New Delhi: If you examine the administrations of the four most dynamic Indian prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, P.V.Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the common feature is that they were strongly presidential in character. If a future government of Narendra Modi falls in that category, it will be scarcely ahistorical.

Because some of these best Indian prime ministers were so presidential in the conduct of government affairs, they preferred to have puppets in nominal leadership of their respective parties, or chose to become their own party chiefs. The starkest example of this was Indira Gandhi but Nehru also wanted and obtained total control of his party, as did Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee. Which is why, in large measure, they succeeded.

So it must be accepted that the argument in favour of dual leadership, of one person leading the party and another the government, was rather farcical when it was thrown at the face of Indira Gandhi by the opposition of which the Bharatiya Janata Party in another avatar was also a part. Trouble came when an alternate power centre to the prime minister emerged, as during Vajpayee’s time lead by Lal Krishna Advani, the eternal dissident, but in his most effective phase, Vajpayee was able to put down his deputy.

It should be clear, therefore, that India had direction and leadership when it was ruled by presidential prime ministers. The party chiefs, when they existed, were wholly subordinate to the prime minister. And when this power equation was upset, the prime minister became weak. This happened in the last phase of the Narasimha Rao regime when Sonia Gandhi returned from mourning and the emboldened dissidents led by Arjun Singh made life hell for the prime minister. Ultimately, too, Vajpayee was done in by an overambitious Advani and an arrogant second-line leadership.

Which takes you to the current central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its holier-than-thou criticism of the dual centres of power represented by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. That the Manmohan Singh-Sonia team is a disaster is old news, as ancient as the first United Provincial Alliance government, although corrupt practices and venality have primarily killed their regime. But how has the Bharatiya Janata Party outside government done better? It has its own variant of dual leadership in the form of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and it is strange, not a little absurd and wholly ironic when they attack Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, like today, for divided authority. How are they superior?

After Advani lost the battle with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha, he could no longer be party president or have a decisive say in the final presidential choice. Nor, because of his advancing years, was he allowed to attend to day-to-day and parliamentary affairs of the party, so he made Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley joint leaders. That he got the idea for this from the Sonia-Manmohan Singh experiment may not be obvious, but to criticize one and not recognize the similar failure of the other is odd if not opportunistic. Indeed, the failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership to squarely confront the evil United Progressive Alliance rule is a consequence of this divided authority, and blame especially Sushma Swaraj and Advani for their tepid and reluctant anti-Congressism.

Following the logic of Manmohan Singh and Sonia’s failure, it must be understood and admitted that India at this stage is looking for a presidential prime minister, and the only candidate for that role is Narendra Modi. All the talk of a consensus National Democratic Alliance prime minister is hooey. By his force of personality and authority, Vajpayee became a powerful and successful prime minister. He was not the product of a consensus decision. Look at the consensus prime ministers, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, H.D.Deve Gowda or Inder Kumar Gujral, one worse than the other. Or take Manmohan Singh, a cipher, selected on the whim of Sonia Gandhi. Vajpayee had the attractive halo of success and so does Narendra Modi, who tops every opinion poll in the country time and again. India has always had successful presidential prime ministers and desperately needs one now.

The Bharatiya Janata Party should end its hypocrisy and rally behind Narendra Modi. A Janata Party mindset will leave it stranded.