Manmohan, Advani, Rahul, Modi - who will be next PM? (Lead)

January 18th, 2009 - 7:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Jan 18 (IANS) With election drums sounding on the horizon, India’s two prinicipal political formations have begun debating their prime ministerial candidates, with closed door talk weighing their vote-drawing qualities and ability to lead their parties and alliances to victory in what by all accounts should be a pretty close contest. While the Congress seems set to officially pitch for Manmohan Singh, the incumbent, and the BJP is pressing ahead with L.K. Advani, the two new contenders being talked about are the young party general secretary Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and the firebrand Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of BJP.

A survey by the Hindustan Times and Cfore of senior business executives across the country published Sunday put Modi on the fourth position and Gandhi third.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh topped the poll followed by Advani.

According to the survey, some 25 percent of 226 senior executives across Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad wanted Manmohan Singh, 76, to lead the country, 23 percent were for Advani, 81.

Thirty-eight-year-old Gandhi secured 14 percent votes in the survey, followed by the 1950-born Modi with 12.

Officially, of course, none in either party want to precipitate any speculation about Gandhi or Modi.

Congress leaders have repeatedly said Gandhi has the potential to lead the country but then retracted to say this does not mean he will be the candidate for the top job after this election.

The BJP has not said even this much about Modi and maintains that Advani is the prime ministerial candidate.

Advani has another problem in the form of former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the 86-year-old party veteran who announced recently that he would contest the Lok Sabha elections. Many believe Shekhawat has more acceptability among the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners than Advani.

The leader from Rajasthan caused embarrassment to the BJP when he asserted that he is senior to Advani.

“I am the seniormost. I am 86, (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee is 83 and Advani is 81,” he has told reporters several times over the past week.

No BJP leader wants to say much other than repeating many times over that he is a senior and respectable leader.

On Modi, a senior leader said: “He is sure a future leader, but at the moment Advani remains the NDA nominee and will have more acceptability among alliance partners than Modi any day.”

The Congress, however, does not rule out Modi as a possible threat and in fact consider him a formidable rival of sorts, more difficult than Advani.

“The who’s who of the country’s top industrialists have fallen over each other in praise of Modi, whether you like it or not,” said a Congress leader, explaining the need for his party to find a matching candidate.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said as much at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Chennai this month but retracted it a day later saying it was a general comment.

Party leader M. Veerappa Moily called the Amethi MP a “star” and Prithviraj Chavan described him as the “third pole” after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi - Rahul’s mother - during media interactions.

“Everyone in the party knows that some day he will be there (as prime minister), but there are two opinions - one, that it is too early though he is quickly picking up realpolitik, and another, that the time is now,” said a senior Congress leader.

But Gandhi himself “doesn’t speak a take-over lingo” and focuses “quietly on what he is doing”, the leader told IANS.

He pointed out that Gandhi’s “voice had to be heard when he indicated that the young Omar Abdullah be made the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and not his father (Farooq Abdullah)”.

Party leaders also cite Gandhi’s ‘discover India’ tour when he traversed the length and breadth of the country last year.

“He is no longer confined to his constituency, he is reaching out to people but, more importantly, to party leaders in various states,” another leader pointed out.

Clearly, Advani has competition brewing from within his party and the Congress’ soft spoken economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is up against a young star aspiring for big roles.

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