4. L.K. Advani,82
Leader of Opposition
The man credited with building the BJP into a potent political brand finally has his best chance to be prime minister,if the BJP-led NDA is voted to power in the coming elections.
Advani changed Indian politics with the original Rathyatra in 1990. Love him or hate him,he proved to be a game changer. Advani,who had been written off after he fell out with the RSS on the Jinnah issue and stepped down from active politics to write his biography,has made a comeback as the NDAs prime ministerial candidate.
The octogenarian will spend the next few months impressing upon young India that after six decades in public life,his is an idea whose time has come. He will take out sankalp yatras and tour college campuses around the country.
5. Pranab Mukherjee, 73
External Affairs Minister
When the clouds of war were gathering over the subcontinent,he showed grit in dealing with Pakistan. He is known as Congresss Mr Fix-it. Mukherjee,who is the oldest and most experienced member in the Cabinet,stepped into the Finance Ministers role when the Prime Minister fell ill. He chairs 50-odd GoMs.
After the Mumbai attacks,when he spoke to his counterparts in other countries,he got their support to fight terrorism. Back in September,he worked the phones and made a crucial commitment to solicit support from the 45 countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
He will play a key role in the Congress and the government,if the UPA comes back to power after the general election.
6. Mayawati, 53
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Ever since the trust vote last July,Mayawati has been in the league of prime-ministers-in-waiting. Though she has never made a secret of her prime ministerial ambitions,especially since her big victory in 2007,it was the Left endorsement of her candidature that made it a not-so-farfetched possibility. It was the first time in almost two decades that any party had mustered a majority on its own in UP.
Last year,Mayawati became the political magnet for the Oppositions Operation Topple when the UPA Government faced its trust vote on July 22. Mayawati also successfully poached the Mulayam Singh-led SP ranks in the Lok Sabha.
She is expected to improve her tally in the Lok Sabha. In case of a hung Parliament,her numbers will be crucial.
7. Prakash Karat, 60
CPI(M) General Secretary
The Marxist has slowly but steadily gained absolute control over the party. A no-nonsense hardliner,he was able to push the anti-nuclear deal agenda in the party and then rally the comrades against the treaty with the US.
Karat did not flinch during the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Government and muzzled sporadic rumblings in his party,making the Left withdraw its support to the UPA. Karat also showed his might by expelling prodigal son Somnath Chatterjee and made comrades at Alimuddin Street endorse it.
Karat believes in a defeat-BJP-oppose-Congress plan of action. Though he failed to rope in Mayawati for the Left-led alliance,he has Jayalalithaa,Chandrababu Naidu and H.D. Deve Gowda in his kitty and is banking on the BSP for a post-poll tie-up of 100-odd MPs.