With the first phase of Lok Sabha polls beginning today, here’s a state-wise breakdown of national and regional parties that have managed to cobble together an alliance, and those that are going it alone.
According to Congress chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, the BJP has lost 14 allies since 2014, which means the political race is more strategic than ever now, particularly in the Northeast.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already broached the possibility of post-poll alliances with even single-MP parties and the BJP’s staunchest foes, in a bid to secure a second term. “No matter how strongly a party opposes us, we will take them with us because our mission is to take the nation forward,” he said in a recent interview. This assumes renewed importance in the light of recent opinion polls failing to accord BJP+ a full majority.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Saturday also said that a new alliance consisting of different Opposition parties would take shape after the Lok Sabha elections to keep the BJP away from power.
Similarly, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) have hinted that a post-poll tie-up with Congress in Uttar Pradesh—a state with the largest number of seats in the fray—may be on the table.
Meanwhile, the BSP and SP which got together for the March 2018 by-elections have continued the arrangement for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as well.
Having suffered setbacks in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress has forged pre-alliances in key states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, and Kashmir.
Maharashtra, which has the mantle of the second largest state, with 48 seats, is headed towards a big battle between the two big alliances, BJP and Shiv Sena on one side and Congress and National Congress Party (NCP) on the other.
Bihar will see the continuation of the partnership between BJP and Nitish Kumar’s Janada Dal (United), with the BJP lifting the regional party higher than anticipated.
In other large states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the focus is once again on the regional parties that dominate the local political scene. While Trinamool will go it alone in the eastern state, Tamil powers Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) will have Congress and the BJP partnering with them, respectively.
In an unprecedented move, Mayawati has pitched her support for the Janasena leader Pawan Kalyan, urging Andhra voters to elect him as the next Chief Minister; she was in the state to campaign for BSP-CPI-CPI(M)-Janasena candidates last week.
With North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) comprising the NPP, MNF, and the IPFT (Tripura) fielding its candidates alone in Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram, and Tripura, uncertainties and rabid side-switching in the north-east are clear as day.
Key alliances have been forged, while crucial ones have failed or broken amid the NRC controversy, PRC-driven riots, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill debacle. While some allies are defecting from NDA, others are sticking to their winning horse, making it a difficult contest for Congress, which lost a lot of ground here last time.
A few days after dismissing claims of Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Takam Sanjoy about forging a pre-poll alliance with the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), the Congress announced it would contest all seats and fight on the plank of the Citizenship Bill.
The BJP is contesting all 60 assembly seats as well. The state will hold simultaneous polling to the Lok Sabha as well as the Assembly. This is slated to happen today, April 11.
Although the Congress won 42 seats in the April 2014 election, the party lost power after dissident MLAs joined the PPA, which later merged with the BJP.
PPA chairman Karmen Ringu said, “We will not forge any alliance with any national political parties, but will contest the polls alone keeping our regional identity intact.” He added that the people of Arunachal are “fed up of the lip service of both Congress and BJP”.
The ruling dispensation suffered a setback after eight MLAs switched to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP). But BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav seemed confident, claiming in an interview that Arunachal Pradesh will have its first BJP government soon. He said the NEDA will continue to exist despite many of its members contesting the polls independently.
“NPP won’t form an alliance with anyone,” ANI quoted Sangma as saying at a press conference. “BJP’s ideology is not right. It is not a secular party.” This comes against the backdrop of the recent violent protests in the state over the longstanding demand of PRC certification for six tribal communities.
The NPP will reportedly field candidates for 30-40 seats in the 60-member assembly; following the departures, BJP is left with 40 members. “We will form our own government if we win in the seats,” Sangma told NDTV.
Meanwhile, the Congress has alleged that a “cash for votes” scam was busted in Arunachal Pradesh with the recovery of Rs 1.8 crore in cash from Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s convoy, hours ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s rally in the state. Refuting the claim, Khandu, however, said there was reason to believe that cash may have been recovered from the car of a BJP MLA.
A day before Communist Party of India (CPI) MP and senior Opposition leader D Raja called pre-election alliance at a national level “unrealistic”, the BJP had finalised its seat-sharing deal with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and Kerala Congress in Kerala for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP will field candidates in 14 seats in Kerala, while the BDJS will contest five seats, and the PC Thomas-led Kerala Congress will fight for one. According to sources, former Mizoram governor Kummanam Rajasekharan is likely to be BJP’s candidate from Thiruvananthapuram against Congress’ Shashi Tharoor.
BDJS chief Thushar Vellappally is likely the candidate from Thrissur. BJP has fielded Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons from Ernakulam; Congress defaulter Tom Vadakkan is likely to feature in the second list of candidates.
