WHEN, following celebration of his 41st birthday early in June, Rahul Gandhi was felicitated and the Congress Party’s secretary, Digvijay Singh publicly announced that Rahul was now fit to be the Prime Minister, one could hear the loud gasp of the public at large. Was Digvijay broadly hinting that Dr Manmohan Singh was about to send in his resignation as Prime Minister to make way for Rahul to take over his job? Or was it just a casual remark on the part of Digvijay Singh known for his talent to shoot off his mouth?
It is unlikely that Dr Singh would resign now, despite the fact that he has been under very severe criticism by the media. Even compelling to resign would probably have strong repercussions within the party itself and it would be very unwise on the part of the Congress to show Dr Singh the door. Actually the Congress has let it be known that Dr Singh will complete his term—and that is that. But it would not be taken amiss if, for example, the point is made that Rahul would be Dr Singh’s natural successor after the next general elections are over – and should the Congress come to power for the third time in succession. Whether that is possible is anybody’s guess. Judging from the current scene, over whelmed as the party is with scam after scam, failure seems written on the party’s face.
But what comes out clearly is that, so far as party leadership is concerned, Rahul has no competitors. And such as those who could make a claim to the Prime Ministerial gadi – like, for possible, A.K. Anthony – are of pensionable age. Rahul Gandhi, it may be remembered hardly mattered in the recently concluded Assembly elections, whether in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu or even Orissa. But the Congress seems stuck up with dynasticism throwing up TINA – There is No Alternative – as the Deciding Factor. The issue was sealed when Mahatma Gandhi chose Jawaharlal as the nation’s first Prime Minister in 1947 when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel should have been the preferred choice. The choice of Nehru sealed the matter for all times.
What is unnerving today however, is the fact that the country cannot boast of what may be described as a ‘national’ leader. LK Advani is the only one around, but he is ageing. We have regional leaders aplenty; Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal, Mayavati and Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, Prakash Singh Badal in Punjab and Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Narendra Modi has done extraordinarily well in Gujarat – even his worst enemy cannot but admit to it – but where does he stand in the party?
It may be agrued that the times proclaim the man and the public does not unduly have to get panicky. Even so, the nation cannot wait for fate to decide its future and it has become incumbent on India’s two leading parties, the Congress and the BJP, to name the leaders preferred to be their prime ministerial candidate come 2014. One would hope that whoever wins will get at least a simple majority to avoid the compulsions of coalition. But much would depend on how the political face of India changes in the next thirty six months. Would it change for the better? There is a growing feeling now that India is ripe for a paradigm shift, the nature of which is still vague. Just as slogans like Nehru’s “Socialistic Pattern of Society”, Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ and BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ have had their day, political parties have to think out of the box for something else that will catch the fancy of the GenNext. What could it be? There are so many matters calling for urgent attention, like Corruption, and any party that wishes to capture power must be seen to be capable of handling them. That will be a major assignment calling for both tact and courage, but unavoidable in the present context.
But equally important are the concerns of the GenNext that will need to be met – especially in the field of education. Far-fetched as the idea may sound, a growing middle class is increasingly getting restless about the availability of class education in the country. India has 42 Central Universities coming under the Department of Higher Education, 274 State Universities of which some 170 receive Central or UGC assistance, 100 Deemed Universities and 82 Private Universities but apparently they do not meet the country’s requirements. It comes as a shock to know (according to the figures available for 2006) that as many as 123,000 students go abroad for studies, mostly to the United States, Canada and Australia. The number of students studying in Britain nearly doubled between 1999 and 2009 to an astounding figure of 19,205.
Considering that a good percentage of foreign universities are third rate – one University in California turned out to be bogus – India is spending literally millions of dollars to sustain foreign universities when the same amount if wisely spent in India would bring immense credit to the country. But it requires a Prime Minister with a vision to work it out. As it is, it is claimed, India needs at least another 300 universities. The very idea is mind-boggling. This calls for a Prime Minister with a great vision commanding respect across the board like a Nehru, an Indira Gandhi or an Atal Bihari Vajpayee. IK Gujral, Deve Gowda, Chandrashekhar and VP Singh became Prime Ministers by accident. They were freaks.
Tomorrow’s Prime Ministers will have to be of a new breed capable of understanding the needs of a younger generation, their concerns going beyond caste and class. Politically-speaking we are living in hard times. And challenging times. A wise party will take note of it, present a united front, keeping internal bickerings under total control and command the respect of voters as did Nehru. The Congress, obviously, is grooming Rahul. That is more than obvious, the sycophancy of a few notwithstanding. Isn’t it time for the BJP to groom its own candidate, instead of waiting for another three years? It can be done without making a song and dance of it, and even behind the scene, if that is a good alternative. But the message must reach the citizen that the future of the country and the strengthening of its administration and economic sinews is at the top of its agenda. Preplanned is well planned.