Succession Blues

Succession Blues

They have to show they are tough. This was true of Hu and Wen.

The conventions are over and the Presidential candidates of the Democratic and Republican Parties have been crowned. Obama,being the incumbent,was,of course,the obvious choice. But Romney had to come through a gruelling primary battle which began late last year and spanned many states. Voters had a good look at Romney while party members voted and chose him. He has legitimacy.

In China,they do things differently. The party elite singles out certain candidates—normally ‘princelings’ and in rare cases,a princess as well (Liu Yandong)—as high-flyers early in their career. They have to show they are tough. This was true of Hu and Wen. Their successors Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang have also been tested and found good enough. The criteria for succession are opaque and so is the process. The sudden fall of Bo Xilai showed that power can be abused by comrades and other comrades do not take it lightly if it gets China bad headlines. The recent absence of Xi made rumours fly that he was unwell,injured or dead. The smooth succession expected in China may yet prove to be bumpy. But then,that is the nature of authoritarian rule. It is super stable until it falls apart and chaos results.

The British practice of electing party leaders is by holding elections after candidates have been nominated. David Cameron is unpopular with his party and there are rumblings that Boris Johnson,the Mayor of London,may be inducted to run against him. Nick Clegg,the LibDem leader,is faced with likely challenge by his deputy Vince Cable. Ed Miliband faced off six rivals when he got elected by Labour party members,MPs and Trade Union members.

India also faces the problem of who will succeed Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister in 2014. Congress has its own opaque way of choosing its leader for 2014. Rahul Gandhi is a shoo-in for the spot. Yet,I suspect Rahul Gandhi has set his mind on restructuring the Congress Party organisation as a difficult but necessary task for the next 10 years. He does not want to grab the PM slot. If that were to be the case (and they have left it rather late to get him in harness) then the Congress has no procedure for choosing the 2014 leader. Of course,Sonia Gandhi will name the person. So don’t expect any primaries. The name will be revealed at the appropriate moment. Priyanka?


Ajit Pawar has shown by his resignation that succession in NCP will be contested. He drew attention to the irrigation scam only to demonstrate his strength in case Sharad Pawar thought his daughter was a natural successor. This will be an ugly fight. Congress allies have smelt a defeat and they have to make preparations for jumping the ship when the time comes. Indian political parties have no ideology except that of being in power and grabbing as much as they can while there. Most parties stay small because it is better for control and to bargain in a coalition. Large parties face defections and are a headache. They dispense with inner party democracy as does the Congress.

The BJP has a different problem. It has a large number of potential leaders and no process to decide upon one. What Bal Thackeray did when he endorsed Sushma Swaraj is to inaugurate an informal primary in the BJP for the 2014 slot. We have Narendra Modi who may ‘peak early’ as the Americans put it. Sushma Swaraj has had a powerful endorsement. Arun Jaitley must be another name in the ring. Nitin Gadkari,despite denials,has ambitions and we know L K Advani thinks the job should be his on merit. It would be a revolutionary step in Indian politics if the BJP organised a primary—RSS permitting—and let its members choose the candidate for 2014.

The fear of elections within the party is unhealthy for India’s democracy. Voters are cheated as they never know how the candidates they are invited to vote for are chosen. An aspiring person cannot join a political party in open recruitment,contest elections at her local party levels and hope to rise to the top. No wonder the quality of politics is so low.