As India waits for poll verdict, parties scout new allies

Published : 10 May 2019 05:47 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 09:14 AM

Although the counting of votes in India’s parliamentary elections is still about a fortnight away, key opposition parties have begun confabulations preparing for a role in the post-poll scenario anticipating a fractured mandate. But one trend that appears clear is that a new coalition government in India cannot do without the primacy of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress depending on the final verdict.

In fact, the only time India had a coalition government at the Centre of regional parties in 1996-97, it survived for nearly two years on the life and blood support of the Congress party from outside. However, it did not even complete its full five-year tenure as the Congress withdrew support. 

There has been a spurt in activities in the non-BJP and non-Congress camp in the last few days with top leaders of two key regional parties K Chandrasekhara Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Chief Minister of Telangana and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Nara Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party spearheading the revival of the initiatives for uniting the Congress party and other regional outfits across the country for playing a role in the formation of the new government. 

While Rao rushed to Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Marxist-ruled Kerala, and met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Naidu met Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on May 8 and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the very next day discussing the possible scenario in the event the elections throw up a hung parliament.

The non-BJP opposition parties feel the two main contenders for power—National Democratic Alliance led by the saffron party and the United Progressive Alliance headed by the Congress—will fall well short of the number of seats required ( 272) for a majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha and will need alliance partners to cobble up a new government. 

The assessment in the opposition camp is that the BJP is likely to emerge as the single largest party but its number of seats as also that of its pre-poll allies will be far from the magic majority mark.   

Senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad Ashok Gehlot are also understood to be in touch with some regional parties. The anti-BJP opposition parties are planning a joint meeting in Delhi on May 21, a couple of days vote counting is held. These parties will also be looking at the exit polls results to be broadcast on the evening of May 19 after the last votes are cast in the final phase of the seven-phase national election. 

The regional parties seem to be trying to play the role of a kingmaker and in the process extract their pounds of flesh from the two big parties the BJP and the Congress, depending on the final results. Anti-BJP regional parties like Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata-led Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham in Tamil Nadu are expected to take a majority of the parliamentary seats in their respective states. 

The TRS too may get a bigger chunk of the seats in Telangana, especially after its sweeping win in last year’s assembly elections in the state. But there are question marks if the TDP can gain enough parliamentary seats in Andhra Pradesh as he is facing a tough challenge from Jagamohan Reddy-led Y S R Congress party.  

Reaching out to BJD supremo and

 Odisha Chief Minister Naveen 

Patnaik, Modi recently praisedthe

 Patnaik government’s measures 

to cope with the effects of the 

extremely severe cyclonic 

storm ‘Fani’ that pounded the 

state on May 3

The result in Andhra Pradesh, where state assembly polls were held along with parliamentary election, will also determine if Naidu, who severed ties with the NDA early last year, can play an effective role as a king-maker and his standing in national politics. If his party loses both the elections in the state, he will have lost his clout.  Much will depend on the stand to be taken by key non-UPA parties like SP-BSP and Trinamool Congress.         

The main question facing the anti-BJP opposition is: what will be the contours of a coalition government if regional parties and the Congress garner the required number? Will it be led by the Congress? The Congress knows too well its rivalry with a number of regional parties like Trinamool Congress, TDP, TRS, the Left and SP in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Will these parties accept the Congress leading a coalition government? Mind you, the SP-BSP did not include the Congress in the anti-BJP pre-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh. 

The Congress is also aware that Mamata and BSP chief Mayawati have prime ministerial ambitions and are not comfortable with Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Of course, Rahul’s acceptability hinges on the performance of the Congress in terms of seats it manages to win. 

Sonia Gandhi did not become the PM after the Congress had won national elections in 2004 and 2009 and instead the post went to Manmohan Singh twice. Will it be the same story with Rahul?  Will the Congress not insist on the Prime Minister’s post to enlist the support of non-UPA parties in order to keep the BJP out of power like it had done in Karnataka state where it allowed its alliance partner Janata Dal (S) to take the post of Chief Minister to form a coalition government? The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka assembly polls but failed to win outright majority and lost out to the Congress-Janata Dal (S) combine in the number game. Will the scene witnessed at the state level be replicated at the national level?   

On the other hand, the BJP has made it amply clear that only Narendra Modi will be its Prime Minister. But the party appears to recognize that it may badly need the support of allies to shore up the required numbers to form a government. This is implicit in party General Secretary Ram Madhav’s remark in a recent interview that the BJP will be happy to get 271 seats this time. Madhav’s assessment has been endorsed by the BJP’s oldest ally Shiv Sena whose spokesman Sanjay Raut too said, the BJP may not get majority on its own. 

Underlining that it is preparing to rope in allies outside the NDA fold, the BJP is warming up to the Biju Janata Dal which rules Odisha state and is expected to bag a lion’s share of the 21 parliamentary states there despite a spirited challenge from the saffron party. The BJD has in the past backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi government on a number of issues. Reaching out to BJD supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Modi recently praised the Patnaik government’s measures to cope with the effects of the extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ that pounded the state on May 3. Modi and Patnaik jointly undertook an aerial survey of the cyclone-ravaged areas after which the Prime Minister announced a Rs 1,000-crore financial assistance for Odisha and exgratia for the families of those killed in the cyclone and those injured by the natural calamity.  

The Modi government also declared the cyclone as an extreme natural calamity, a move which will help the Odisha government to mobilize funds from across the country to cope with post-cyclone devastation. 

The BJP reckons that in the event of a hung verdict, the BJD could hold a key in the number game after the polls. 

All in all, it is time for scouting for new allies for the BJP and the Congress as the countdown begins for the final verdict.

The writer is an analyst based in India