16. Mulayam Singh Yadav, 69
Samajwadi Party chief
The Samajwadi Party,led by Mulayam Singh Yadav,may have lost the 2007 Assembly elections in UP to the Mayawati-led BSP,but there was no drop in SPs vote share in the politically bi-polar state.
Mulayam not only abandoned his efforts at building a third front,comprising Chandrababu Naidu,O.P. Chautala and Jayalalithaa among others,but also extended SPs support to save the Congress-led UPA government after the Left parties pulled the rug from under its feet last year.
As the BSP tries to spread its wings across the country at the expense of the Congress,the national party will need Mulayam to contain Mayawatis ambitions. Even a better-than-average performance by SP in the Lok Sabha elections will earn him a place in Delhis power circles.
17. Ahmed Patel, 59
Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi
As Sonias troubleshooter,he enjoys her trust and confidence. His ability to talk to all Congress leaders and key UPA allies,his discretion and low profile have helped maintain his boss faith in him. Patel is part of all top decision making mechanisms like the Congress Core Group and the Congress Working Committee.
Winning the trust vote with the numbers precariously balanced in the Lok Sabha last year was a testimony to his skill in political management. In difficult times,it is Patels working the phones that is very much part of the untold story.
The upcoming election is crucial for Patel. And with talk of real power passing completely into Rahul Gandhis hands by the time the year is out,it will be a testimony to his skills if Patel can make it as one of his close advisers.
18. Kamal Nath, 62
Minister for Commerce
He was one of the most popular Indian names in the international media last July,thanks to his firm stand on key trade issues at the mini-ministerial meeting of the WTO in Geneva.
He refused to budge on farm subsidies in advanced countries and special safeguards for developing countries against a sudden surge in farm imports. He got the Cabinet to clear the dramatic changes to foreign direct investment (FDI) norms.
He is likely to return to the Cabinet in the same portfolio if the UPA comes back to power,much to the displeasure of trade ministers from developed countries,who reportedly were hoping for his victory in the Madhya Pradesh elections so they would not have to deal with him in future trade talks.
19. Arun Jaitley, 56
BJP General Secretary
He is the BJPs master strategist and legal expert. What the late Pramod Mahajan was to the NDA in the 2004 elections,Arun Jaitley will be to the Advani-led coalition in 2009. He will draw campaign blueprints,sew up alliances,and come up with campaign punch-lines.
He has a string of election victories to his credit where he functioned as the chunav prabhari (election in charge). Only Jaitley could have said no to L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh when the duo wanted him to be the CM candidate in Delhi.
He will be a key minister in the Advani cabinet if the NDA comes to power in the next election. With party president Rajnath Singhs three-year term ending this year,Jaitley will be looking for a suitable role in the organisation.