New Delhi: Any 2014 general election survey of its key players would be incomplete without taking into account some of the more powerful regional leaders who belong neither to the Bharatiya Janata Party nor the Congress. The third and final report card on the coming polls deals with them. There is, however, a last surprise inclusion, although the person is not a direct contestant, but would play a pivotal role in the post-election phase.

Jayalalithaa Jayaram: The Tamil Nadu chief minister has never hid her prime-ministerial ambitions, and she has been exhorting her party leaders and workers over the past year to win the maximum Lok Sabha seats to enable this. But this writer’s analysis tells the prime-ministership is out of her reach because she does not lead a national party, is not in alliance with one, and she is personally too headstrong to be a consensus candidate. Her grip over Tamil Nadu is complete and the Muthuvel Karunanidhi family and clan are in terminal decline. The state has shown high growth in the last decade and a half thanks to both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi and there is special emphasis there on manufacturing unlike some other states that are smitten with information technology to the neglect of all else. So far prime minister-like qualities go, Jayalalithaa has them in surfeit, though her lack of Hindi may be a small handicap. But she doesn’t suffer fools, is decisive, and she is individualistic like Narendra Modi, which may or may not be the reason why they get along so well. At a pinch, the Bharatiya Janata Party may even back her, but this writer doesn’t see such a scenario unfolding, but the Congress will never support her. Or rather, she will refuse to go with the Congress if it means paying prior obeisance to Sonia Gandhi. Rating: 6 upon 10.

Nitish Kumar: His decision to remain chief minister of Bihar after breaking the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party was immoral, and the people of the state, including his core constituency of Kurmis and Koeries, have seen it as such. At least one prominent opinion poll points in that direction. Then the deaths of 23 school children from a lunch provided by the government have further tarnished his image. He has been totally insensitive to the tragedy, failed to commiserate with the parents of the dead students, hidden behind the bureaucracy, and been putting the blame on the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, alleging a conspiracy.

What has gone wrong with Nitish Kumar? Why has this high flier with prime-ministerial ambitions suddenly crash-landed? It is all too obvious now that the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party gave him a certain appeal and made him appear a less casteist, retrogressive heartland politician who considers ruling India an entitlement. In his true colours, Nitish Kumar seems not an improvement over Laloo Yadav or Mulayam Singh Yadav. The dictator that he is, he removed a party spokesman who admitted splitting from the Bharatiya Janata Party was a mistake. Is he prime minister material? Not by a long shot.

His most current backer is the vastly overrated Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, who, as it turns out, is also hopelessly and astonishingly mixed up about financial fundamentals that any homemaker in India is immediately and intimately knowledgeable about, with or without a degree. For the home fires to burn, there has to be income, and spending has to be designed according to earnings. This is called living within your means. The same holds true for the state. Unless the state generates earnings or revenue, it cannot spend. And the poor have to be helped on to their feet out of that spend, the proportion of spending on the poor depending on the earnings of the state. Sen says spend on the poor first, and think of earnings and growth secondarily, if at all. A home will collapse on that principle, and so will the state before long. And Amartya Sen backs Nitish Kumar’s Bihar model, which includes staging a noisy dharna in Delhi for Central doles. Do we want to live on doles? Does India want a prime minister who will reduce it to beggarly status? Rating: 2 out of 10.

Mulayam Singh Yadav: Soon after the Samajwadi Party won the Uttar Pradesh assembly election with a thumping majority, Mulayam began to entertain prime-ministerial ambitions. He set a target of 50 out of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats for his party and hoped to get a Third Front prime minister nomination on that basis. But his son, Akhilesh, who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been an unmitigated disaster, there is widespread unrest over the father and son’s rule, and the Samajwadi Party would be lucky to retain its present strength in the Lok Sabha. Mulayam Yadav came to the forefront of identity politics in the late 1980s and it has almost become axiomatic with such politicians that they have zero vision. This is the case with other identity politicians such as Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar. Rating: 2 out of 10.

Mayawati: Another tunnel-visioned identity politician who has dreams of occupying 5 and 7 Race Course Road. Her primary base is Uttar Pradesh and she will suffer erosion there as will Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party because the Bharatiya Janata Party is coming up strong. She appears to have peaked as (a former) Uttar Pradesh chief minister and if the Bharatiya Janata Party plays it right, she could be on a slippery slope downwards. Rating: 1 out of 10.

Sharad Pawar: The Maratha strongman threatens now and then not to contest the 2014 general election but his prime-ministerial ambitions have not diminished any, although there is little chance of his getting the job. Pawar was the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra in 1978 and had three more stints but left no impression on the state except the development of the western part to which he belongs and he has anything but a clean image. He left the Congress to form his own party over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and cannot hope for more than the Central agriculture minister he is, with a lacklustre record and a high number of farmland suicides under his charge, not to speak of runaway food inflation. Rating: 1 out of 10.

Pranab Mukherjee: Not a contestant, and he lost the prime-ministership to Manmohan Singh more than nine years ago. But he harbours grudges against 10 Janpath for denying him the top job and would like to see the opposition in power in 2014. Whilst not especially close to Modi, he wants a decisive prime minister after Manmohan Singh, and he would prefer the Gujarat chief minister to a non-visionary like Lal Krishna Advani, who is also considered to be on good terms with the Nehru-Gandhis, a manner of disqualification in the current Rashtrapati Bhawan setup. But for all his personal preferences, Mukherjee will play by the book, and yet, there is a certain amount of consternation in the Congress with regard to the President. Pranab is a political President unlike many of his predecessors, keeps a hawk’s eye on political developments, and has extensively toured the country in his first year in office. He remains close to the Left parties, enjoys proximate ties with a section of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and he is willing to overlook the shortcomings of Mamata Bannerjee on account of her strident anti-Congress line. He is the man to watch after the election.

Concluded...