The season of POSITIONING for PM's chair is here!
Sushma Swaraj, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh or may be even Advani: positioning for prime ministership is the flavour of the current season, notes Neerja Chowdhury.
Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray has positioned senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj for premiership in 2014, calling her an intelligent and brilliant leader most suited to lead the country.
His interview to Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has given a leg-up to the Leader of the Opposition and brought her back into the reckoning for the prime ministerial sweepstakes whenever they take place.
But the prime ministerial positioning is not limited to Sushma Swaraj or to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Or to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is taking on Modi frontally, hoping to emerge as the chief champion of the secular side.
Or, for that matter, to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has been angling to create a third front, though the once bitten-twice shy Left parties are wary of forming an alliance with him. They agreed only to cooperate with him on issues like the recent demand to set up an impartial probe into the allocation of captive coal blocks to private players.
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Image: Senior BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj
Will Jayalithaa emerge triumphant?
It is noteworthy that All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Jayalalithaa is also moving with finesse with an eye on 2014.
Last week when President Pranab Mukherjee went to Chennai for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Madras high court, Jayalalithaa not just went to receive him at the airport, which as CM it was incumbent on her to do, but she received him along with her whole cabinet, with every state minister lined up alongside to receive Mukherjee, sending him a message of a warm welcome on his first visit to the South as Rashtrapati.
Again, the CM was present along with every minister in her cabinet at the lunch that Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah hosted for the President.
Those present noted the animated way she chatted with the President at the lunch, considering the close relationship he has enjoyed with her adversary, DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
Mukherjee had made Chennai his first port of call in his campaign to seek votes as a candidate for President. The AIADMK ministers found their chief reaching out to the Rashtrapati with more than the usual cordiality, and her body language is believed to have conveyed this.
In contrast, when it came to the prime minister, who had come for the PSLV launch at Sriharikota, Jayalalithaa turned up alone at the airport to receive Dr Manmohan Singh. Not one of her ministerial colleagues accompanied her.
Surprisingly, Karunanidhi did not call on the new Rashtrapati when he was in Chennai this time. Nor did the DMK's Union ministers attend the governor's lunch, though according to protocol, ministers, judges and ambassadors were reportedly invited.
Even though the DMK ministers did not attend the governor's lunch, some of them quipped later, giving vent to their dissatisfaction: "It is we who had voted for Pranab Mukherjee (as President), and it is they (AIADMK) who are having lunch with him!"
Tamil Nadu circles are abuzz that Jayalalithaa may also be positioning herself for the big job, if such an opportunity were to come her way, and the next Lok Sabha is likely to be highly fractured.
She is concentrating on maximising her gains in the Lok Sabha polls, and some believe that she could win anything between 25 and 30 seats, with the DMK showing little signs of improving its prospects.
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Image: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa
Mulayam, Mayawati also in the race
Biju Janata Dal supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who partnered Jayalalithaa in the July presidential poll with both of them voting for PA Sangma, may back her, and so might some other smaller parties, like the Telugu Desam Party.
If neither the United Progressive Alliance nor the National Democratic Alliance has a majority on itse own, the unaligned group of parties will hold the key, and they will be able to bargain better if they form a bloc.
It goes without saying that Mulayam Singh Yadav -- and Mayawati -- also belong to this group, and will be contenders for the same space, though they will not support each other.
Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, might get the support of the smaller parties in the South.
Admittedly, to predict anything at this stage is premature, in a situation which is highly fluid and uncertain, but it does not stop leaders from hoping and planning.
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Image: Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav
Modi may emerge as the frontrunner
Of late, it was Narendra Modi who had usurped the centrestage as the BJP's PM possibility in 2014. But during the just concluded monsoon session of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj -- and LK Advani -- tried to wrest the initiative again by upping their ante against the UPA over coal-gate, dubbing it as an "aar paar ki ladai", which the rest of their colleagues went along with.
Swaraj played a googly when she decided to call on Bal Thackeray last week and won over the support of the Shiv Sena patron.
By opting for Sushma, the Sena patriarch was expressing his non-preference for Narendra Modi, without saying it in so many words -- something that the Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had done in an unambiguous way.
The Gujarat CM enjoys a good rapport with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, and that did not go down well with uncle Bal Thackeray and cousin Uddhav, though now there are efforts to bring the two sides of the clan together. If the Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS come together in the next electoral round, it will make the going tough for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine in Maharashtra.
It goes without saying that arithmetic will determine who becomes prime minister in 2014. If the BJP notches up 185 seats or more in the Lok Sabha, Modi may become the frontrunner, and he is the current favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh brass.
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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
Advani may have the last laugh yet
Jayalalithaa and the bloc of parties led by her may plump for him, given the good equation between the two leaders, and the final distance can always be made up by smaller parties.
If the tally is between 140 and 150, as is being projected at the moment, then it will be a toss-up between the two leaders of opposition, the other being Arun Jaitley. Sushma Swaraj is the BJP's grand orator today, has moderated her politics over the last years and moved in step with other opposition parties in Parliament. Jaitley has a grip over the party organisation, is well regarded by the allies, and is capable of out of the box thinking.
And Advani? If there is no agreement on any of the others, could the party plump for him, like the Congress did for PV Narasimha Rao in 1991, because he was the least threat to all?
In Indian politics, nothing is ever impossible, and that is why politicians never say die.
Image: Senior BJP leader L K Advani