She is silent and ever more invisible. He is present but always inaudible. In the middle of the power troika is a veteran politician asked to extinguish raging fires. These are the men and woman who determine the future and fortunes of 1.2 billion people. A Government virtually at the mercy of a mercurial ally in West Bengal who forces the once powerful Congress party to bend to her populist will, and tries to offset her influence by seeking favour from a recently triumphant strongman in Uttar Pradesh. As India slips at the Centre, regional leaders exercise greater control, powering their own agendas and philosophies. Watch them carefully through the year. Among them may well be the future prime minister of the country, and no, it’s not the one anointed by the grand old party.
Sonia Gandhi, 65, UPA Chairperson and Congress President (1)
Because Congress cannot do without her, in fair weather or foul.
Because she has the best equation with allies, without whose support UPA is toast.
Because when she asks for a Food Security Bill that pushes up the subsidy bill to Rs.1 lakh crore, Manmohan Singh calls a special meeting of the Cabinet armed with a rubber stamp.
Because she was ranked seventh on the Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (2011), ahead of the first lady of USA, Michelle Obama.
Power point When two of Manmohan’s most powerful ministers, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, got into a turf war in 2011, it took Sonia’s intervention to broker a truce.
Ethnic chic Muted handlooms and elegant silks. But when it’s asalwar kameez, she usually ties her hair in a ponytail.
Smart move Walking across to Mulayam Singh Yadav in Central Hall of Parliament on the first day of the Budget session to congratulate him on the Assembly polls win.
76, Finance Minister (3)
Man for All Reasons
Because whatever the crisis, he is the chief troubleshooter, from Telangana to consensus on NCTC and in a time of relentless crises, he has become indispensable.
Because he is the one politician who leaves Sonia Gandhi worried, which explains why she promoted Manmohan Singh to Prime Minister and a ‘ji huzoor’like Pratibha Patil to President.
Height no bar At 5 feet 3 inches, he is still the tallest man in the Cabinet.
One ally he can’t control Mamata Banerjee.
Has invoked Lord Indra and Goddess Lakshmi (2011), Mahatma Gandhi, Kautilya and Amartya Sen (2009) during his Budget speeches.
Sacred space He sits between Sonia and Manmohan in Parliament. If any MP tries to sit in his seat in Mukherjee’s absence, he is immediately made to get up by Sonia.
79, Prime Minister (2)
Because as the prime beneficiary of paradox, his net worth has risen after his nominated heir Rahul Gandhi’s collapse in Uttar Pradesh.
Because despite the 2G and cwg scams, an offensive by army chief General V.K. Singh, a year-long siege by Anna Hazare and demanding allies like Mamata Banerjee, his Government survives.
Because he has a far higher standing abroad than most world leaders, higher than his reputation at home.
He really should stop dinner diplomacy. The rsvp list at 7, Race Course Road is a bit thin with senior allies deputing junior ministers, as had happened at the last dinner he hosted on March 13.
Still believes in the foreign hand conspiracy. During the Anna Hazare crisis in July 2011, he told Parliament there was an international conspiracy afoot to destabilise India’s growth story. In February, he blamed the foreign hand for protests by NGOs against Kudankulam and GM crops.
Last vacation Forty years ago, in Nainital. Whenever a break is suggested, he says, “But what will I do?” On holiday, that is.
57, Chief Minister, West Bengal (New)
Because she almost single-handedly defeated the Left Front in West Bengal after 34 years of uninterrupted rule.
Because she is the most unreliable ally of the UPA 2 Government, making her also its most powerful.
Because she has not allowed power to corrupt her, financially.
Because she is the only example of a rebel Congresswoman who has reduced the Congress to a minor party in her state.
Because she is the only voice in her one-woman party.
High point Becoming the first woman chief minister of West Bengal.
Brand loyalty Wears hawai chappals and white cotton saris worth a maximum of Rs.350.
After office address She works all the time she is awake.
Mulayam Singh Yadav
72, MP and Samajwadi Party Chief (New)
Because his sweeping win in Uttar Pradesh has made him one of the most powerful players in Delhi.
Because when he tells party workers in Uttar Pradesh to prepare for General Elections, every other party starts to search for candidates.
Because despite vehement protests from party veterans, he successfully installed son Akhilesh as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, sparking off jokes that Uttar Pradesh is now Puttar Pradesh.
Because he now sees himself as a potential Prime Minister.
Never late He is always punctual, sometimes arriving at rallies before his own candidate.
Did you know? He was nominated for the International Jurists Award 2012 by the chief justice of the UK.
59, Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha (9)
The Great Communicator
Because he has kept UPA 2 under constant pressure in Parliament, raising uncomfortable questions on corruption, price rise, NCTC and Lokpal Bill.
Because he represents the moderate face of BJP.
Because Parliament listens when he stands up to speak, always well prepared and updated with facts and figures.
Because he is a strong contender as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Because the BJP’s key strategist is taken seriously when he articulates the party’s policies.
Firefighter His persuasive skills help the party in sticky situations, and keep communication channels open with NDA allies.
61, Chief Minister of Bihar (6)
Because he is on the shortlist of potential PMs.
Because he has across-the-board acceptability, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, being a darling of Right, Left and the emerging clan of federalists.
Because he scripted a success story in Bihar, transforming it into one of the fastest growing states in the country.
Operates from 1 Anne Marg, Patna, the chief minister’s official home.
Power friends Arun Jaitley.
Power statement Does not use a mobile phone.
Travel mode Official Ambassador car.
Out of bounds He has kept his only son, Nishant, an engineering graduate from BITS Mesra, away from politics.
41, General Secretary, Congress (4)
The Lost Prince
Because when he messes up, his followers rush to take the blame.
Because the Congress party still feels that he can be Prime Minister at any midnight hour of his choice.
Because with Sonia Gandhi taking a conscious step backwards, he will inevitably take charge of the party, a process postponed, not aborted, by the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Smart move Taking responsibility for the Uttar Pradesh poll debacle.
64, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (New)
Because beneath surface calm, she can wield influence over national policy when she wants to, as during India’s vote at UN over Sri Lanka.
Because she is a pivotal point of the budding opposition alliance that seeks to defeat upa in the next General Elections.
Because her popularity has gone into further ascent after her spectacular victory in the Assembly elections in 2011.
Coming soon The film Sister On,Sister Off 2, a joint-production between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala Natarajan.
66, Home Minister (5)
Because when the Prime Minister’s Office leaked a finance ministry note raising doubts about his role in the 2G spectrum allocation, he had the complete backing of 10 Janpath, and Sonia Gandhi ensured that the party stood by the home minister.
Because despite a series of gaffes beginning with Telangana, he remains in office, seemingly immovable.
Loves to quote the Thirukkural by poet-philosopher Saint Thiruvalluvar, an ancient Tamil compilation of advice for every situation. He has quoted from it in every Budget speech.