Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday claimed that a strong anti-incumbency mood, similar to 1977 and 1989, was prevailing in India and that leadership potential will dictate the outcome of the general elections in 2014.
"From all the indications that I gather, there is a huge, more than what we expected, anti-incumbency mood which has emerged in the country," Jaitley, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said in New York during an address at the International Peace Institute.
He said the anti-incumbency mood is "unprecedented" and resembles the one that existed in 1977 and 1989 when governments that had comfortable majority lost by a huge margin.
He said that the Indian electorate is looking for an "alternative" since people see the governance of the last few years "as a major leadership failure."
He added that as far as the economic management of the country is concerned, the head of the government or the Prime Minister must have the last word. "He has to be the natural leader of the country and has to be the natural leader of the party.
He has to have the last word and have the ability to overrule others. If he does not have all these rights, this authority, he is a Prime Minister who is in office but really not wielding authority."
"This really has been the bane of the problem in the last few years," he added. Jaitley said that creation of power centres outside the government, whose command runs with the government and which become authority without responsibility, also contributed to the angry anti-incumbency mood.
He said a strong factor that has emerged out of disillusionment with leadership, indecisiveness, lack of capacity to take decision is "creating an environment where though we are a parliamentary democracy, the next election is almost becoming a quasi referendum on leadership."
He said on the one hand there are political parties that are "centred around individuals or families" while on the other there are a set of structured political parties where a set of leaders compete with each other and the best one emerges as the leader.
"We have been criticised in taking a long time in selecting our leader but among a large galaxy of leaders, we decided to choose who was the most popular one," he added.
Jaitley said in case of some parties that are centred around "families", "the next in line is the next descendant of the family." Such a structure exists in most states as well as at the "national level."
"The disadvantage in the dynastic parties is that for the large middle and aspirational class, the whole idea of India becoming a dynastic democracy itself raises questions. I am not sure if this process can indefinitely continue."
"The other problem of a dynastic party is that the party becomes a crowd around the family. The strength of the party is almost similar to the potential of the current generation of that dynasty," he added.
"I foresee a situation where this election in a leadership referendum also emerges as a strong ideological battle between a dynastic democracy and parties which believe in that kind of structure or those parties that have a more structured arrangement by which proven merit or ability comes into play in determining the leadership".
He said the angry anti-incumbency mood and the leadership potential will dictate the outcome of the next election. "We are reasonably confident that we will be the front runners as the far as the elections are concerned," he said.
Jaitley said the next election will also be about governance issues, with slowdown in economic growth and corruption issues playing heavy on the minds of the electorate. "Principle issues in the elections will move around the government. Second principle factor relates to corruption.
The popular anger that has built up is because of huge number of corruption scams and how they have adversely affected the management of the economy and India's ability to attract international and domestic investment," he said.
Jaitley noted that during the first few years of UPA-1's governance, the economy was growing at about 9 per cent but in the last few years the growth has "nosedived" to 4 or 5 per cent. Referring to the corruption in allocation of spectrum and coal, Jaitley said allocation of natural resources in a growing economy have to be "non-discriminatory".
He said in the allocation of spectrum, coal, iron ore, "the story of all these has been the same" where governments have run into difficulties, there have been severe indictments, licenses have been cancelled and leaders of the industry have been investigated and prosecuted.
"This has sent huge negative signals to investors globally. Corruption-related issues resulted in a lack of confidence in the economy, and as a result not only the international investors but even the domestic investors are not looking at India," Jaitley said.
Image: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley in New York at the International Peace Institute
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com