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   After Narasimha Rao, who?... (December 7, 1996)

After Narasimha Rao, who? Or, to be more precise, if Mr. Narasimha Rao does go, then who will replace him?

The Congress itself has suggested four candidates: Mr. Sharad Pawar, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Mr. A.K. Antony and Mr. Rajesh Pilot.

I would eliminate Pranab Mukherjee straight off. To make him party president (eventually PM) is akin to making Mr. Deve Gowda prime minister. Mr. Mukherjee, of course, always wanted to be prime minister, since the day Indira Gandhi passed away, thus embracing the wrath of Rajiv Gandhi. Unfortunately, he has neither the stature nor the abilities of a leader, only the ambition. In any case, who would not want to be prime minister! You want to and I. No, I don't.

Besides, I am suspicious of people who smoke a pipe. A retired man, at peace with the world, tending his garden, I can understand, philosophically puffing on a pipe. Not a busy man in pursuit of a political career. A man with a pipe is as much trying to hide his face and his real self as a man with a beard.

Next candidate, Mr. Rajesh Pilot, gets disqualified first shot. You don't replace a man under a cloud with another man under a cloud with another man under a cloud. Also, we have had one pilor as PM, that should be enough. Like America having had one actor as President.

Mr. Sharad Pawar os a man born to be PM. He thinks so, and a lot of other people do, including myself. This has nothing to do with wheather we want him or not. Sometimes people get elected and attain high positions against our wishes. Infact, most of the time they do.

There are also allegatiosn against Mr. Pawar, more than against most other politicians, though there have been no charges. Whether this is because he is clever or not guilty, I cannot say.

And, finally, there is Mr. A.K. Antony. Not many people know him, they should. He may be, at the moment, the most scrupulously honest politician in the country. When he was chief minister of Kerala the first time, he was still a bachelor. He did not stay in the chief minister's official residence, he found it needlessly large for him. He stayed in an out-house.

People who have visited him there, tell me about it. He washed his own clothes, folder them and put them under his pillow every night. And he got his food from one of the boarding lodges in Trivandrum. He sometimes shared it with his guests. In his second term, he was married, a modest woman who worked in a bank. When he was not CM, she took a loan from the bank to set up house. They say he is a good man, the best you can find, though may not be a great administrator and organiser.

The most significant part is that nobody is mentioning Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to replace Mr. Rao and restore the Congress's fortunes. That era, thankfully, has ended.

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