve of. But for the Congress to thrust its nominee on the ruling conglomerate?a grouping of desperate, self-seeking politicians, who themselves for decades have been nursing personal and dynastic ambitions is?a difficult task.
There are two things Arjun Singh'spurportedly unsolicited barb has established. First, the Congress is already in the lookout for a replacement for Dr Manmohan Singh. It is understandable.
Dr Manmohan Singh is not a vote-catcher. He is also not a good administrator. He has proved himself a huge liability for the Congress, especially after the unmitigated mismanagement of the economy, with rising prices becoming a major plank of the political debate.
Secondly, the party is using the display of inner-party sycophancy as a trial balloon to gauge the mood in the UPA. That is why External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who too does not hide his ambitions; seconded the suggestion instantaneously. Mukherjee has more friends in the ruling circuit, considering his proximity to the CPI(M).
Within the Congress, Sonia Gandhi seems to be very much in the race and seems equally ambitious. She is perhaps more acceptable to the allies than Rahul Gandhi, considering her rapport with the Left, RJD, DMK and LJP. There are many factors working against Rahul. The first is his failure as a successful campaigner, despite the huge media hype and expensive public relations blitzkrieg. Everywhere he went to canvas for the party the candidates lost. His poor articulation and obvious lack of understanding and study of issues come out too transparent in his public utterances. Inexperience is not an essential handicap in politics, provided it is endowed with humility.
The open rejection of Arjun Singh'ssuggestion by the RJD is a significant input for our understanding of the shape of things to come. The RJD has an experienced, popular and unabashedly ambitious leader in Lalu Prasad Yadav. Perhaps his explicitly extra dose of loyalty for Sonia Gandhi was on many occasions interpreted as a calculated strategy to win over her support one day for his own prime ministerial hopes. The promotion of Rahul'scandidature by the family retainers has come as a rude shock for the likes of Lalu Prasad. The DMK too is afflicted with the dynastic disease, and it is not surprising that it has no qualms about accepting anybody as leader from the family as long as quid pro quo is guaranteed in Chennai. The same goes for the NCP, which too has a familial headache.
Dr Manmohan Singh'ssilence is intriguing. He is a personal nominee of the party chief and his existence is entirely a matter of her pleasure and confidence. She cannot afford to sink the party for his sake. Priyanka Gandhi, with her latest claim to headlines with her Christian charity to her father'sassassin is also in the fray, for the family mantle. Her political worth is still untested. Equally she is acceptable to the family retainers. Many consider her a better candidate for the popularity sweepstakes. One thing good about the brouhaha, over who will lead the party in the next poll is that at least temporary public attention is diverted from the galloping inflation, which has made life miserable for the common man. The Congress will finally make a choice between Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul, all within the family. Obviously, in the next round, the family will not be looking outside for the captain.