1. Rahul Gandhi,38
Congress General Secretary
He makes it to the top of the IE100 power list,even ahead of the Congress President,because the Grand Old Party of India sees in him the hope for its future and revival. Ask ruling party faithfuls and they will tell you that if any decision is to be made or a change effected,the route to the mother is through Rahul. Taking a plunge into politics shortly before the 2004 parliamentary election,AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is building his team of young advisers with a patience thats as cautious as its powerful.
He backed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Indo-US nuclear deal. He was also a strong advocate of his partys decision to provide unconditional support to friend Omar Abdullahs government in Jammu and Kashmir. Ashok Chavan,who was recently appointed Maharashtra CM,also had his blessings.
He must win votes for the Congress. A section of senior Congress leaders wants to project him as the partys prime ministerial candidate. It all depends on the mandate the party gets in the general election,say insiders. The young leader is not interested in running a shaky coalition government,they add.
2. Sonia Gandhi, 62
Chairperson of the ruling UPA Sonia Gandhi,in her eleventh year as president of the Congress,has forced her critics to acknowledge her as a sharp and astute politician. As much at ease with Lalu Prasad Yadav from Bihar as with M. Karunanidhi from Tamil Nadu,she shares a good rapport with regional satraps and is a natural choice in the party for running a coalition government.
Power punchWith that one actthe supreme sacrifice in 2004 when she declined the prime ministers postshe became almost immune to personal charges. Although in regular correspondence with UPA ministers,she has made special efforts not to appear to be intruding on the Prime Ministers territory. With her public backing of Manmohan Singh on crucial issues like the Indo-US nuclear deal and inflation,she put all talk about dual power centres to rest.
What nextWith the ruling coalition looking like the political favourite in the next general election,there are many who see her undisputed reign in the party and government continuing.
3. Manmohan Singh, 76
Prime Minister of India
For someone who was thrust into the top job in 2004 after Sonia Gandhi refused to be prime minister,Manmohan Singh had the difficult job of managing a coalition and dealing with an aggressive Leftall this while firmly pushing for the nuclear deal. His most powerful assets: his impeccable integrity and unflinching resolve. Critics alleged that the division of labour at the top of the UPAbetween government and partywas artificial. But five years later,the synergy between Singh and Sonia Gandhi is clear. For someone considered apolitical,he deftly played political cards by getting the Samajwadi Party to back his government after the Left withdrew support.
When he won the July 22 trust vote in Parliament. For several monthsas the Left threatened to withdraw support and finally didthe UPA Government seemed on the brink of collapse on the issue of the nuclear deal. Singh resisted all pressures,not just from the Left but also from within his party,and stood firm. And he won.
Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have said he is their man for the top job if the UPA comes back to power.