The UPA’s time seems to be running out and it appears that a new Prime Minister may come in 2014 or well before that.
So who will be the new PM of India? Who will be the new leader of a country of 1 billion plus?
The hazards of answering that question can be brought to light by finding out what most of the PM’s were doing two years before they became PM.
It may surprise you to find that almost all of them were in the wilderness at that time and not anything like being a frontrunner for the post.
Manmohan Singh: He became the PM in 2004 but in 2002, he was virtually nowhere.
Manmohan Singh had lost the 1999 Lok Sabha polls and the NDA was doing pretty well. It was a certainty that they would win in 2004.
Even if by some quirk of fate the Congress would make a comeback, then Sonia Gandhi would definitely become PM.
So when Manmohan Singh unexpectedly got the job, the Sensex tanked like never before and the political instability had pollsters predicting a snap poll in six months or 2-3 years.
That Manmohan Singh would become PM for at least 8-9 years… absolutely nobody saw that coming!
IK Gujral: This man became PM in 1997. But in 1995, very few people across India had even heard of him. He was not even a Lok Sabha member. He was an ex-Congress and ex-Minister with not much of a future. But he still got the top job following a momentous and unstable two years.
HD Deve Gowda: He was not even in the meeting that decided to make him PM in 1996. Deve Gowda was Janata Party President and CM of Karnataka in 1994. While that’s not exactly in the wilderness, no-one had really thought that he would one day become PM and that too so suddenly.
AB Vajpayee: In the early 1990s, Advani was the new face of the BJP and the top contender for PM in the unlikely event that the BJP should come to power. So in 1994, for all practical purposes, Vajpayee had retired.
After the Hawala scam, Advani announced that he would not contest the LS polls till his name was cleared. Then the good performance of the BJP in Assembly polls from December 1994 onwards led Advani to publicly announce as late as November 1995 that Vajpayee was the candidate for PM.
Vajpayee became PM for 13 days in the very next year and then again from 1998-2004.
PV Narasimha Rao: He became PM in 1991. But in 1989 he had challenged Rajiv Gandhi for the party president ship and lost immediately in a voice vote. Retirement loomed, but he decided to hang on as Rajiv’s advisor.
That move led him to become PM in 1991 in a year he had decided to retire from active politics once and for all. It was only Rajiv’s tragic assassination that brought Rao back.
Morarji Desai: In 1972, Indira Gandhi won a landslide victory and in 1975 imposed Emergency. Many expected the Emergency to last indefinitely and the situation in 1975 for anyone other than Indira or her son Sanjay Gandhi to lead the nation was dim.
But Morarji Desai indeed became PM in 1977.
The Rest: Only Jawaharlal Nehru was sure to become PM when India got independence, though he did have strong competition from the likes of Sardar Patel. Lal Bahadur suddenly became PM on Nehru’s death in 1964.
Indira was also not widely seen as a serious candidate in the early 1960s and had a title of “goongi gudiya” (mute doll). Charan Singh in 1979 and Chandra Shekhar in 1990 were the other unlikely choices.
The Next PM: That makes the job of predicting who the next PM is even tougher.
By the above standards the 2014 PM has absolutely no inkling that he could get the top job as early as 2012.
But in the unlikely event of the Congress returning to power, the top job is there for Rahul Gandhi’s asking. Other contenders are Pranab Mukherjee, Meira Kumar and even P Chidambaram if he can fully clear his name by then.
If there is a strong BJP wave and the party gets close to 250 seats, it could even be Narendra Modi. Much less and LK Advani (who knows!), Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and even Arun Jaitley could be compromise candidates.
If the NDA comes to power with a non-BJP PM, then the strongest contender is definitely Nitish Kumar.
But if the Lok Sabha is hung beyond repair, then any regional leader who has even 20-30 LS seats under his or her belt is a contender for heading a minority government with outside support of mostly the Congress or maybe even the BJP.
Or most probably, going by history, it will be simply none of the above!