UPA better placed than NDA vis-a-vis allies (Comment)

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It isn’t only the Congress’s myriad problems that raise questions about the government lasting till 2014. What is no less worrisome for the voters is that the ruling party’s opponents are in an equally sorry state.

What this means is that the post-poll scenario, whether it is later this year or early in the next, will be marked by considerable political instability. In fact, this is the only prospect which appears absolutely certain.

It is this belief that neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to provide a stable government, which has made the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav call on his Tamil Nadu counterpart, Jayalalithaa, in search of forming a third alternative, about which his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has talked for quite some time.

Prakash Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), too, has spoken in favour of such an arrangement. He was, of course, the driving force behind a similar endeavour in 2009 under the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, which collapsed in a heap when the Congress crossed the 200-seat mark in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

This time, however, Karat will be more hopeful because there isn’t the faintest chance of the Congress approaching any such figure. All that the Congress will probably hope for is to get a few seats more than the BJP so that it will be in a slightly advantageous position when renegotiating its terms with its present-day allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

But, even if the two main formations – the UPA and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – win, say, 300-odd seats between them, there will still be a huge chunk of 240 seats with the regional parties. It is this large group which has fuelled the prime ministerial ambitions of Mulayam Singh Yadav and stoked the longstanding Third Front dreams of Karat.

But the problem with such a group is its disparate nature. It isn’t only that the bases of its regional leaders are limited to their respective states – Mulayam Singh’s to UP, Jayalalitha’s to Tamil Nadu – their preoccupations are quite different.

For example, UP isn’t bothered in the least with what is Tamil Nadu’s overriding concern at the moment – the issue of a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, which has made Jayalalithaa’s government vow to keep the Sri Lankan players out of the Indian Premier League cricket matches in Chennai.

Apart from such local matters, which are of prime importance to the regional leaders, nearly all of them are known to harbour oversized egos. The reason is that they virtually run single-person parties with dictatorial powers. For each of them to be accommodative towards the others will be hugely difficult, especially when it comes to the prime minister’s post. It will be safe to predict, therefore, that the proposed third front will either be a non-starter or that it will fall before being set up.

The next certainty, therefore, about the post-poll scene – apart from the chaotic political conditions – is the tug-of-war between the UPA and the NDA about their constituents. In this respect, the former is in a slightly better position because it is a larger conglomerate comprising nearly a dozen parties compared to the NDA’s four.

The UPA’s other advantage is that its present as well as former partners like the Trinamool Congress are wary of moving too close to the BJP lest they acquire the ‘communal’ tag and get alienated from Muslims. This taint will persuade the NDA’s former members like the Biju Janata Dal to tread cautiously in the post-poll arena. As is known, it is this smear which has made Nitish Kumar target Narendra Modi.

The BJP’s difficulty is that if it bows to the Bihar chief minister’s dictates, it may be able to prevent the NDA’s disintegration, but it will lose face. What is more, if it is compelled to project someone else as the prime ministerial candidate – whether L.K. Advani, who, as Sushma Swaraj says, can be the PM nominee, or Sushma Swaraj herself – the saffron camp’s core group of supporters, the communal-minded Hindus, whose virulent presence on the internet is a new feature of Indian politics, will be greatly disheartened.

Therefore, between a listless NDA and a scam-tainted UPA, whose first party, the Congress, is hobbled by two centres of power – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi – the electorate will be hard put to make a choice.

Nor will the options of the voters be improved by the presence of a medley of regional leaders whose visions are limited to their own states.

(27-04-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

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