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Fast forward

india Updated: May 09, 2009 23:32 IST
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Perhaps it’s the heat or maybe it’s excess of politics, but I’m going to make one of those reckless prognostications that make wise men weep and journalists howl with laughter. Worse, I have little more than my gut instinct to back up my prediction. It could seem rational, even logical, possibly analytical but I readily accept it’s also questionable, disputable and controversial.

Well, so much for the explanation. Or the apologia! What is it that’s prompted this self-effacing preface? Simply this: Priyanka Gandhi will be Prime Minister of India one day.

But let me quickly add it won’t happen immediately and possibly not for several years. And it’s what happens in the interregnum that will be critical to her candidature and its success. So now, lured no doubt by my own impetuosity, let me elaborate.

My hunch is we are going to see a messy outcome of the present elections. Whether it’s a third or fourth front government, or one that includes or is even led by the Congress or the BJP, it will be weak, short-lived and unable to tackle the economic, political or national security challenges we face.

However, the term khichdi falls short of fully describing this experience. Khichdi is usually light and easy to digest. This government will prove hard to accept and difficult to swallow. And the pain of endurance will determine the outcome of the next election. That could be as early as 2011.

My guess is at that point India will vote for a strong alternative led by a personality who has a national appeal and can command attention. And if at that stage the Congress is fronted by Rahul Gandhi and the BJP by Narendra Modi, then the latter fits the bill.

Secondly, the process that brings Modi to power will fracture or shatter the NDA. This means Modi will either have an outright BJP majority or, at most, depend on the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal. And I’d say his government will probably serve its full term.

So it’s seven years down the road that Priyanka Gandhi will step on to the political stage. It will be the shock of the Modi victory — and, perhaps, revulsion against the man, his policies and their outcome — that will overcome both her philosophical distaste for politics as well as her emotional reluctance to replace her brother.

Convincing Priyanka won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly. In fact, she’ll have to convince herself — by living through Modi’s India, by wrestling with her doubts and inhibitions and by accepting, but perhaps never admitting, that Rahul, the brother she adores, cannot restore the Congress fortunes or India’s self-image and self-respect. She’ll have to convince herself that her party and her country need her.

And now, why do I believe if Priyanka steps into politics she could end up as PM? Because she has a magical spark that makes her compelling. It’s a combination of charm, charisma, presence, appearance and intelligence. You see it on tv, you sense it in her interviews and, if my colleagues are correct, it captivates the audiences she speaks to.

She has one further quality which is particularly rare. She understands herself and is comfortable with who she is. It’s a sort of Buddhist self-awareness and it’s reassuring to encounter. It makes you want to believe in her. Yet this is why she will struggle and agonise over becoming a politician but, when she does, this is also why she will rise to the top.

Pause now and ask how many ‘ifs’ have to happen for my prophecy to be fulfilled? I’d say three: an unpalatable khichdi at this elections, a Modi ‘majority’ at the next and a widespread acceptance of the Priyanka phenomenon in the interim.

The third of these three factors is already under-way. The first is likely to happen by next weekend. Thereafter, it all depends on Modi’s fortunes. The irony is that it could turn out like the disputed Modi comment of 2002 — Priyanka Gandhi will be the equal and opposite ‘reaction’ to his own coming to power!