On the basis of the major political developments in the past year, media reports and public perception we have listed the names of leaders who might be the front-runners in the race for Prime Ministerial post.
With 2019 Lok Sabha Elections around the corner, the speculations about the probable PM candidates of the political parties are arising. While Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained its tradition of announcing its Prime Ministerial candidates before entering the election battleground, Congress has always kept its cards disclosed, except in 2009 when Dr Manmohan Singh was announced the PM Candidate following his successful term during UPA 1.
Following a massive victory in 2014 general election and subsequent state elections, PM Modi will still be BJP’s top choice for the candidature. However, this time he might as well face a competition from Nitin Gadkari-who has emerged as one of the top performing ministers in Modi’s cabinet. On the other hand, who will steer the opposition ship is still a mystery. Whether Congress (The national party in opposition) will be heading the coalition or any other party is still under the wraps.
However, on the basis of the major political developments in the past year, media reports and public perception we have listed the names of leaders who might be the front-runners in the race for Prime Ministerial post.
- Narendra Modi:
With Narendra Modi as campaign head, BJP was able to galvanize mass support and win absolute majority single-handedly in 2014 Lok Sabha Election. Even the victories of BJP in subsequent state assembly elections are credited to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his relentless campaigning. The Gujarat strongman and Hindutva poster-boy have the support of majority Hindu community. One of the major reason for him being the top-most choice for PM post is the support from the party President-Amit Shah who is a close aide of PM Modi. Modi also has a vast experience in Administration. He has been a Chief Minister of Gujarat for 15 years and Prime Minister for four years now.
However, there are also flip sides to the story. Though Modi’s chances of being declared BJP’s PM candidate are strong, there are some aspects that may go against his candidature. As the disgruntled party leaders and BJP’s NDA allies put it, Modi is a Control freak and has a poor ability to delegate. Virtually all the important portfolios including finance, defence and external affairs are handled by him. This is also one of the reasons why NDA allies are upset with the BJP. On the other hand, four years down the line his exaggerated election promises about black money and rupee value have come back to haunt him.
Under the Supreme Commander Modi, BJP has been called as a two-men army run by the duo of Modi-Shah. This has also upset the saffron party’s ideological parent- RSS. Modi’s cold-war with the RSS leadership is well known. Recently, Mohan Bhagwat openly countered Modi’s “Congress-Mukt Bharat” saying the Sangh does not believe in it.
Frequently, he has also come under fire for his silence on important issues and unacceptance of responsibility for any failure. The authoritarian nature of his leadership may also lead to rebellion in party leaders creating obstacles in his path.
- Nitin Gadkari:
Another name that is popping up recently for BJP’s PM candidate is Nitin Gadkari. The Nagpur’s trusted man has not only the blue-eyed boy of Sangh but also has a support of the Advani camp. The Maharashtrian leader has been the president of the BJP in the past. So, he understands the party well. Besides, he can act as a bridge between party’s senior leadership and new leadership. Gadkari has had an extensive experience in administration as he has handled various portfolios. In Modi’s cabinet, he has earned the reputation of one of the most performing ministers. Two aspects can add up to his advantage. One, he is not seen as a hardline Hindutva leader and second, he has good relations with NDA allies. It is highly unlikely for the BJP to win the upcoming Lok Sabha election with an absolute majority. Thus it will need NDA allies. As NDA allies are upset with Modi, it may give a boost to Gadkari’s candidature.
However, there are few other things that can mar the chances of Nitin Gadkari. Unlike PM Modi, Gadkari does not enjoy the clean image. He has been named in several corruption cases before. The BJP which came to power with Corruption as core issue is less likely to compromise on this front. As compared to PM Modi, he does not have a mass appeal and keeps a low profile. His term as a party president was never much praised. He has poor command on party leaders and mostly disliked by the northern cadre of the party.
- Sharad Pawar:
Having missed the PM post earlier, this is the last chance at PM Post of NCP’s party patron Sharad Pawar. Pawar is among the few senior most leaders who are still in active politics. Sharad Pawar commands respect not only within his party but also across party lines. He might also be an exception who has good relations with both UPA and NDA coalition partners. His area of expertise pans across defence and agriculture sector. He is considered as the best agrarian leaders present in the country. While the Maratha strongman has good relations with leaders across the parties, he is also very well versed with grass root politics and enjoys mass support majorly in rural areas. He is also ideologically neutral.
However, his corrupt image can damage his chances. Pawar is often called an opportunist who is ready to align with any party no matter the ideology. As said above, his deteriorating health conditions and age can dent his ambitions to be a Prime Ministerial candidate.
- Shashi Tharoor:
Congress’ Shashi Tharoor has gained a reputation as an “intellectual”. Tharoor who represents the liberal image of the Congress has had a career as a UN diplomat. He is among the few Congress leaders who have good social media presence and followers. His commentary on the history of British Colonialization of India and demand for an apology from Britain had given him the image of patriotic leader-which eventually popularised him in urban youth. So much so that a campaign with hashtag “Tharoor for PM” did rounds on social media.
Despite the popularity, Shahi Tharoor’s image is stained because of the charges of his wife’s murder on him. He is also accused of misogyny. Though he has a good social media presence, he has no grass root support and seen as an “elitist” leader. At the same time, he is not seen as a national leader and does not have a command over party leaders.
- Mamata Banerjee:
Mamata Banerjee-popularly known as ‘didi’- rose to national importance when her party’s mega electoral victory ended left’s years of dominance in West Bengal. Known for her strong leadership, Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the front-runner of the PM post from the opposition camp. She was also among the leaders who called for the federal front. Thus, she enjoys the support of regional parties like Shiv Sena, TDP and TRS. Besides having experience in governing the state, she has also handled cabinet ministry. No other strong face from the opposition coalition gives her a clear edge over others for PM candidature.
On the other hand, she is often accused of minority appeasement. Some of her decisions have led her to an image of “anti-Hindu” leader. Since she took over as a CM, a number of communal violence cases ravaged the state. The recent violence in panchayat polls by TMC workers has also antagonised her in the masses. Her regional leader image can also be the limitation for her Prime Ministerial ambitions.
- Rahul Gandhi:
It is widely speculated that in 2019, Congress will project Rahul Gandhi-the Congress President as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party. Though Rahul on several occasions has said that he is ready to be a PM, no official announcement of the same has been made by the party. The biggest advantage of the Rahul Gandhi is the Gandhi name associated with him. He himself is party president and his family still influences the internal party decision-making. There are no challengers to his leadership within the Congress. While on the one hand, Rahul Gandhi has taken an aggressive approach he has also not shied away from media interaction and often accepted the mistakes committed by his party.
Yet, his leadership is questioned often by the rival parties. As much as his Gandhi lineage helps him, it is also one of the reasons why he is called a result of the Dynasty politics. The rival parties have often cornered him saying Congress has been unable to deliver positive results in key states including Uttar Pradesh under his leadership. His administrative skills are untested and as compared to PM Modi, he appears raw/inexperienced in his public speeches. Even in parliament, his performance has been poor. The corruption charges on him in the National Herald case and controversial statements are the reason why some sections of masses deem him unfit for the PM candidature.
However, Rahul Gandhi does not enjoy the support of opposition leaders for his Prime Ministerial Candidature. Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party has recently said that if his party gets more seats, it will decide the Prime Ministerial candidate. He is also not favoured by some of the rebel groups within the Congress party.
Now, whether all of the above-listed leaders will make it to the Prime Ministerial race will be clear once the full-blown campaigning kick starts.