CPI-led Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) have taken turns to govern the state, although NDA made considerable inroads in the state in the 2016 assembly elections.
The Indian Union Muslim League, a traditional ally of the UDF, welcomed Congress President Rahul Gandhi as he filed his nominations for Wayanad. This move has put both BJP and CPM on backfoot, with critics claiming that Gandhi’s presence would be detrimental for the ruling Left government as it would divide minority votes.
While an alliance between Congress and the Left was ruled out as unfeasible, there was a glimmer of hope about the Congress arriving at a seat-share arrangement with it in Bengal. That too was extinguished as Congress announced it would contest all 42 seats in West Bengal, after talks with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) failed.
The Congress reportedly suspended negotiations after CPI(M) moved to unilaterally name its candidates for 25 seats last week.
“A section of our leaders felt insulted after the Left Front unilaterally declared its candidates while discussion on seat sharing was on,” informedstate Congress chief Somen Mitra.“Initially, we wanted to contest from Raigunj and Murshidabad. But we did not stick to our demand, following Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury’s intervention,’’ an anonymous source in the Congress said.
“But Left Front has fielded candidates from Basirhat and Purulia as well, even though we’d said we would like to field our nominees. This is unacceptable.” Congress tabled its list of candidates before its Presidium, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) last month.
Andman & Nicobar Islands
Meanwhile, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) chief Kamal Hassan declared he will campaign for Trinamool candidate Ayaan Mondal in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, announcing that the two parties have formed an alliance in the Union Territory. The sitting MP of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bishnu Pada Ray.
“Tamil Nadu and Bengal will be working together,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, according to The Hindu. “We are grateful for this initiative taken by him and his party.”
In Bihar, the Congress and its alliance partners have finalised the seat sharing for 40 seats to take on the ruling BJP-JD(U) coalition. While it’s 19+9 for RJD and Congress, RLSP’s got four, while Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni-led Vikashsheel Insan Party have three seats each; Left parties have got two seats and Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal one.
The BJP and the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) Party entered a pre-poll alliance for the upcoming elections, while keeping that option open for the assembly polls that would take place later this year.
BJP has chosen to forego its claim on Giridih to honour the agreement, and contest from the other 13 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand. AJSU Party chief and former Jharkhand deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto and BJP state general secretary Deepak Prakash were among the leaders present at the official announcement.
The regional party has always been an NDA ally, but this is the first time since 2005, that it entered a formal agreement.
On the ruling alliance’s prospects in the general elections, Mahto expressed confidence that the 3.3 crore people of the state, have faith in Modi’s leadership and would bless the coalition partners in the ensuing polls, while acknowledging challenges like reservation for backward classes, displaced persons, local residential and employment policy, and the other issues would continue.
In Haryana, the BSP has announced its first list of six candidates on Tuesday, in alliance with Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP), an outfit floated by rebel BJP MP Raj Kumar Saini, who will contest from Sonipat. The names were announced after clearance from Mayawati and a meeting with BSP in-charge Megh Raj in Rohtak. Names of nominees from Sirsa, Gurgaon, and Kurukshetra are still to be announced.
Speculation of a tie-up between the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the BJP resulted in INLD leader Abhay Singh Chautala meeting Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in Delhi on April 8, but didn’t yield any conclusive result. Chautala was recently removed as the leader of opposition in the Haryana Assembly but the INLD’s decline began when its Hisar MP Dushyant Chautala engineered a split in the party and formed the Jananayak Janata Party (JJP).
Jammu and Kashmir
National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah said he had joined hands with the Congress to save the nation from those who are trying to divide it along sectarian lines.
“We have given this sacrifice (to enter into an alliance with the Congress) for one aim—to keep India a secular country and strong. There is no other goal in it,” Abdullah said while speaking at a joint election rally of the NC and the Congress in Jammu.
“We assure you (Congress) our full support,” he said; to this, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad added, “It (alliance) was done in the national interest, to strengthen secular forces in Jammu and Kashmir as the state faces threat from Pakistan.”
To honour the agreement, the NC has not fielded any candidate from Jammu and Udhampur parliamentary constituencies, while the Congress has decided not to field its candidate from Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, from where Abdullah is contesting. There will be a ‘friendly contest’ on Anantnag, Baramulla, and Ladakh seats, according to news reports.
But senior NC leader and former J&K Minister Akbar Lone, who is contesting from Baramulla, said in an interview on Wednesday that the party is against any alliance with the Congress in the Assembly elections.
With the dissolution of BJP’s coalition with Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP last year over key differences, including the repeal of Article 35A, the future of BJP’s clout in the disputed state will depend heavily on where the winds of Pulwama blow.
No conversation on poll alliance can begin without talking about the amorphous vote share arrangement in Uttar Pradesh, a state that sends the highest number of parliamentarians (80).
