Does the Congress have an ace up its
sleeve? If Mayawati's surmise is to be believed, the Grand Old
Party is planning to announce the nomination of a Dalit prime
minister just before next year's assembly elections in Uttar
According to her, it can be either Meira Kumar or Sushil Kumar
Shinde. However, prima facie, the former appears to be a better
choice. But, whatever the relative merits, it is patent enough
that any such announcement will unnerve Mayawati more than
At one stroke, her principal adversary would have severely eroded
her only dependable base of support. If large sections of Dalits
turn away, there is nothing that can prop her up, not least
because there is little that she can show on the development
front, other than gradiose, extravagant projects.
How nervous she is about this supposedly captive vote bank of hers
was evident when she castigated Rahul Gandhi for spending time in
Dalit homes, alleging that he washed himself with a "special soap"
on returning to Delhi. That she could turn to whipping up the
age-old casteist sentiments despite her claims to be leading a
rainbow coalition showed that she banked on none other than the
The announcement of a Dalit prime ministerial candidate will
therefore put her at a serious disadvantage if only because she
can no longer rouse the kind of ingrained animus among her core
group of supporters that she can against upper caste opponents.
But it isn't Mayawati alone who will be foxed. None of the other
parties will know how to react, for it is not easy to take up
political cudgels against someone who can be India's first Dalit
prime minister. The difficulty will be all the greater because
Meira Kumar will be fulfilling her father's ambition if she
The highest position which her father Jagjivan Ram achieved in his
lifetime was to be the No.2 deputy prime minister after Charan
Singh in Morarji Desai's Janata Party government of 1977-79.
Otherwise, he never rose above the rank of a senior cabinet
minister when in the Congress despite his reputation as an able
Meira Kumar, of course, does not have her father's stature. In
fact, it is only as the Lok Sabha speaker that she seems to have
come into her own, creating a favourable impression about her
dignity and an aptitude for maintaining order in a generally
unruly house. Her stint in the Indian Foreign Service seems to
have enhanced her sense of decorum and restraint.
But these are not the qualities which are motivating the Congress.
Its interest lies in her ability to be the party's trump card. At
a time when the party is at its wit's end in view of the
widespread disenchantment of the electorate, civil society's
challenge, the assertiveness of the judiciary and autonomous
institutions like the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG)
office, rising inflation, falling investment - the list is endless
- the Congress needs someone who can make at least some sections
of the electorate return to the party.
Apart from the Dalits, Muslims too will be willing to repose their
trust again in the party because of the boost that the Dalit
support will give the Congress. The backward castes may be
ambivalent because of their generally fraught relations with the
Dalits in the countryside, but the liberals will be pleased at the
opportunity for a Dalit leader.
The expressions of support which Mayawati initially received even
as a possible prime minister from the chattering classes till they
were turned off by her statue building spree are likely to be
voiced again for Meira Kumar. The disquiet which these sections
felt with the idea of a dynastic succession will be dissipated
although she too belongs to a political family.
For the Congress, the other alternatives haven't quite measured
up. That Manmohan Singh's stocks are falling is obvious from the
results of the recent byelections. Even if he is willing for a
third term, there is no way the gentle Sardar can be considered a
winning proposition. At least not at present, unless he makes a
dramatic U-turn in his attitude and policies by pursuing economic
reforms - his original USP - with single-minded determination.
But that does not seem a possibility. As for the other claimant,
Rahul Gandhi, who was expected to slip unhindered into the prime
minister's seat kept warm for him till 2014 by Manmohan Singh, the
long waiting period has not been too kind. There is continuing
uncertainty about what he stands for. Is he for or against
economic reforms? What are his views on subsidies, reservations,
bans on controversial books, proximity to America?
Perhaps his mother as well as the party have understood that he
hasn't matured enough yet to be prime minister. Besides, it will
not be fair to entrust him with the responsibility when the party
is in the doldrums. Hence the consideration of options such as the
Amulya Ganguli is a
political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org