New Delhi: Campaigning for the month-long general election came to a close on Monday with no clear winner in sight, setting the stage for active back-channel negotiations between key political groupings.
Mayawati of the BSP
The general expectation is one of a fractured mandate, giving neither of the three major political formations—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the so-called Third Front, led by the Left parties—a clear chance of forming the next government.
As action shifts to New Delhi, the various possibilities have thrown up a raft of names as dark horses for the top job of the next prime minister, if neither the BJP nor the Congress is able to get the math to work for them.
The list includes Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat.
“The trend seems to be unpredictable. Whichever coalition comes to power cannot do so without the support of the BJP or the Congress. Any attempt of the Third Front to form a government will have to have the support of either of the two big national parties,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor at the department of political science, Delhi University.
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“As the campaign started, the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) seemed to be in a position of advantage but towards the end, it lost the race to NDA (National Democratic Alliance) which is at the forefront at present.”
In the final phase, 107.8 million voters will choose from 1,432 candidates to decide the winners in 86 Lok Sabha constituencies. Besides Tamil Nadu, elections will also be held for four seats in Himachal Pradesh, two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in West Bengal, five in Uttarakhand and one seat each in both Chandigarh and Puducherry.
Nitish Kumar of the JD (U)
Some analysts say Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats going to polls on Wednesday, is crucial to the prospects of the ruling Congress-led UPA. In 2004, it was its ability to sweep the state that enabled it to grab power at the Centre.
“The Congress has never been a significant force on its own in Tamil Nadu, However, if its ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) fares badly, as reports indicate, the Congress might be in trouble. There are lots of factors working against the DMK, including anti-incumbency and the handling of the Sri Lanka issue and hence, its future in this election does not seem too bright,” added Chakrabarty.
The Congress has already signalled that it is looking to win new friends and influence people. The party’s general secretary Rahul Gandhi, in a press conference last week, reached out to estranged ally, the Left Front, and even key NDA constituent Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), led by Kumar. He also made overtures to Third Front parties such as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK).
The Left Front, meanwhile, is engaged in hectic back-channel deliberations and is hoping to get more “secular” non-Congress, non-BJP parties into its fold after the results are declared on 16 May.
And BJP has deputed former party chief Venkaiah Naidu to talk to TDP to explore the possibility of a post poll alliance with that party, said a senior leader of the part who did not want to be identified.
“If we (the Left), along with parties like the Biju Janata Dal, TDP, manage even slightly less than 100 seats together, we will make all possible efforts to form a non-Congress, non-BJP government,” said a senior CPM leader who did not want to be identified.
On Saturday, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which had contested the previous Lok Sabha election as part of the Congress-led alliance, participated in an NDA rally. The massive NDA rally in Punjab’s industrial town Ludhiana saw key partners such as Kumar sharing the dais with newfound allies such as TRS’ K. Chandrasekar Rao.
Sharad Pawar of the NCP
Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed a joint rally with DMK leader M. Karunanidhi in Chennai—a move seen by some analysts as a damage-control exercise aimed at placating the ally in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s comments.
Prominent candidates in the fray in the fifth phase are home minister P. Chidambaram and former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin, both from the Congress, BJP’s Maneka Gandhi, DMK’s T.R. Baalu, A. Raja, and Dayanidhi Maran, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as well as Samajwadi Party’s Jayaprada. BJP’s Varun Gandhi, who shot into prominence after his alleged hate speech against Muslims, will also face the electorate on Wednesday.
The NDA plans to launch an ad campaign highlighting its strengths as an alliance. Analysts see this as a move by the party to project itself as the party heading the largest pre-poll alliance, thereby improving its chances of forming the next government. .
“BJP is confident that it would be the biggest pre-poll alliance after the results are declared. We expect that the President of India would go by the convention and precedence to invite the largest pre-poll alliance (to form the government),” BJP spokesperson S.S. Ahluwalia said.
Prakash Karat of the CPM
“Where there is a hung Parliament, the constitutional text is silent (on what should be done). Constitutional conventions supplement the text so that the President must invite the single largest party to form the government,” said Sudhir Krishnaswamy, professor at National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, who specializes in constitutional law.
“Where there is a pre-poll alliance, the president may invite the largest alliance. In the event that a pre-poll alliance does not have the required numbers the President must invite the largest post-poll alliance. In any of these decisions the guiding principle is that the President must invite the party in the best position to form a stable government. If the post poll alliance does not have requisite numbers the president would go back to the single largest party,” Krishnaswamy added.
Graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
Malathi Nayak, Liz Mathew and K.P. Narayana Kumar of Mint and PTI also contributed to this story.