Scrambling to stitch alliances

Scrambling to stitch alliances

It’s election time and the two major political formations – the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) headed by the Congress – are going through a turbulence.

The BJP is the flavour of the season but is not exactly attracting the regional parties in hoards to the NDA fold. Congress, on the other hand, is struggling to retain whatever that’s left of in the UPA coalition. The so called Third Front, a riff-raff of parties, has disappeared as fast as it had appeared.  

With the coalition era, which began in 1996, set to continue as no party is likely to get a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, cobbling together a viable combination is the key to power. However, not everything is happening as per the desire of the two leading parties – BJP and Congress. 

The coalition commotion is felt in several states – Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, to name a few – and a final word is yet to be said and deals sealed in many of them. 

Coalition tremor is perhaps felt most strikingly in Tamil Nadu than anywhere else. Almost every party, small or big, is affected by this. For the first time, the two major regional parties – DMK and AIADMK – are going it alone.

Chief minister J Jayalalitha-led AIADMK, after virtually giving green signal for a Third Front, refused to yield to the Left parties’ demand of six (out of 39) seats which she felt is an exaggerated demand. Perhaps rightly so as the Left hardly has any presence in the state dominated by the two Dravidian parties. Having secured a significant 39.08 per cent in the 2011 assembly polls, AIADMK is confident of going it alone.

There will still be a front in Tamil Nadu. This rainbow coalition comprises the BJP, film star Capt Vijayakanth-led DMDK, Vaiko’s MDMK and PMK, a Vanniyar-caste based party. However, this front has faced birth pangs as the DMDK and PMK with their vote bases clashing in northern and western parts of the state have differences in seat sharing. 

The other state which felt the coalition uproar more was Bihar where the Lalu Prasad-led RJD and Congress failed to keep dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan of LJP from leaving their company and crossing over to the rival NDA. The RJD has finally reached an understanding with the Congress on seat sharing.

LJP had drawn a blank in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls but Paswan’s straying into the saffron territory is considered significant – he had quit NDA citing the Gujarat’s 2002 pogrom. The ruling Janata Dal (United), which won 20 out of 40 seats in 2009 but which broke away from the BJP coalition last year, is friendless. 

After Mayawati’s BSP rejected Congress’ overtures in Uttar Pradesh – which is yet again slated to play a decisive role in polls with its 80 seats – India’s grand old party has finally struck an alliance with Union minister Ajit Singh’s RLD, giving him eight of the 25 seats in the Jat-Muslim belt of western UP. Congress, which won a surprising 22 seats in the state in 2009 and faces a daunting task this time, will share seats with smaller parties such as Apna Dal, a Kurmi (backward caste) outfit and Mohan Dal.

In Maharashtra, it is almost a war within the NDA as the Shiv Sena, BJP’s oldest ally of 25 years, is furious with the coalition leader. Sena’s anger is because of BJP wooing MNS leader Raj Thackeray, cousin of Sena chief Uddhav. Raj has not put up candidates against the BJP. Sena has accused the BJP of creating a "trust deficit" and asked it to follow “alliance dharma.” In the state, the NDA has expanded base with RPI(Athawale) joining the grouping.

In Andhra Pradesh, which is coming to terms with the violent birth of Telangana, the alliance picture is still hazy. Seat-sharing talks are said to be on between TDP and BJP but TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu is understood to be angry over the BJP for admitting former Union minister of state Purandeswari, his sister-in-law. Naidu – who is fighting what many see as a losing battle against YSR Congress in residuary AP, is not exactly in good terms with the daughter of TDP founder the late N T Rama Rao. 

In Telangana, the developments have taken a turn for the worse to the Congress. The TRS, which fought for the new state, has declared it will not have alliance with the Congress. This may pave the way for the regional outfit joining hands with the BJP. 

This is a blow to the Congress, which is already worst hit by desertions in Seemandhra as it lost many MPs and MLAs, with chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy walking out of the party and floating his own.

A state in which the BJP is desperate to hold on to its 2009 seat tally of 19 out of 28 is Karnataka where it has secured the merger of B S Yeddyurappa’s KJP. However, it faced opposition from senior leader Sushma Swaraj for merger of BSR Congress of Bellary’s Sriramulu-Reddys. 

In the East and North-East, BJP’s weakest region, the party’s interest in having a seat sharing agreement with AGP in Assam is coming unstuck as the regional party is angry over the BJP luring couple of its leaders. The BJP, which won 4 seats in 2009 in alliance with AGP in Assam, hopes the latter will be convinced. 

Once seen as the most "cohesive ideological alliance," the four-party Left Democratic Front is in tatters in Kerala with the RSP, along with Forward Bloc, deciding to part ways with the CPI and `big brother’ CPM as the last two decided to share all 20 sets between themselves. A supporter of LDF, the Indian National League, a splinter group of Muslim League, which backed the LDF for 20 years also has decided to go it alone this time. 

If stitching alliances is not possible, the two national parties are certain to have tacit understandings with different parties wherever possible so that the allies are not hurt. This may help in the post-poll arithmetic in the race for the Delhi throne. 

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