Failing to enter the regional alliance of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), AICC general secretary (west Uttar Pradesh) Jyotiraditya Scindia said this week that the option to be a part of the SP-BSP alliance is open for the Congress after the Lok Sabha polls. SP and BSP have announced that a decision on a post-poll tie-up with the national party will be taken after May 23.
For now, the Congress will fight the polls in UP on its own strength as the SP-BSP offered it only two seats. Refusing to saddle with the Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati-led coalition, senior leader and former Karnataka CM M Veerappa Moily said,“For a national party like the Congress, we cannot take like that (the offer of only two seats). That is why we are putting up candidates.”
The party announced the names of 16 candidates for the state last month, including heavyweight and former BJP MP Savitri Bai Phule.
Moily, however, added that the Congress doesn’t want the Mahagathbandhan to lose and is keen on entering into an understanding with it in segments where it isn’t strong, even without a pre-ordained vote-share agreement. This underscores the singular unified goal of all opposition parties: to defeat the BJP.
Dividing the caste arithmetic in BJP’s favour, the Nishad Party joined the NDA earlier this month, after defecting from the SP-BSP alliance. It was reportedly displeased with the SP’s non-committal attitude over seat arrangement and the exclusion of NP from campaign material. Founder and president of NP, Sanjay Nishad, and his son Pravin who won the Gorapkhpur MP’s seat in a by-poll on an SP ticket in 2018, joined the BJP, calling it a “natural alliance of Ram Raj and Nishadraj”.
BJP already enjoys support of the Kurmi-based Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar in central and east UP. While Kurmis are a dominant agrarian OBC caste, Rajbhars and Nishads are categorised among the most backward castes.
SP has promptly replaced Pravin with another Nishad candidate in the critical Gorakhpur constituency.
In yet another divisive move which could upset the BSP-SP-RLD alliance , Dalit group Bhim Army, which has a considerable following in western Uttar Pradesh, has appealed to members of the community to vote for Congress’s Saharanpur Lok Sabha candidate Imran Masood. A day after BSP-SP tagged BA’s Chandrashekhar Azad as a “BJP agent”, the fledgling political party was brought into Congress’s fold under the secrataryship of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be facing a bunch of unlikely candidates from his Varanasi constituency, including 11 farmers from Tamil Nadu and sacked BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav who had complained about the food served to troops.
The ruling alliance of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) seems strong on the surface but critics suspect a leaky roof. Only a few months back, a senior Congress leader had slighted the ally’s role in governance of the state, casting serious doubt on the future of the combine.
But Rahul Gandhi, in a generous move, awarded JD(S) chief and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy eight of 28 seats for the upcoming polls, a decision for which he faced flak from his own party. Analysts argue that this may prove to be a counter-productive strategy as most of these eight seats are from constituencies where JD(S) has traditionally been weak.
In a bid to drive a tough competition to the AIADMK-BJP-PMK alliance in Tamil Nadu, CPI(M) announced it will join hands with the DMK, which had already concluded electoral pacts with three other Tamil regional parties—the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), and the Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK).
Congress has been the latest entrant in this gathbandhan, promising it would do away with the NEET entrance exam and replace it with a state-level entrance examination, to foster the alliance. The DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu has long since been demanding this, as NEET is believed to discriminate against rural students who don’t have sufficient education facilities.
In Assam, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of Badruddin Ajmal has said it will contest seven of the state’s 14 seats, while the Congress announced its partnership with the AIUDF, which reportedly has considerable pockets of support in Assam, particularly among Muslim voters.
This is believed to yield better results than the 2016 state elections, when it chose not to tie up with the AIUDF, fearing cannibalisation of its voter base. But the division of votes against the BJP proved costly.
BJP’s Ram Madhav has said that the people of Assam will reject this “unholy nexus” between the Congress and AIUDF; he added that the BJP will contest 18 out of 35 seats in the state, leaving the rest to its allies. Opinion polls have indicated that AIUDF may be the tie-breaker in what will be a head-to-head battle.
Speaking of which, NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad, which had quit the alliance over the Citizenship Bill controversy last month, is reportedly back in the fold; however, the BJP has given it just three seats.
“A lot of AGP workers are aggrieved that the party has forged the pre-poll alliance with the BJP,” Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told The New Indian Express.
Sharad Pawar’s intervention has paved the way for the Congress to cobble together an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in the national capital. But it didn’t amount to much.
Rahul Gandhi met all top leaders of the Delhi Congress but the plan met stiff resistance from three working presidents of AICC, Devender Yadav, Rajesh Lilothia, and Haroon Yusuf and former chief minister Sheila Dixit.
