With two more phases of general elections remaining, and various exit polls predicting that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may not secure a majority this time, several Opposition leaders are now vocally championing the need to cull out a post-poll alliance.
On Wednesday, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who has eminently bridged several third-front parties during the scramble for mahagathbandhan earlier this year, met Congress president Rahul Gandhi to come up with a rather unusual plan.
According to reports, Naidu and Gandhi have decided to call a meeting in Delhi on May 21, of 21 parties that have banded together at the national level and constitute an anti-BJP bloc. They will then approach the President to impress upon him not to call the single largest party to form the government, in case of a split verdict.
In a parallel move, Telangana CM and TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao also met his counterparts in Kerala and Karnataka, Pinarayi Vijayan (CPM) and HD Kumaraswamy (JDS). This comes as a surprise because it was widely speculated that once the elections are over, KCR would join the NDA.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath had hinted that there will have to be a post-poll alliance to form a new government in Delhi, should the national parties fail to clobber a majority.
Here’s what a post-poll federal front can do
If all goes according to plan, the parties will sign a letter in the coming weeks saying they are ready to support an alternative government after the results are declared, and BJP falls short of numbers. The aim is to forge a firm coalition that will stake claim to form the government, in case of a fractured verdict.
This will be a preemptive effort to ensure that the single largest party is not given an opportunity to break regional alliances first. The question of whether the single largest party or a post-poll coalition should be invited to form the government has recurred frequently in the last couple of years.
The assembly elections in Manipur, Goa, and notably, Karnataka, has set the note of precedence of coalitions over the party with a single majority. In the southern state, the incumbent Congress, in a deft post-poll manoeuvre, tying up with HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal (Secular).
But this is still an unprecedented step for national elections. The last time a president had asked for letters of support was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP won 178 seats and the alliance managed to scrounge together 252. However, this still fell short of the magic number of 272. The government collapsed within two years, losing the vote of confidence by a single vote.
In 2014, BJP became the first party to claw up a parliamentary majority all by itself, winning 282 seats all by itself. With NDA’s combined strength, it achieved the support of 336 in a 542-seat Lok Sabha.
But with the mahagathbandhan doing reasonably well in Uttar Pradesh, a state which sends the highest number of parliamentarians, BJP’s losses could be significant. This was further reinforced by Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh, who shared a stage and sent a clear message of vote transfer among their voters.
If the Congress-led UPA fares fairly well in Gujarat and a couple of other BJP strongholds, the balance will tilt considerably in its favour, when it comes to the final count.
Naidu and Gandhi are believed to have discussed similar possibilities of finding common ground among the regional parties that have agreed to take on the BJP.
This is the most crucial aspect of the plan, because most of these parties entered the contest alone, after months of a grand alliance-hype, primarily due to regional rivalries, clashing interests, and ideological differences. They are now fighting the election from different platforms, putting up candidates who are competing against one another as well as the BJP. Many are reportedly not even in direct communication.
One sticky point will definitely be the conflict of interests when it comes to choosing the prime ministerial candidate. This is why Naidu has refrained from naming one, after the Wednesday meeting. But the alliance cannot postpone this discussion for very long. According to The Wire, there is a high chance that Rahul Gandhi will propose a southern Congress leader as a possible candidate to head a coalition.
With Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, and Mamata Banerjee in the fray, along with Naidu himself, the Congress is adamant about pushing Rahul Gandhi as the obvious choice. However, it remains to be seen how the bloc will convince President Ram Nath Kovind that it can constitute a stable coalition.
According to Times of India, Naidu left for Kolkata after meeting Gandhi, to carry the conversation forward with West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who recently said of the gathbandhan, “Our immediate objective is to stop Modi from forming a government. All regional parties are agreed on this.”
New developments on this front are sure to follow in the coming days, as India looks to wrap up its last round of elections up by May 19. The counting of votes will take place on May 23.
So what happens if the NDA fails to garner a majority?
In such an event, the BJP and its existing allies, who form the NDA, will also try to woo the southern states to form post-poll alliances.
YRS Congress’ Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, or Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal, could be new potential allies for the BJP, along with those who have already agreed to back the NDA, including the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi may even try to win over the DMK, which is presently a part of the UPA. This, coupled with seats belonging to the Mizo National Front (MNF), can push NDA’s seat tally up to 301, reports News Minute.
One cannot rule out unlikely foes as well; Modi himself said he will be open to collaborating with the staunchest of enemies if the post-result situation warrants it, in an interview ahead of the polls.
Meanwhile, the Congress is expected to get 86 seats and its allies will add around 55 seats, according to a State of the Nation opinion poll by CVoter.
If the UPA opts for a post-poll alliance with parties like All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Left Democratic Front (LDF), MGB (Mahagathbandhan in UP), and Trinamool Congress (TMC), its tally will go up to 226. It has to garner support from a number of other parties to make the 272-mark.
Are post-poll alliances undemocratic?
In 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed a PIL opposing post-poll coalition, which argued that such tie-ups were a breach of voters’ trust and ran against the promise made during election campaigns.
The top court expressed its inability to “step in” and act against two political parties which chose to forge a post-poll alliance to gain power. But that does cast an enormous shadow on the integrity of election campaigns, especially in light of all the mud-slinging, and in cases of definitively opposite ideologies. Like in the case of BJP and PDP in Kashmir.
It may be disconcerting for supporters of two rival parties, to see leaders who have heartily blamed each other in their campaign speeches, bond and share seats after the results. But post-poll alliances also offer the electorate a chance to be governed by the statistical majority instead of one party who does not have the mandate. As in the case of Congress and JDS in Karnataka.
There are various safeguards in place, as well, to test the health of a hastily-assembled coalition with a floor vote or a vote of confidence if needed.
From the point of view of regional parties, many of them refrain from aligning with national parties before the results to increase their bargaining power. “A deal struck before the election allows parties limited leg room to negotiate post-the results. No deal lets parties increase their political price,” writes DailyO.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.