BY SAEED NAQVI

Conventional wisdom being forged by lobbies is veering around to the view that there shall be either a UPA-III or an NDA-II after the 2014 General Elections. In which case why this high decibel clamour for Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidates for the BJP and Congress respectively?

Of course such a facile scenario would simplify matters for the talk show hosts, the TRP hunters: just place faces in those six boxes on the screen and trigger a daily diet of prime time cacophony, as riveting as a street brawl.

The channels miss the point that there is so much else to clarify to their viewers in the run upto the 2014 election that naming of prime ministerial candidates at this juncture may be a trifle premature.

For example, several states have to face the electorate this year, by end November. Please analyze these states. These include four states in the North East, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Delhi.

If the Congress in Delhi, under Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, wins for the fourth term, only a very perverse system would keep her out of higher office. This line of thought will immediately be challenged by Congressmen themselves, in whose ranks ironically we may find Sheila Dikshit too. The Congress principle at this stage is that the first right of refusal for the prime ministerial slot belongs to Rahul Gandhi.

All of this, as I have indicated earlier, is premature for a simple reason: UPA-III entails a coalition. Who the coalition partners will be and what bargains they strike will depend on the hand the electorate deals out to the players at the table.

Shrill demands for Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate is equally premature in an era of coalitions. If the BJP in its deep heart’s core is inclined to field him as its candidate for Prime Minister, the situation will clarify of its own accord when Modi does or does not campaign for his party in the coming state elections.

Modi and Rahul are distinct political entities. Modi is an extrovert who intimidates and repels prospective coalition partners; Rahul, an introvert, is, on current showing, shy of coalitions. This aversion to coalitions is being rationalized as a tactic to wait, even beyond 2019, when the electorate will become so disenchanted with coalitions that it will produce a Parliamentary majority for the Congress. What underpins this enchanting pipe-dream is the purposive manner in which Rahul’s team proposes to build the party brick by brick.

Reconstruction of the party edifice visualizes ruins, like Macho Picho, on which masonry is being undertaken. A more valid image for the Congress in disrepair derives not from architecture but from gynaecology. The caste parties now in play were once inside the Congress womb. How does a weakened mother fight her own children?

The Congress led the nation to independence representing a federation of interests behind a programme for freedom. Purshottam Das Tandon and Abul Kalam Azad were in the same party. During an election in the 1960s, S.K. Patil and Krishna Menon were Congress candidates from separate constituencies in Mumbai. Patil represented big business while Menon was more on the fringe of the Communist Party. Over a period of time, this diversity had to break ranks and find independent political platforms.

Let us not forget, barely twenty years after independence, in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi lost power in eight states. A weakened Indira Gandhi, split the Congress in 1969, throwing a cordon of Left of Centre Congressmen around herself and thereby creating a distance from the conservative party bosses in the states.

It was this conservative streak which mingled with the RSS and socialists under the banner of the Bihar movement led by a retired Gandhian, Jay Prakash Narayan. An unnerved Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, and later proceeded to lose the elections.

Before the emergency, the press maintained a balanced, adversarial attitude towards the establishment. The theory was something like this: In a democracy, people elected the government. The government could represent the Centre, Right or Left. The media’s job was to respect the people’s verdict, report objectively, and accord “critical support” to the government elected by the people. The emergency destroyed this balance and the distortion continues.

Political parties which do not ponder this question will have abdicated power and placed it in hands exposed to influences, both within and outside.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)