India's Obama – The Mayawati Moment? 10 facts about Mayawati

Indian political observers may accuse me of taking this a tad too far, but on some levels I do believe that this moment may the closest we get to, in seeing the Obama effect in India.

You can say what you like about Indian polity, call it dynastic, corrupt, rigged etc, but the truth is that it’s clung onto its democratic traditions to emerge as a shining beacon in a region of failed democracies.

Sure, India is dwarfed by China in terms of international and strategic importance, but the fact that a lady like Mayawati can emerge from nowhere and become a contender for the highest office in a country is praiseworthy and worthy of celebration.

The US took over 200 years for an Obama to emerge; in India, if Mayawati ends up as PM, we’ll have seen the Obama phenomenon – someone from the oppressed class / caste in office – within 62 years of independence!

The comparison ends there.

So, what do we know about Mayawati?

1. She was born in Delhi to parents from the Dalit caste (previously referred to as untouchables) and went on to pursue a career as a teacher.

2. Her potential was spotted by the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and from then onwards, she’s never looked back.

3. The BSP, under her direction, have consistently increased their share of votes across India as she’s tried to broaden their base by inducting candidates from other castes and backgrounds.

4. She’s the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state – Uttar Pradesh (UP) and commands a majority, where most other states are dependent on coalitions with other parties. As a result of her dominance in UP (which returns the largest number of MPs to Delhi), she can be sure of winning the lions share of seats there. Commentators predict that if she gets upward of 40 seats, then its for her to decide what happens in Delhi.

5. In 1995, at the tender age of 39, she become one of India’s youngest Chief Ministers and whilst her tenure was short lived, she came to the fore and registered herself as a future contender, which she’s lived up to becoming.

6. As is common in India, she’s ousted hundreds of police officers, civil servants and the like due to their political allegiances lying with her sworn enemy, the previous Chief Minister – Mulayam Singh Yadav from the Samajwadi Party.

7. In a similar vein, she’s the subject of several court cases related to corruption and general goon behaviour.

8. To say she’s a megalomaniac is putting things lightly; her birthday celebrations are huge media events that her foot-soldiers use to ingratiate themselves. Recently, an engineer was killed after he reportedly refused to pay money demanded by one of her tribe for her birthday celebration fund.

9. Its also claimed that in 2007 – 08, she paid more income tax that India’s richest businessman – Mukesh Ambani! Who say’s politics doesn’t pay?

10. In terms of opportunism, all she’s concerned with is obtaining office. She’s thrown her lot with the BJP and the Congress when its suited her, and I suspect we’ll see more of the same this time around.

Apparently, with a focus on bursting onto the national scene, she’s been taking advice on her image, having English tuition, and socialising with Delhi types on a more regular basis!

As I said, I make the assertion that this is India’s Obama moment, but I’m not sure she’s India’s Obama.

Who's going to be the next Indian PM?

With India on the verge of general elections, I thought it may be useful to look into my crystal ball to find out who may become India’s next Prime Minister. In most democracies, elections come down to a couple of major political parties, but, as with everything in India, it’s not as straight forward as that (what a surprise!).

As a result of coalition politics firmly embedded in India, we not only have to keep our eyes on the national parties, but also on regional outfits that can return spectacularly low numbers of MPs to New Delhi but hold the sway of power.

So, who’re the main contenders:

SONIA GANDHI / MANMOHAN SINGH / RAHUL GANDHI
Representing the grand old party of India, the current Prime Minister – Dr Singh – has just had heart by-pass surgery – but hopes lead the next election campaign, seems unlikely to me. There are two other options for the Congress – ‘Madam Sonia’, or her son – Rahul Gandhi – who’s an unknown & untested entity, but given the Congress Party’s adulation for the Gandhi family, I wouldn’t be surprised if either name came to the fore after the election.

India likes nothing more than someone who’s made a sacrifice – think about Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi and other illustrious persons, to which you can add Sonia Gandhi’s name. For she, sacrificed the position of PM last time around (on the issue of her Italian origin) to install Manmohan Singh as PM and win over a new fan base and acceptability.

LK ADVANI
India knows Mr Advani very well. He’s been around for half a century or so and until the last election played an effective no2 to Mr Vajpayee, who’s since bowed out of politics. Being the numero uno, he’s finally the contender, but it seems the Obama effect has resulted in his chances being drastically reduced. A lot of people I speak to all say they want someone younger (Obama effect) to lead the BJP.

With the increasing acceptability of Narendra Modi, it seems the pressure on Mr Advani is that much greater. It’s lucky for him that he’s already been nominated as their Prime Ministerial candidate! I witnessed the tension just a few weeks ago when I attended the Vibrant Gujarat Investors Summit and on the following day, read in the newspapers the furore his success has caused within party ranks. After all, it’s not often that a politican receives the backing of India’s biggest businesses in such a visible manner. At the risk of saying something obvious, I have no doubt that Mr Modi will ascend to the national stage after the next election, however I don’t think he’ll take the post of Home Minister if the BJP win.

MAYAWATI, PRAKASH KARAT, AMAR SINGH, SHARAD PAWAR
In my view, any one of these could determine the next election, if not become the next PM. Mayawati’s increasing reach is unnerving everyone. She’s the Chief Minister for Uttar Pradesh, which returns the largest number of MPs and as she’s ruling, her chances of success are huge.

Prakash Karat’s monumental miscalculation of withdrawing its support to the Congress over the US – India Nucelar Deal has provided Amar Singh’s Samajwadi Party a huge advantage in the run-up to the polls. The Communists haven’t been able to extend their reach outside West Bengal & Kerala, but enjoy huge loyalty in these two states.

The Samajwadi Party lead by Amar Singh, as always, could upset Mayawati’s coronation. You can expect the unexpected when it comes to these two. Amar Singh, after years of hurling abuse at the Congress, decided to jump into bed with them and extend unconditional support to the Congress.

The Maratha vote, lead by Sharad Pawar, who’s NCP is a current coalition partner could also emerge as a victor. A former Congress leader, he split and formed his party focusing on his home state of Maharashtra. With charismatic operators like Praful Patel, I wouldn’t rule him out of the running. Of course, as President of the cricketing board, he’s used to taking on heavy weights in battle.

Elections in any country are interesting to watch. In India, you’re assured a fantastic contest in which a billion people make their way to the polling booths to cast their votes electronically over a six week period. India’s faith in democracy, itself, is worthy of celebration.

As for my crystal ball, it tells me that despite Congress winning the most seats, it see someone like Mayawati at the helm for a couple of years.