THE INDIAN general elections will once again be guided by coalition politics with regional and smaller forces playing a formidable role in helping major parties to form the next government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been successful in forging alliances in states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, apparently because of the media hype about its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. But the Congress has failed to realise the urgency of such tie-ups.
Elections in India are also based on the division between secular and Right-wing forces. In constituencies where there is a multi-cornered contest among secular forces – like in Bihar where the Congress would be battling Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-U, former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Left parties — the vote against the BJP would be fragmented, giving it greater chances of winning.
Bihar, one of the poorest states, traditionally has upper-caste Hindus supporting the BJP. Now the party may also see the backing of the other castes since Modi belongs to this section of society. In some places, the individual strength of the candidates or local issues would be a deciding factor. Nitish Kumar’s exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP has given him a positive image among Muslims, who can vote for Kumar’s party en bloc in some pockets. But Modi will have the support of Ram Vilas Paswan, a leader of the disadvantaged castes, whose Lok Janshakti Party has rejoined the NDA.?In Uttar Pradesh, once the largest state and with a whopping 80 seats, the BJP could be in a strong position in some of the constituencies as there is no alliance among the secular forces like Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, Congress, and the AAP. Yet some of its candidates may not perform well keeping in view their obscure backgrounds.
In southern Tamil Nadu, the main opposition, the DMK, is in disarray following a feud in the family of the party chief. The ruling AIADMK party of Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa is considered more viable by the electorate in view of its regional and international stands. However, the BJP has nothing to lose here because even if its alliance with six small state parties does not get seats, Jayalalithaa will probably support the NDA in forming the government unlike her counterpart Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, who has expressed her unwillingness to support Modi.
But it will be difficult for the BJP to draw support in Kerala. The Brahmin Nair community, which could have backed it, will support the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) instead as the alliance has cemented its position by apppointing as minister Ramesh Chennithala, a man close to the community. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress is set to lose its seats and the Telugu Desam Party of Chandrababu Naidu allied to the BJP will reap the benefit of the fallout of the creation of a new Telangana state.
In Karnataka, which has 28 seats, the Congress that could wrest some in the face of the BJP government’s performances and faction-ridden politics. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) can win a good number of seats though some of her actions have been controversial, like the arrest of activists. However, neither the Congress nor the BJP have bright chances, especially after the Congress alliance with the TMC broke.
In Delhi, the poll can still go the AAP way as the AAP enjoys youth support. Arguably, 120 million Indians are first-time voters in this election. States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Punjab could yield a good number of seats to the BJP because of the ‘good governance’ in some of these states. There are controversies regarding denial of tickets to senior leaders. The way former foreign minister Jaswant Singh was sidelined shows the party’s disregard for the old guard and the moderates. Yet the BJP is riding on a popularity wave following the Congress’s failure.
After all’s said and done, the fact remains that regional and smaller parties will again play an important role in shaping the next government and the politics of coalition will continue to rule the roost. In a way, it would impose checks and balances on the main party. But whichever party leads the government, it will have to ensure that it is not being blackmailed by the smaller constituents, especially on issues like corruption, which could affect its image and governance.