Rejecting a national alliance in favour of state-specific tie-ups with UPA allies turned out to be Congress party'shuge political blunder. It provoked several regional outfits to look for greener pastures elsewhere. This gross error of judgment born out of obstinacy and the popular perception, shared by its coalition partners, that there is a marked decline in the political fortunes of Sonia Gandhi'sparty led to a virtual disintegration of the United Progressive Alliance. What is now left of the ruling coalition is a rag-tag seat-sharing arrangement with NCP in Maharashtra, TC in West Bengal and some minor parties that are unlikely to win one or two parliamentary seats. Consequently, the alliance that ruled the country for five years is in a shambles. SP that saved the Congress-led government from an imminent collapse by lending support, though in pursuance of Mulayam Singh'sand Amar Singh'snarrow personal agendas, snapped ties with the ageing party after the latter refused to agree on a reasonable seat-sharing arrangement. The Congress claim that going alone in UP is a blessing in disguise convinced no one and will be tested when the results are out. Congress party'sbase in the state is so narrow that it would be presumptuous for the party to dream of its revival by waging a lonely war against regional parties and the BJP. Another blow came in the form of its perceived friends?RJD and LJP?ditching the Congress by distributing most of the parliamentary seats among themselves leaving only three for Sonia'sparty. Since this was not acceptable to the ruling party, it decided to field candidates all over the state. The regional satraps responded by forging a seat-sharing alliance of three regional outfits (RJD, LJP and SP) calling itself ?secular front?. Forget the fancy nomenclature; it is only a caste-based anti-Hindu front that will severely hurt the Congress and to a certain extent JD(U) in Bihar. The front will campaign jointly and has ensured that there would be no (un)?friendly? contests. Congress is hoping against hope that these parties would return to its fold after the polls. It amounts to public confession that it is such a devalued outfit that it allies in the government are wary of going with it in the elections for fear of losing votes. Congress spokespersons? spurious claim that going alone in UP and Bihar may help the Congress expand its mass base convinces no one. What is likely to happen in the coming elections is that the party'sscore in the two states that send 120 members to the Lok Sabha will be in single digit. Congress-JMM seat-sharing arrangement in Jharkhand has also collapsed to the great benefit of the NDA. In Tamil Nadu, PMK deserted UPA to join AIADMK. Mamata Bannerjee has aligned with the Congress in West Bengal to defeat the CPM?notorious for ?scientific rigging? of elections in the state?but may not stay with Sonia'sparty after the polls, as it is most uncomfortable with its state leaders.
Regional parties, on the other hand, have played their cards well by working out seat-sharing arrangements to maximise gains and cut their losses. They may emerge as a force to reckon with if no national wave emerges in the next few weeks. In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK has forged a formidable alliance by bringing to its fold parties like PMK and MDMK, which may sweep the polls in the state at the cost of the DMK-led alliance that won all the seats in the state in 2004. In Andhra Pradesh, TDP-TRS-Left combine is likely to give a tough fight to the Congress. The contest in Bihar will be between the well-entrenched and popular JD(U)-BJP combine and the ?secular front? and in UP the latter would be fighting against two powerful foes?BSP and BJP. The Congress would only be a marginal player in these states and may have to be counted among ?others?. Although regional parties appear to have made strong moves to assert their presence, their unity is not based on any ideology or programme and may disappear if they find that numbers are not good enough to form a government and the Congress is not wiling to lend outside support. In that event, they may shed their present allies and jump over the winning bandwagon.
CPM'sbluster notwithstanding, Left parties are expected to lose heavily both in West Bengal and Kerala. The Left is in deep trouble in Kerala because of numerous charges of corruption against its leaders and internecine warfare in the party. The front is facing huge anti-incumbency and is likely to lose heavily in the state. Nandigram and Singur are haunting the ruling alliance in West Bengal. Add to it the incumbency of several decades due to public disgust with CPM'sautocracy and corruption. No one will be surprised if the Left parties manage to win less than half the seats in West Bengal provided the Election Commission is able to ensure that rigging?scientific or otherwise?is checked, if not entirely eliminated.
BJP is the front runner in the rapidly changing political scenario in which no party, alliance or combination is expected to get a clear majority in the 543-member lower House of Parliament. LK Advani-led NDA may consolidate its position if it is able to mobilise the youth who would be casting their votes for the first time in their lives and motivate the middle classes?that largely support the nationalist causes?to actively participate in the election process. For that to happen, the party will have to showcase an inspiring vision of rising India?a secure, strong and prosperous nation proud of its glorious traditions and cultural identity. It is a challenge and opportunity for the BJP to launch and sustain a vigorous and positive campaign to generate a national mood for change. As of now, the BJP is expected to sweep the polls in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. NDA will do exceedingly well in Bihar, Goa, Himachal, Jammu, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. It is well placed in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan but in states like UP, Orissa and Maharashtra, the alliance will have to work hard to revive its fortunes. Many Congress leaders admit in private that they have lost a lot of ground. Will the BJP rise to the occasion to put up a united and determined battle against the UPA misrule and anti-Hindu agenda?