Changing political equations ahead of India’s general election

Changing political equations ahead of India’s general election

Srinand Jha,
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The Grand Alliance led by Indian National Congress with all non-Bharatiya Janata Party allies. Photo: Twitter

Leaders of the “Maha Gathbandhan” – Grand Alliance – went into a huddle on Monday at the residence of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) heir apparent Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar’s Patna to speed up the seat-sharing formula for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, emissaries of Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati have been having a hectic rethink on their plan to leave the Congress out of the pre-poll electoral arrangement.

If the rumble of change happening in the constellation of India’s political skies is being heard, the reasons are not far to find.

After the December 11 poll results for state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – which saw the BJP uprooted from power – Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s position as a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started to be taken seriously.

Political scientist CP Bhambri told Asia Times: “Clearly, Monday’s cabinet decision displays a nervousness on the part of the BJP and is indicative of a tactic to prevent upper-caste Hindu votes from drifting towards the Congress in the upcoming general elections.”

Complications and paradoxes

India’s political matrix has been shown to be extremely complex. Past decades show situations where both the Congress and socialist parties having witnessed multiple explosions and implosions. That caused situations when a staggering number of political parties crowd the political scene.

There are breakaway groups of the Congress including Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TC), Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress and Ajit Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress (CJC).

These separate from splinter groups of the erstwhile Janata Party including Akhilesh Yadav’s SP, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) or even Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United.

Some regional outfits like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu or the Trinamool Congress and the CPM in West Bengal, have irreconcilable rivalries while others like Biju Janata Dal in Odisha or Telegu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, have been involved with both the Congress and the BJP in the past.

In states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is placed in a one-to-one contest with the BJP.

In several others states including West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while regional parties are more dominant, the Congress retains a presence. But the grand old party remains unwilling to cede political space for the cause of a larger Opposition unity.

In other states including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Congress footprints are marginal. The major regional figures are still reluctant to adopt strategies that might aid the revival of the Congress.

Professor Badri Narain at Allahabad-based Gobind Ballabh Pant Institute of Social Sciences told Asia Times: “Contradictions and paradoxes are far too many and, with certain exceptions, the non-BJP camp is not bound together in any kind of a political ideology. But a loose confederation of such forces is yet possible, as all these parties are today fighting for survival against the common threat from the BJP.”

Fight for India’s ‘top job’

The complexities of the situation have been exacerbated because of the prime ministerial ambitions that some regional players have come to hold.

The BSP chief Mayawati is reportedly claiming her place under the sun, pressing to be accepted as the Opposition candidate for a Prime Ministerial post.

West Bengal Chief Minister and TC chief Mamata Banerjee, has also developed national ambitions, having organized a mega get together of Opposition leaders in Kolkata for later this month.

Other regional party leaders such as N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP and Sharad Pawar of the NCP are reportedly also fancying an outside chance of becoming Prime Minister.

Race to be lead party

Recent surveys including the “Mood of the Nation” survey conducted by CSDS-Lokniti-ABP News caused analysts to arrive at a common conclusion: The BJP may emerge as the single largest party again in this year’s election. But, chances are the party’s total seats – 282 in the 2014 elections – could be slashed by about 100 seats.

According to C-Voter and the VDP Associates, the gap between the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has been gradually decreasing.

One hundred days before India votes for a new government, the challenge for the Congress is to emerge as the lead party in the new Lok Sabha that will be constituted this year.

For this to happen, the party not only needs to negotiate the tricky path of firming up state-level alliances, but also energize its election machinery to bring in the desired results. Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum number of seats (80) to the Lok Sabha, is the biggest challenge for the Congress.

One view is that the Uttar Pradesh seat-sharing formula of the SP and BSP minus the Congress (37 seats each for both the regional parties) will be announced on Mayawati’s birthday on January 15.

Further speculation is that leaders of the two regional parties will eventually get around to allocating an honorable share of seats for the Congress after notification is issued for the general election. As of now, the two regional parties have only spared Amethi and Rae Bareli, constituencies represented by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi respectively.

Meanwhile, the government is set to accelerate corruption cases that are pending and being probed by the Central Investigating Agencies (CIA).

“Recent Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids against the SP government’s mining cases are clearly politically motivated. But the union government’s move has only strengthened the bonding between the SP and BSP. At the same time, the options of taking the Congress on board in the ‘grand alliance’ are open”, said Frank Huzoor, Yadav’s biographer and editor of a magazine called “Socialist Factor”.

“Behnji (Mayawati) will take a decision in the matter. She will make an announcement at the appropriate time”, BSP spokesman Sudheendra Bhadauria said.

A significant question continues to hang: If the Congress is left to contest Uttar Pradesh independently, will the situation of a triangular contest in the state come to benefit the BJP instead?

Senior state Congress leader Dr DP Singh said: “Indeed, the go-it-alone strategy suits the Congress the most. An alliance with the SP-BSP on unequal terms would be demoralizing for party cadres and detrimental to the aim of expanding the party mass base in the state.”

In adjoining Bihar, there are plenty of non-BJP faces. Lalu Prasad’s RJD – the lead party – has decided to contest 20 of the 40 parliamentary seats, leaving the remaining half to be shared between the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Hindustan Awam Morcha, Loktantrik Janata Dal, Vikassheel Insaan Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxists-Leninists).

As a constituent of the “Grand Alliance” in 2014, the Congress had fought in 12 constituencies, but may well have to scale down the numbers this occasion to accommodate other partners in the state.

The edifice of the Opposition challenge to Modi will largely need to stand on the legs of the success – or the failures – of the non-BJP camp to stitch up alliances in north India’s UP and Bihar– the states which account for 120 or one-quarter of the total 543 elected members in the Lok Sabha.

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