It is not yet clear as to what, if any, will emerge as the core issue in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Will the palpable anger against the UPA Government'sweak response to terror and failures on the economic front lead to a heavy middle class turn out to the great disadvantage of the ruling alliance and giving NDA a near, if not clear, majority in the 15th Lok Sabha? Or will there be no national mood and the electorate will deliver a fractured verdict ? a mere sum total of state results as it happened in 2004? Not that there are no issues that affect large sections of people. Economic slowdown leading to increasing unemployment, rising prices of essential commodities, Government'sutter failure to stem the rot in agricultural sector leading to a spate of farmers? suicides, UPA'sfailure to effectively deal with jehadi terrorism, rise of totally corrupt and visionless regional satraps that threaten national integration and political stability, last but not the least, anti-Hindu policies and actions of the UPA Government are some of the major issues that are exercising the minds of the electorate. Setbacks notwithstanding, the BJP has stitched a formidable alliance comprising AGP, JD (U), Shiv Sena, RLD, INLD and Akali Dal and has, thus, emerged as a powerful and credible claimant to power at the national level. In the process, the party did make minor concessions to regional outfits in some states but stood firm to reject unreasonable demands made by its junior partners. BJD'sbetrayal in Orissa has rattled the party. It is perceived as a set back but it is both a challenge and opportunity for the party to reach out to the masses throughout the states. Seat adjustments may be a compulsion in the coalition season but it does hurt national parties in the long run by stunting their expansion. Orissa BJP has accepted the challenge and is confident of giving a bloody nose to Naveen Patnaik with the active help of Hindu religious leaders who are equally keen to punish the new convert to ?secularism? for his utter failure to bring to book the killers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. A number of mass leaders of BJD who were over the years sidelined by the autocratic Chief Minister are likely to join the BJP bandwagon in coming weeks. If this happens, the Chief Minister will rue the day he, in his overconfidence, ditched BJP at the instance of the CPM. Interestingly, Revolutionary Socialist Party has criticised the elder brother in the left front for the haste with which CPM joined hands with a man who till recently was under attack for his ?communalism?.
Congress party, on the other hand, is facing serious problems with its partners in Bihar, UP, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Bitter foes till the other day?Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan?buried the hatchet to corner 37 seats for their parties leaving only three for the Congress. The Congress is stunned by the turn of events and is totally at sea. Will it succumb to suffer the insults heaped on it by its alliance partners or will it carry out its threat to put up candidates on half the parliamentary seats in the state? The party that was demanding less than a dozen seats from coalition partners doesn'thave enough formidable candidates to carry out its threat made in anger. The NDA is on the upswing in the state and is likely to smother the divided opposition.
In UP, the Samajwadi Party has announced candidates in all but five seats. It blames the Congress for its over-confidence and has told the latter that ground realities in the state are such that it lacks winning candidates in more than half a dozen seats. Chances are that the two parties may contest against each other in this crucial state. If this happens both the parties will lose heavily. Talkative general secretary of SP, Amar Singh, has admitted that the two parties may not have seat adjustments in the elections but would remain allies in the post-poll scenario.
All the Third Front could achieve was a dinner meeting that was boycotted by AIADMK. The so-called platform had no option but to announce that it would be a post-poll alliance and that the leader with the largest number of MPs would lead the alliance. There is a dispute even on that. Left parties want to be treated as one party. That is not acceptable to BSP that hopes to emerge as the single largest party in the third front. The net result is that parties that claim to belong to a common platform will contest against each other and would join hands only if they have any chance to emerge as a contender for power. BSP is convinced that it would gain nothing by having seat adjustments with other parties and by going alone it would be able to expand its area of influence, though it may not lead to winning more seats. JD(S)?that is part of the ruling LDF in Kerala?has threatened to walk out of the front in protest against the denial of Kozhikode seat from which it has a sitting MP. As part of the protest, M T Thomas, JD (S) Minister in the LDF Government has resigned. CPM is claiming the seat on the premise that the character of the seat has changed after delimitation. Mayawati and J Jaylalithaa?stormy petrels of Indian politics?are supposed to be part of the platform despite the stark reality that neither would tolerate the other being projected as prime ministerial candidate. Signs are that most of the regional parties will join either the NDA or UPA?depending on which alliance is in a better position to form the Government?after the polls. It can, therefore, be safely predicted that the ?front? will disintegrate after the polls, if not earlier.
It is too early in the day to predict the outcome of the polls. How effectively the rival formations run their campaigns may influence the outcome of this crucial battle.
The worst scenario from the national point of view would be that BJP and Congress together fail to win a majority of seats in the lower house. In that case, several of the regional parties from both major combinations may join hands with regional outfits in the so-called Third Front to claim the right to form a government. Given the contradictions and ego clashes among non-BJP, non-Congress parties, there can be no Government without the support of either of the two national parties. This rag-tag coalition will be extremely shaky and is most likely to meet the fate of the short-lived National Front Governments in 1990s. Such an arrangement will be farcical and will lead to an early mid-term poll.
(The writer is a senior journalist.)