Third Front, a strong possibility
By Harihar Swarup
With 7th round of nine-phase Lok Sabha elections over, the political circles are abuzz with speculation of the type of government likely to be formed after May 16 when poll results are out. What is crystal clear is that both the Congress and the BJP will fall far short of a majority in spite of so called Modi wave. It is pretty obvious that at the end it is going to be the game of numbers and regional parties may play a pivotal in formation of the government at centre.
As the multi-phase election was in advance stage, the Congress realised that the BJP appeared certain to emerge as the single largest party and Narendra Modi may become the Prime Minister. In that event the BJP may attract more allies in the NDA with the exception the Left.
Sensing the possibility of a BJP-led NDA government, the Congress began talking of Third Front with a greater role for the regional parties. Ahmed Patel, political Secretary to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, suggested that the Congress would be ready to make any sacrifice to keep the BJP at bay. This was read as the Congress getting ready to back a secular state party if this would keep the BJP out of the government.
While some voices within Congress want to support the Third Front from outside in the government-formation, others want the party to join the government. A few others, who are not willing to concede defeat so soon, are hopeful that smaller parties could be persuaded to support a Congress-led government.
Maharashtra Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan, was the first among senior leaders of the party, to talk about a Congress-backed Third Front Government in the event of the BJP-led NDA failing to get an absolute majority. Chavan, while articulating his hope that potential allies of the BJP would not want Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, ended up giving the impression that the Congress was willing to back a non-BJP Government without joining it.
Union Minister, Jairam Ramesh, however, wanted the Congress to be part of a Third Front Government in a situation where neither the BJP–led NDA nor the Congress-led UPA had necessary numbers. If Chavan and Jairam appeared comfortable with the idea of the Congress not leading such a non-BJP government , another senior leader, Digvijaya Singh, went back to the original party line that the Congress, being the dominant party, should lead the Government.
Even the CPI-M General Secretary, Prakash Karat, backed the secular formation and expressed his party’s “openness” to the possibility of joining such a government in the post-poll scenario.
While both the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi (Vadodra) and Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli) are expected to win their seats with comfortable margins, a much closer result is expected in Amritsar where BJP’s Arun Jaitley is pitted against Congress party’s Amarinder Singh. In the same way, a three-day contest in Lucknow featuring BJP President Rajnath Singh, Congress party’s Rita Bahuguna and AAP’s Javeed Jaferi could spring a surprise. Reports from Lucknow say that even Rajnath Singh is finding it difficult to sail through. Meanwhile, BJP stalwarts L K Advani (Gandhinagar) is sure to win comfortably, another BJP’s front rank leader, Murli Manohar Joshi is having a neck-and-neck race with Congress’s Sri Prakash Jaiswal.
All eyes are focused on Punjab where Prakash Singh Badal is facing powerful anti-incumbency and victim may be Arun Jaitley. Very keen to ensure Jaitley’s victory in Amritsar, the Chief Minister has appealed to the people not to punish the BJP stalwarts for “my mistakes”. Added to this, is the Drug menace in Punjab, which the Akali Dal government is unable to control. This not only gives Congress a chance to gain some ground but also leaves room for the AAP to put up a good performance. There are signs that the electorate is getting frustrated with Punjab’s bi-polar politics, creating scope for the APP to make serious inroads.
The other interesting battle being waged is in Telangana where Lok Sabha election and polls to yet to be created state assembly took place simultaneously. The Congress Party’s failure to stitch up a pre-poll alliance with TRS had dampened its hopes of getting a good harvest of seats from the newly created 29th state of the union. But with the possibility of a hung assembly looming, two parties may be forced to join hands. That, in turn, should facilitate a post-poll understanding between Congress and TRS at the national level.
While Punjab and Telangana may turn out to be bright spots for the Congress, the BJP is looking for a clean sweep in Gujarat and central U.P. Although the BJP’s dominance in the Gujarat Assembly hasn’t exactly translated into same kind of dominance when it comes to Lok Sabha seats from the state. Modi’s pitch for the PM’s post should galvanize Gujarat’s in favour of the saffron party. [IPA]