While the traditional and social media remain endlessly enthralled by the BJP-Congress binary, plans are afoot among regional parties to present an alternative front in the upcoming Parliament elections

Hardnews Bureau Delhi

Opinion poll surveys are still obsessed with the number of seats that the BJP and Congress will clinch in the forthcoming 2014 Parliament elections. The figures routinely unpacked on television show the BJP surging ahead, trailed by Congress a long distance back. It goes like this: NDA 200+; UPA 100+; while the rest fail to even register on the poll-predicting machinery. Although these opinion polls are souped up and low on integrity—as revealed by a recent sting operation—they still reveal the widening gap between hope and reality. One doesn’t need to be a political pundit to get a sense of the strength of the other regional players. Going by the dodgy figures of pre-poll surveys alone, there are 240 odd seats that provide the backbone to the enterprise of an alternative to Congress and BJP. If this alliance, being galvanized into action by Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Prakash Karat, plays to form, it is eminently capable of stopping Narendra Modi’s juggernaut.

Why is there merit in the third alliance? Before we come to the numbers, there is a facilitating environment for such a compact. The minorities, who have a sway in 145 odd parliamentary constituencies in the country, are upset with Congress’ timidity about asserting control over communal elements and are deeply apprehensive of Modi’s muscular and polarizing politics. They could ride on the traditional backward base of these regional parties and win seats that do not figure in a pollster’s flowchart.  Parties that nurse regional aspirations and are happy with a relatively weak Centre would also see wisdom in backing such an arrangement. Ideologically, they would find it difficult to deal with a chest-thumping nationalist that would try to re-imagine the nation-state based on a skewed interpretation of history. These factors seldom find place in the fast evolving narrative that gets played out through traditional and social media.

Plainly speaking, the alliance has five chief ministers, of which four have spurned offers to rejoin the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. All these CMs were elected after the 2009 elections, and as any psephologist would admit, the incumbents usually preserve their support base and do well in the Parliament elections. It is this belief and expectation that is driving the ambitions of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Her manifesto clearly indicates she’s hoping to take a shot at the prime minister’s job if her party manages to win majority of the 39 seats that TN sends to the parliament. In the third alliance’s calculation, AIADMK is capable of bringing in 30 odd seats to the kitty.

Then there is the monster haul of Uttar Pradesh, with 80 seats. BJP hopes to cash in on the space vacated by Congress and the disillusionment of the minorities towards Mulayam Singh Yadav and his ruling party. Considering the SP has 3+ years to go before the next state polls, pollsters are divided on the number of seats it will win: between 9 and 22. But don’t write him off as yet; his party’s vote share has never plummeted below 20 per cent. There are those
who predict a whopping 60 seats for Modi and BJP, but don’t forget that Yadav and his merry men take elections very seriously. With them in power, bagging 20 seats should be rather easy.

Although Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been in deep waters ever since BJP parted ways with his JD(U), he, too, is no pushover. People of the state still credit him for the roads and uninterrupted power supply in areas that did not know of a world beyond a kerosene lamp. His back is against the wall, but Kumar’s astute record is only going to raise his profile further in the new alternative. His image of efficiency, his support base among the minorities and the kurmis, as well as among other most backwards (MBC’s), will yield him good dividend. Even among the middle classes, Nitish’s impeccably clean record, being a measured, self-assured option—as compared to Lalu Prasad Yadav or BJP—gives him advantage. Bihar watchers don’t rule out his resurgence in the JD(U)’s stocks these parliament elections.

The Biju JanataDal (BJD) and others, like DeveGowda’s JD(S), if they stay the course, will bolster the numbers. But the biggest role will be played by the Left parties, who are proving to be the key link with all these parties for the making of an alternative model. Do not rule out the possibility of the Communists staging a comeback in Indian politics after their 2009 drubbing. After all, they have little fear of their base being eroded by an adamantly nihilist Aam Aadmi Party.   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2014