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In any mature democracy a political party is never shy of announcing the name of the person who will lead the government if the party is voted to power. In the United States of America, this is self-evidently true since the president there is directly elected and is always therefore the leader of the party. In Great Britain, the political parties announce the names of their leaders who, if elected, will head the government. In India, this has been the usual practice. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were all leaders of their respective parties and on the basis of that became prime ministers of India. An odd situation arose in 2004, when the Congress won the polls with Sonia Gandhi as the leader of the party but the latter refused to head the government. In the next general elections, Ms Gandhi led the party as the Congress president but it was well known that Manmohan Singh was the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate. But for the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha, it is no longer certain that Mr Singh will continue as the candidate for the top job. On the contrary, the opposite is probably true even though no one knows who is going to be Mr Singh’s replacement should the Congress be voted to power for a third time. The Congress president remains shy of announcing the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has no such problems. Its supporters and its opponents know that Narendra Modi is its man for the top job. Even those who have reservations about the choice of Mr Modi will admit that the BJP has been transparent about its intentions. The BJP is already enjoying the benefits of investing its future in Mr Modi. Sections of voters in urban India have been galvanized by the perception of Mr Modi as a decisive and no-nonsense leader who is committed to economic development. The recent election results have clearly shown that there is a prevailing mood of antipathy towards the Congress. The direct or the indirect presence of Mr Modi as the posited alternative to the Congress helps channel the anti-Congress sentiments towards the BJP.

The question that inevitably arises is, why is the Congress so coy about naming its prime ministerial candidate? If the answer to the question is that the Congress doesn’t know, then voters will not be wrong if they see the Congress as a party that does not know its own mind. This does not appear to be the reason. There is the widespread impression that the Congress’s candidate is Rahul Gandhi. There could be two possible reasons why an announcement regarding this has been withheld. One is that Mr Gandhi, for reasons of his own, is a reluctant starter. The other is that neither he nor the Congress want the forthcoming polls to be made into a Modi versus Rahul affair. Neither of the two reasons inspires confidence. The Congress thus finds itself in a no-win situation. It is faced with the hostility of voters and is unable to announce its leader. Perhaps it feels that since it is not going to form a government there is no need to name the prime ministerial candidate.