New Delhi: As the general elections near, here is a report card of the political standing of the dramatis personae. Political leaders have also been rated on the basis of their performances and future expectations. The order in which the leaders have been listed does not, necessarily, reflect their national popularity or eminence.

Manmohan Singh: He is clearly the country’s worst prime minister, paling the abominations of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and H.D.Deve Gowda. His reputation as an economic administrator and the 1991 reformer lies in tatters. For more than nine years, he has tolerated massive government corruption, allowed wholesale loot, and permitted the destruction of the prime minister’s office by 10 Janpath. His government has sought to suborn all institutions, most cynically the Central Bureau of Investigation, which, at the Congress party’s instigation, is determined to dismantle the Intelligence Bureau over the Ishrat Jehan case compromising India’s national security. As India falters economically, fails at governance, and becomes militarily defensive, its position in the neighbourhood weakens apropos its enemies, and the world writes off its emergence as a great power. Manmohan Singh rates 2 out of 10.

Sonia Gandhi: Whilst the Congress party won’t miss a day castigating Narendra Modi for turning the coming polls into a presidential election, the Congress chief is no less presidential in the manner she controls the Central government from the outside and rules the country. This writer and subsequently others have called her the real PM whilst Manmohan Singh acts as her cabinet secretary. Wrong. In fact, Sonia Gandhi is the country’s unelected and unaccountable president. The prime minister is under her, the Union cabinet is her plaything. She demands the Food Security Ordinance which is immediately promulgated. Fearful of losing Rae Bareli, she compels the government for an all-women university in her constituency, although it is not the ideal location for it. Forget about political appointments; no senior bureaucratic changes or inductions can be made at the Centre without 10 Janpath’s clearance. Terrified of Narendra Modi becoming prime minister and calling 10 Janpath to account, something Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani wouldn’t deign to do, she has set the ratpack against the Gujarat chief minister. And she is finally scared that the days of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are coming to an end. If anybody can be held responsible for sinking the United Progressive Alliance in the upcoming polls, and making the Congress a hated brand name across the country, it is Sonia Gandhi. Rating: 2 out of 10.

Rahul Gandhi: The Nehru-Gandhi scion has no interest in politics and is mortally afraid of becoming prime minister, and is only sticking around due to maternal pressure. He has never held a job in life; he fears office. Disastrous as Rajiv Gandhi was, at least he was an airline pilot, which requires skills and carries responsibilities. When has Rahul Gandhi been responsible for anything, unless you count the massive and embarrassing electoral losses for the Congress in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh? He was absent from Uttaranchal at the summit of its tragedy, holidaying in Europe, from where presumably he was frenetically summoned back because the party was losing public face. Within the Congress, he has low standing. Congressmen realize that sharks like Digvijay Singh are using Rahul Gandhi to advance their own stagnant political careers. Rating: Cipher.

Priyanka Gandhi: Whereas Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have by and large lost their electoral appeal through too much exposure and familiarity, Priyanka retains perhaps the last residues of the Nehru-Gandhi magic and mystique. In the drawing rooms of Delhi, her name still evokes friendly interest compared to the cynical disdain reserved for her mother, brother and the Congress party. In last year’s Uttar Pradesh election, she was restricted to campaigning in the family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli but couldn’t reverse the disastrous results for the Congress, which lost all but two of the ten assembly segments there, and five others in neighbouring Sultanpur. She told reporters she would campaign outside the family preserve if asked by the party, but the invitation never came. Party insiders claim Priyanka has commenced putting together her political team. But the final go ahead must come from Sonia who has ambitions for Rahul who is unable or unwilling to fulfil them. If the Congress does quite as badly as Congressmen expect it to do in the coming polls, then Rahul Gandhi may use that opportunity to pull out from politics and back his sister, leaving their mother with a fair accompli. Priyanka’s rating: 4 out of 10.

Palaniappan Chidambaram: For long, this writer held that Chidambaram had reached his level of incompetence (the Peter’s Principle) as P.V.Narasimha Rao’s commerce minister. But the gullible public and the fawning media, swayed by his Harvard business administration degree, public school English and arrogance, rated him the best finance minister after Manmohan Singh, which turns out not a terribly great thing, after all. Chidambaram now stands thoroughly exposed as an incompetent and clueless finance minister, whose bullying of the Reserve Bank has worsened the economic situation, whose hard line on Indian business investments during the downturn has backfired, and he is now going with a begging bowl to the United States and Japan, where the mood has turned distinctly anti-Indian. Officials say the government manipulated the rupee’s fall against the dollar to inflate the value of incoming black money for the elections (it was done before the 2009 polls as well) but now finds the situation uncontrollable. The market no longer believes the government and yesterday’s foreign direct investment reforms in some sectors did not set the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex on fire. As Union home minister, Chidambaram was mediocre, without a vision, and his name has been sullied in the 2G scam and the Jet-Etihad deal, to the extent that the Congress leadership is reportedly livid with him, enough to trip up his schemes and plans to succeed Manmohan Singh, if and when. Rating: 2 out of 10.

Digvijay Singh: He has been using his proximity with Rahul Gandhi to power his prime ministerial ambitions, but his penchant for shooting his mouth off has upset the party leadership and ruled him out as a serious player post the election. In the Congress tradition, trouble-makers are used and thrown, and whilst his diatribe against Narendra Modi gives him publicity, it won’t expand his fortunes in the party. His past association with Arjun Singh gives him dangerous and tricky provenance; he has grassroots links in the Hindi heartland state of Madhya Pradesh which makes him a risk and a threat to the long-term interests of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; and being a Rajput, he can never be meek as Manmohan Singh to be trusted with the prime-ministership. Arackaparambil Kurien Antony fits the bill or someone like Sushil Kumar Shinde. Before long, Digvijay Singh will tire and return to Madhya Pradesh, a failed man. Rating: Zero.

To be continued...