New Delhi: Whilst coalition politics, identity politics, multiplicity of political parties and so forth are the proximal causes of the present political deadlock impacting the country, the absence of a political prime minister hurts most. With a similar majority as Manmohan Singh, A.B.Vajpayee made a success of his prime-ministership, whilst Rajiv Gandhi with twice the numbers was a disaster. At the end of the day, everything turns on the person and personality of the prime minister.

A successful prime minister is like a successful entrepreneur. He or she has to create herself or himself out of nothing. Dynastic politics can put you on the high road. A technocratic background may even get you the job. But to make a success out of it is altogether another matter, and politicians score over non-politicians here. Fighting and winning elections on their own teaches them the inner workings of politics, aspects of mass psychology, the dynamics of polling, etc, which someone who has always represented the Rajya Sabha could never know.

It is harder to make a success of the prime-ministership when you have limited capital (to borrow a term from business) than when vast reserves are at your disposal. Working with a limited capital forces you to focus on the tasks ahead, prioritize, and maximize on minimum spend. Vajpayee had his ideological priorities certainly, one of them being to formally declare India a nuclear power. This goal coincided with that of one of his illustrious predecessors, P.V.Narasimha Rao, who was stymied by the Americans from conducting Pokhran II. Vajpayee was big-hearted to acknowledge Narasimha Rao’s contribution, and for the rest acted out the part of a political prime minister with consummate ease, managing an ever-growing National Democratic Alliance.

Vajpayee did not keep together the alliance through coercion and bribery, the trademark of Manmohan Singh’s government. Not that things were hunky-dory for Vajpayee. He had troubles coming from his own party colleagues, led by L.K.Advani. The RSS was not above embarrassing him now and then. N.Chandrababu Naidu made extortionate demands on his government. J.Jayalalithaa ditched Vajpayee in his first term. Mamata Bannerjee was a tough call, privileging West Bengal over all else. And most important, Vajpayee had no model of coalition government to study and improve upon. He had to imagine and improvise his way ahead to imbue his prime-ministership with greatness, and his solid background in electoral, Hindi heartland politics helped. Of course Vajpayee was one of a kind. But his political background stood him well.

Manmohan Singh does not have that advantage. Because he hasn’t risen up the hard way of electoral politics, he is unable to take up a leadership role. An elected politician in his position would refuse to take orders from 10 Janpath. Possibly that is why Manmohan Singh is prime minister and Pranab Mukherjee the President of India. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a non-political prime minister simply cannot run the country, leave alone administer with vision. For example, it is common knowledge that the threat of CBI keeps recalcitrant UPA-2 allies like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in line. Surely, the prime minister cannot be unaware of this. Either he is party to the abuse of CBI, or he is not in control of the Central investigating agency, which is worse.

What electoral politics does is that it teaches you to lead. You cannot sit at home and win elections. You have to wire along and fix up a million things to get elected. Granted you can be lucky. A sympathy wave may take you ashore. But to win repeatedly, you have to have powerful leadership qualities, and over time, this becomes second nature to politicians, who then may go on to become good ministers. To be a successful prime minister, this whole experiential build-up is taken to the highest level, to another orbit, so to speak, and only a few can survive the transition. Chandrasekhar had natural prime-ministerial qualities but lacked the numbers. Mulayam Singh Yadav neither has the numbers nor prime-ministerial qualities. Above all, he is dishonest and unreliable, a man who doesn’t keep his word. Rahul Gandhi would be a worse disaster than his father, who at least held a fulltime job before he was thrust into politics. Among those strutting about in Central politics, there is not one who has prime-ministerial qualities. The states by far have a bigger reservoir of talent, which suggests that real politics has shifted away from Delhi.

Here’s the prediction from this writer. The next prime minister will be from one of the states, and he/ she will be a remarkable improvement on Manmohan Singh. All is not gloom and doom in Indian politics, although it looks pretty dismal from Delhi.