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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 11 FEBRUARY, 2014

Elections in India trigger strange behaviour in politicians arising from a sudden awareness that there are actually people (read voters) who matter. Suddenly one finds the big chiefs landing up at people's demonstrations that are ignored for five years at a time, and promising them the moon. So as they say if the poor masses have to suffer, let them suffer greatly at the time of elections for perhaps some of their longstanding demands will be met. They will be forsaken and alone if the suffering happens just after the polls have been held, for then they will have to wait for another five years—if they survive that is—for attention.

Every political leader is rushing around in competition. The political dust attracts the usual crowds, but it is only when it settles towards the end of the campaign, that the wise voters make up their mind. That is when the fates are sealed, and a wave (or otherwise) emerges to sweep in the votes. It is difficult for pollsters to tap, and the soothsayers who do a roaring business in these times to predict, but that does not stop both from trying for the sake of the money that has attached itself to the game.

The NDA and the UPA are both in a state of disarray, with regional parties playing hard to get. One because they know that the Congress is on the verge of decimation and none except discredited politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav are scrambling to attach their cart to this particular horse. And two, many of them with decisive minority voters in their states are willing to risk this constituency by supporting the BJP and its controversial prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

These are two of the primary reasons why a number of political parties and the Left front are again exploring the formation of a third alternative. The first tentative beginning was at an anti-communal rally organised by the Left in which Janata Dal(U) leader Nitish Kumar and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh both came together for perhaps the first time since the Janata Dal days.

The second step has been taken now to forge a working relationship in Parliament. But as everyone knows Parliament will not be able to work in this session, and so clearly the 'working relationship' is a second step to forging a pre-poll alliance.

The regional parties and the Left have said that the leaders will continue to meet to sort out the possibility of a pre-poll alliance. This will depend entirely on the ability of all to ensure smooth seat adjustments, and ensure that the alliance does not break even before it is formed. This will be a ticklish stage but given the current political environment, the leaders who have been sharing the emerging platform seem to have realised the need to stick together and make a coalition of this kind work.

It is not without significance that the new alternative brought together the ruling parties of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Tripura and Tamil Nadu and the major opposition in Assam, Karnataka and Jharkhand to name a few. AGP has joined the grouping in what is being seen by all as an encouraging sign. Of course there are many who have played games with each other before, and walked out when they were most needed. And a great deal will depend on the election results for a post poll working relationship to remain.

But the step being contemplated now is a pre-poll alliance and this could work for the alternative. Most of the regional parties know their limitations in other states and will not be straining to break the as yet fragile ties. The Left communist parties are the only ones with national aspirations and will be seeking seats in all the concerned states. It remains to be seen how far they are accommodated. AIADMK leader Jayalalitha, interestingly the only one to have formally entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Left parties, and here the seat adjustment talks are expected to proceed smoothly.

A major point of criticism leveled against a third alternative is that it suffers from a number of contenders for the Prime Minister's position. But it is almost clear that the regional party that gets the highest number of Lok Sabha seats will throw up the natural Prime Minister choice, and hence the coalition will actually consolidate efforts to win as many seats as possible. In this entire scenario Jayalalitha is making a major bid for the top post, with her legislators already creating the atmospherics for this.

Jayalalitha's decision to embrace the third alternative was calibrated as she is no longer prepared to play second fiddle to Modi or for that matter Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. She also knows that in these elections she can secure the highest number of seats, more so with the internal squabbling between DMK patriarch Karunanidhi and his two sons. She also knows that the only other two regional parties that can give her competition, namely the Samawadi party in UP and the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar will be fighting with their back against the walls. So while she wishes them well, as they are essential for her to climb the rungs to power, she is optimistic that their tally will remain well below the 30 seat mark. She on the other hand, is hoping to cross the figure or at least touch it in these elections.

Of course there is the other contender who is insisting on contesting the polls alone, and that is the Aam Admi Party that is fielding candidates in 350 constituencies with the target of winning at least 40 seats. This AAP believes will lead to its emergence as the third largest party without which no one formation will be able to come to power. This, in AAP's calculations will throw up all kinds of interesting possibilities that could then be settled in post poll discussions. Other political parties remain highly skeptical of AAP's electoral prospects at this stage.

All in all a cutting edge scenario with pre-poll alliances important, but not as important as the post poll confabulations that will follow. The verdict is with the people who are currently being tossed from rally to rally, promise to promise, but will—as always—move back and decide between the contenders as soon as the political dust settles.