Meanwhile, AAP didn’t take kindly to this confusion and has been vocally upset over Congress’s dilly-dallying and internal feuds. It announced its candidates for all seven Lok Sabha seats early on. Demand for full statehood has also surfaced.
While Pawar acts as the mediator for Congress in the national capital, he roped in Raj Thackeray to lead an anti-BJP campaign in the state.
Raj has declared he won’t field any candidates from his party, opting out of the upcoming polls, but he is expected to play a key role in campaigning against the BJP. According to reports, he has urged his party workers to campaign against Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
In a candid admission, NCP state leaders at a meeting in Mumbai on Tuesday said, “Ideally, we were keen on having MNS as an ally in the Mahagathbandhan, but Congress opposed.”
The current covert understanding with MNS will enable Raj to posit himself as a star campaigner in key constituencies where it faces its biggest challenge from the ruling coalition between Shiv Sena and BJP, who first allied in 1989 and have supported each other since then, whether in government or in opposition.
Now with NCP joining hands with the Congress, there is hope that the alliance will restore its upper hand that won two successive elections in 2004 and 2009 that had been reserved by the Modi wave of 2014, allowing the BJP to win 41 out of the 48 seats.
However, the coalition’s road is beset with many challenges. For the Congress, the biggest embarrassment came with Sujay Vikhe Patil, the son of the leader of opposition in the Assembly, joining the BJP in March. Besides, Pawar’s decision not to contest this year, saying he did not want three people from his family to contest, will also take a toll on the coalition’s prospects.
But the NCP-Congress alliance will try to cash in on the growing fissures between the Sena and the saffron party since 2014, over seat and cabinet sharing arrangements. The current vote agreement has not been up to Shiv Sena’s expectations with the ruling government failing to make inroads in the western sugar-belt.
Polarisation, anti-immigration, violence against minorities, farmers’ rights, widespread drought, and Maratha quota are believed to swing the elections this time. The BJP-Sena had about 48% to the Congress-NCP’s 34 in Maharashtra, and it is this huge difference of 14 percentage points that the newly-forged coalition will try to bridge.
The battle in Maharashtra has turned even more dramatic with the entry of Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, a political outfit dedicated to the rights of Dalits and Muslims in Vidarbha, where they constitute a big electoral segment. Former RPI leader Prakash Ambedkar, furthermore, enjoys an elevated stature as BR Ambedkar’s grandson. His alliance with Owaisi’ AIMIM will field candidates in almost all Lok Sabha seats.
Critics have argued that the BJP-Sena government—battling anger and agitation from minorities — stands to gain from this new entrant. That is because minority support remains crucial for NCP and Congress, and Ambedkar-Owaisi’s political venture could split the Dalit-Muslim votes to BJP’s advantage.
In a bid to win over the Jat community, the BJP in Rajasthan has formed an alliance with Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), striking a huge blow to the Congress, whose talks to enlist the emerging Jat leader’s support ended inconclusively.
After meeting the saffron party’s Rajasthan election in-charge Prakash Javadekar, Beniwal said, “I will be fighting the election from Nagaur with support from the BJP. And I will also campaign across the country for the saffron party.” The regional party has been awarded one seat while the BJP will contest the remaining 24 seats, according to Deccan Herald.
It is worth noting that even when Congress swept the state in the state assembly polls last year, Beniwal’s popularity as a farmer leader among Jats earned the RLP three seats.
Why it matters
The much-awaited Lok Sabha elections are approaching and yet the Opposition is no closer to chalking out a ‘mahagathbandhan’ formidable enough to take on the NDA government.
It is interesting that dethroning the BJP from the Centre remains at the fore of the Opposition’s agenda, regardless of whether regional parties are confident of culling in enough votes for themselves or are compelled to go it alone due to Congress’s lofty demands.
The development of such alliances in the coming month, notwithstanding the flurry of parties that will try forging post-poll alliances, will be telling on the vote’s outcome. But it is heartening to see unlikely alliances being forged between regional parties across the length and breadth of the nation.
While the Bengal government receives support from a fledgling party in the south, Mayawati who is vying for the Prime Minister’s post and a champion of Dalit rights is campaigning in Andhra Pradesh where elections are still rooted in caste-based politics.For the first time, the BSP is contesting in 21 Assembly constituencies and three Lok Sabha seats (Tirupati, Chittoor, and Bapatla) in Andhra Pradesh, in alliance with Janasena.
The power and unity among regional parties has the ability to deal the current dispensation its comeuppance, but it must stand the test of time and temptation even after vote-counting.
The Lok Sabha election begins tomorrow, April 11, and will run in seven phases till May 19; the counting of the votes will start on May 23. The ‘silent period’ – a moratorium on campaigning ahead of voting day – kicked in Tuesday night.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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