New Delhi: As the year draws to a close, here is a stocktaking of the winners and losers in national politics. Between now and the 2014 general election, much can change. The standard practise of assigning ratings is being abandoned for this assessment but would be joined to future report cards. Those featured in this listing appear in random order which does not reflect their political standing.

Rahul Gandhi: The Nehru-Gandhi scion has spectacularly failed the Congress party. Not only does he continue to display egregious disconnect with politics, he refuses to tap the vast resources of political strength located within the Congress party, and prefers to lean on upstarts and academics. It may be too late now to revive the Congress party, whose sole hope, Sonia Gandhi, would be unable to deliver another time.

Would Rahul Gandhi as the Congress’s prime minister candidate bring new life to the party? No. But neither can the party choose a non-entity like Manmohan Singh. Ideally, the Congress party should break away from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, but all such experiments have failed in the past. So the dynasty and the party are stuck with one another, and this being so, Rahul Gandhi can no longer shirk from taking a leadership role.

Elections are won and lost, so that should not deter him. Who knows, if he does accept the challenge of prime-ministership, people may respect his courage. But he still has to answer for the loot of the country in the last 10 years of two Congress-led governments and for their staggering record of maladministration, arguably the worst since independence.

Arvind Kejriwal: A winner without doubt, but tainted by his association with the Congress. Just as there is no free lunch, don’t believe either that the Congress has given “unconditional” support to the Aam Admi Party. The deal between the two sides is not quite as crude as Nitin Gadkari portrays it, but nor are governments constituted on love and fresh air.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party, equally, has nothing to feel sanctimonious about. Save for Harsh Vardhan and a few others at the top level, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Delhi establishment of the Bharatiya Janata Party who can pass the cleanliness test. Narendra Modi does not belong to this club, which makes him exceptional, and which is why he is roundly loathed in Delhi’s power circles and by the media dalals. Delhi corrupts. This writer, therefore, instinctively distrusts anyone who makes his or her political inauguration in Delhi.

Which is not to say Arvind Kejriwal should be hounded from start and not allowed to do his job. He ought to get right down to business. The Bharatiya Janata Party decided not to form the government so its role is that of the opposition. There is nothing called a constructive or destructive opposition. What is good for the people but simultaneously braces the financial health of the system should be supported. Every other venality must be opposed.

Arvind Kejriwal has a tendency to spread and disown risks. To escape the stigma of Congress support, he wants the Bharatiya Janata Party to aid him. If he fails, all share the blame. This is bad leadership and devious to boot. He has been given a task and he should undertake it to the best of his ability. Any success belongs to him and so does failure. Decent people have voted for him. He owes it to them not to fail. He cannot look for excuses not to deliver. The ultimate test of politics is leadership in government, in which, so far, out of all the front ranking political leaders, Narendra Modi scores the highest. Arvind Kejriwal has only just begun, and he is backed by the Congress. In this writer’s book, that is a black mark.

Nitish Kumar: Anyone who takes on Narendra Modi seems destined to fall. This appears to be the fate of the Bihar chief minister. When everything was going well with the Bharatiya Janata party, he decided to throw a challenge to Modi, perhaps egged on by the party’s Delhi establishment, a subject on which has threatened to make disclosures possibly closer to the elections.

When does a political leader lose his bearings? When he loses touch with reality, when he is surrounded by fawning courtiers who tell him exactly what he wants to hear. The reality is that Nitish Kumar was nothing outside the National Democratic Alliance grid. The Bharatiya Janata Party gave him stature in Bihar. He mistook it for his own greatness, and took on challenges beyond his ken.

His ultimate blunder was to join hands with the Congress. He never did it as openly as did Arvind Kejriwal, but he probably decided on breaking away from the Bharatiya Janata Party based on assurances from the Congress. It has backed his dysfunctional government in Bihar, but won’t align with him for the Lok Sabha election, after dangling such a carrot. On that issue, the Congress has kept Laloo Prasad Yadav on tenterhooks too, his hold on Bihar meanwhile destroyed.

This is the nature of the beast called the Congress. It will use and throw friends and allies. Certainly, you cannot take a moral view on this, because this is what competitive politics is about. But it is indubitably naive to bank on Congress goodwill. Muthuvel Karunanidhi did just that and saw his daughter in Tihar Jail. It is now Nitish Kumar’s turn to lick his wounds. He would now remember with fondness about his alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the sumptuous benefits that flowed to him. In the final calculation, he is a loser. Politics is very unforgiving.

To be continued...