NO SOONER DID Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, say this than the faces of a thousand dead Indian politicians standing up in the sky, looking wistfully at the elections below, light up like lamps. Their heads nodded in approval even if they didn’t believe a single word of that line. In the short history of Indian democracy, not only has no politician ever not said this but anyone who did not say it was never a serious contender for the post he didn’t aspire to.
Naidu’s response was to the former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, while standing next to him at a road show, telling an excitable crowd that the Andhra chief minister had it in him to be prime minister. He even called Naidu the prime minister before saying ‘would-be prime minister’. From the expression of coy joy on Naidu, any gambling man could have safely bet his entire fortune on what his next words would be.
They all say it. Gowda, who became prime minister in 1996, early last month said that he has no ambition to be prime minister again. BJP leader Nitin Gadkari makes it a point to say that he does not even remotely harbor the thought. Samajwadi Party head Akhilesh Yadav recently said that he didn’t want to be prime minister, but was not averse to making one. Pranab Mukherjee, a perpetual Congress hopeful to be prime minster when in active politics, once said that he didn’t want the position because his Hindi was not good enough (it was however no impediment to accepting the Indian presidentship). Sharad Pawar, another Congressman who relentlessly pursued the prime minsitership, did so stating exactly what Naidu said. Fifteen years ago George Fernandes said he didn’t want to be prime minster. Even Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made it clear that he didn’t want to be prime minister a few years ago despite no one having imagined him there yet.
They all don’t mean it, of course. Every Indian politician at every level, even in the hopelessness of his given circumstance, dreams of that chair. Politics is, after all, nothing but the raw quest for power and its apogee is unanswerability to anyone above. The only such position in India is the prime minister’s. It was once an impossibility for most politicians. But Gowda’s elevation in 1996, a leader with just a handful of MPs, was vindication that wild ambitions might be achievable after all. When the next year Inder Kumar Gujral, who didn’t even have a single MP loyal to him, became prime minster then it became even more plausible political fantasies could become real with just a little push by fate.
But you must not say it. That is an iron clad rule. To announce yourself as an aspirant is to show yourself as power hungry, craven and characterless. And should you not be of the IK Gujral variety and have a substantial political base, then it immediately paints a target on the back. Everyone will shoot at everyone eventually but the first against whom all guns will be trained is the man who announces his yearning.
And why would Naidu, who swept the carpet from under the feet of his own father-in-law, NT Rama Rao, and cheerily took over the party from the man who created it single-handedly, have detachment to the biggest prize there is. This might not be his year given the headwinds in his state but even a slender shot will see Naidu clamouring towards Delhi. Gowda will not be surprised at all.