New Delhi: Between winning elections and giving a brilliant government ranges a dreadful chasm, and only a handful of politicians in India have crossed it, and still fewer in residual, fragilely democratic South Asia. As wondrous as Benazir Bhutto was on the campaign trail, a photogenic Joan of Arc, she was a disaster as Pakistan’s prime minister, awful in governance, and corrupt to boot.

The Bandaranaike dynasty in Sri Lanka was scarcely an improvement, and the widows and the generalissimos in Bangladesh have competed to sink their country. Nepal is stuck in a time warp, and Maldives’ fledgling republicanism lurches from crisis to crisis. In India, where the record is only slightly better, the claimants for good administration number in the single digit.

Often, popular politicians are confused with good administrators. In a narrow sense, Jawaharlal Nehru was accepted by the people, because the bulk of his superior freedom movement contemporaries had passed on. But that still did not make him a decent administrator. In the administrative department, Sardar Patel was nonpareil, who was the best prime minister India did not have.

Indira Gandhi with her merits in consolidating India as a regional power lost in peacetime, where her record ranged from patchy to imperious. The license-permit-quota raj was her bequest to India, and it stubbornly survives to this day. Then she criminally imposed the Emergency, propped up Bhindranwale, and unpardonably ordered the army into the Golden Temple.

At bottom, the Nehru-Gandhis would win no prizes for governance, whatever Mani Shankar Aiyar might say. At the Centre, the only two iconic governments where those of Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The two terms of the United Progressive Alliance have been horrible, and Manmohan Singh ranks among India’s worst prime ministers.

In the states, since at least the late-1980s, there have been more numerous displays of solid governance. Before dynasticism consumed him, Muthuvel Karunanidhi had a history of delivery in addition to being a capable vote-getter. Never clean, he nevertheless contributed to Tamil Nadu’s growth. Jayalalithaa Jayaram in her current avatar is also decisive, although national ambitions pre-occupy her.

Maharashtra gave India its most capable defence minister, Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan, but its natural strengths for economic growth, such as its coastal location, developed infrastructure and Bombay, have been lately squandered by the coalition government of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. Its chief minister is a political lightweight, foisted by the Congress at the Centre to keep a check on Sharad Pawar’s interests.

Indeed, in looking for the combination of political winner and first-class administrator, you must rule out Congress party candidates, because autonomous and independent vote-getting lies outside their domain, functioning, as they do, essentially as the foot soldiers of the Nehru-Gandhis, who are moreover threatened by the display of administrative talent in subordinates. When analysts loosely speak of the Congress as a party of governance, they cynically overlook this point.

Therefore, the ideal combination of vote-winner and brilliant administrator is only obtainable in a non-Congress, non-dynastic formation. Narasimha Rao was an aberration, but also closer to the rule, since he did not belong to the dynasty, and circumstances, including Sonia Gandhi’s recent widowhood, although he cannot have wished it so, worked in his favour. Vajpayee, on the other hand, was moulded by long years in the non-Congress opposition, and took to governance as a fish to water.

Although Narendra Modi shares some of Vajpayee’s background, he draws inspiration from Sardar Patel and not Nehru, but his bigger novelty lies in his ability to construct new paradigms based on electoral credibility and a world-class government established in Gujarat. In the end, Vajpayee was not a mass leader, and that is what Modi aims at being, but he is uniquely capable of taking such leadership into government and transforming it, which puts him in a different league.

Detractors of Modi prefer to ignore these singular traits. There are even unjust comparisons to Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal has won an election but has a long way to go. It is probably unfair to press him to form a government in Delhi when the numbers fail him, but there is no running away from the fact that successful politics pivots on passing two tests. The first is the electoral exam, and the second is the governance test. A majority of politicians in India have failed -- and continue to fail -- the second test. Kejriwal and his supporters seem unaware of this.

In his present hubris, Kejriwal seems incapable of settling down to the challenging, unromantic and ultimately thankless task of governance, where the failure rate is exceptionally high. His messages to party volunteers still spout revolutionary sentiments. There was one today, as this piece is being written. Surely, Kejriwal does not see himself in the image of Maximilien de Robespierre, does he? India deserves a change of government at the Centre and wherever else the Congress misrules. But revolution? India has never stood for revolution.

There is an expression that speaks of “Cutting off the nose to spite the face” which has rather gruesome provenances. Delhi’s voters might have disfigured their future by bringing Kejriwal’s revolutionaries almost to power. The best way to cure their revolutionary instincts is to have them taste power (at the risk of condemning Delhi), but you get the feeling that Arvind Kejriwal fears office just as much as Rahul Gandhi. Does the odium of failure oppress both men?

There is one man, however, who has taken the biggest gamble of his political career, and his vast (and justified) confidence in his governance abilities is what India, at this dispirited juncture, direly needs.

India requires a decisive and visionary prime minister, not a revolution.