From Mayawatis laser-like focus to Manmohan Singhs self-effacing success,from L.K. Advanis long patient siege warfare to Sharad Pawars candour and Lalu Prasads jokey admissions,from Ram Vilas Paswans me-too to Rahul Gandhis not-now,there are many styles of articulating the ultimate ambition in Indian politics. Any of them could steer the country in a few months from now.
A sign of chaos? Perhaps not. It has to be a proud assertion of our democracy that anyone can aspire to be prime minister,with the key proviso that the numbers so permit. In fact,the charisma deficit among current prime ministerial contenders is perhaps a sign of evolution in a parliamentary democracy,which revolves around things other than sheer force of personality and drawing power. Unlike presidential systems where an individual campaigns to bag the highest political prize and command the executive,parliamentary politics is party politics in concept,with groups representing various historic antagonisms/ specific interests,and individuals are more or less electorally irrelevant at the national level. Vajpayee and the Gandhi family aside,our systems are engineered to throw up organisation men or bland consensus candidates around whom mutually hostile minor powers and regional heavyweights can rally. Structural hurdles make it difficult for individual leaders to command singular authority,making the Great Man theory of political power near-impossible in our current situation. Even a meteoric rise within parties is difficult,given the absence of an open career ladder. Within political parties and on the national stage,rivals try and cut each others roles. Leaders who vault from states or core demographic constituencies find themselves undermined at the local level even as they enlarge their national presence.
Unless circumstances change drastically,or one of our politicians manages to pull off some transcendent feat of leadership,we could continue with a succession of low-wattage prime ministers. And after all,as Malcolm Gladwell reminds us in Outliers,we are creatures of circumstance for the most part. What looks like spectacular success is often a matter of timing,persistence and an eye on the big chance. And even if the line-up of prime ministerial contenders looks overwhelming,at least its somewhat safe we are unlikely to invest our political destiny in the hands of a single charismatic leader and the glitter of his or her promises.