Moreover, it is rural India that accounts for most of India’s electorate and here Modi has failed to strike a chord with voters. While he has successfully wooed voters in Gujarat, convincing the rest of India, especially rural India will not be easy.
But trying to predict the outcome of India’s parliamentary elections by comparing its prime ministerial candidates is flawed. India’s general elections are far too complex to be reduced to a contest between two personalities. This is not a presidential election but an election to parliament, one that will see multifarious contests in which thousands of candidates and political parties will butt heads for 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house.
Who will form the next government will be determined not so much by who is leading the campaign or who is being projected as the prime ministerial candidate as it is by calculations of caste and community, alliance arithmetic and a host of other factors. Regional parties could hold the key to who will rule India after the 2014 electoral battle.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Some in Congress are wondering whether Rahul is the right person to take on Modi. Should the Congress front its campaign with a more aggressive leader? Perhaps the increasingly unpopular and “weak” Manmohan Singh could be replaced by Palaniappan Chidambaram to project the Congress’ image as a tough party?
A former home minister and currently India’s finance minister, Chidambaram is perceived as a tough, no-nonsense figure. He strikes a chord with India’s English-speaking elite.
He is no mass leader, though, and may have difficulty saving his own seat from the Sivaganga constituency. His lack of any political base makes him an ideal person to keep the seat warm for Rahul; he is unlikely to challenge Rahul’s leadership in the Congress and will remain beholden to the Nehru-Gandhis.
While Chidambaram has powerful detractors within the Congress and the UPA, there is a perception, too, that making him prime minister until election day could boost the ruling coalition’s fading image and fortunes.
Besides, it would also enable the Congress to save its crown prince for an easier battle.