As the deadline for filing nominations for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections 2019 draws closer, BJP, Congress, and other parties, are scrambling to carve seat-share arrangements with key allies across several states.
After suffering setbacks in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress has finally forged alliances in key states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, and Kashmir.
Notably enough, things have taken a promising turn for the prospective Congress-AAP alliance to take on the BJP in Delhi. While some members of the Delhi office of the Congress, stand divided about joining hands with the Arvind Kejriwal government in the national capital, other senior leaders have come around and left the final decision to party chief Rahul Gandhi. Meanwhile, the alliance talks between both parties seem to have extended to Haryana as well.
In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party got together for the March 2018 by-elections, and have continued the arrangement for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as well.
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.
In an unprecedented move, BSP supremo 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. 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.
According to Congress chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, the BJP has lost 14 allies since 2014, which means the race for more allies is head-to-head now, especially in the Northeast.
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 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.
Key alliances have been forged, while crucial ones have failed or broken amid uncertainties and rabid side-switching; North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA), comprising the NPP, MNF, and the IPFT (Tripura), has fielded its candidates alone in Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram, and Tripura.
While some allies are defecting from NEDA, others are sticking to their winning horse, making it a difficult contest for Congress, which lost a lot of ground here last time.
Nonetheless, crucial allies in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh may help turn things around. With the elections less than a fortnight away, here’s where the pre-poll alliances stand now.
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 is Congress. The state will hold simultaneous polling to the Lok Sabha as well as the Assembly. This is slated to happen on 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 earlier this month, 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.
18 BJP leaders joined the party on Tuesday, according to Northeast Now; many are believed to have left after the BJP denied them a ticket. “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 on Wednesday 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, last Wednesday, 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 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 on Thursday, who arrived to file 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,” informed state 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) late Friday.
Andman & Nicobar Islands
Meanwhile, Makkal Needhi Maiam 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 on Sunday officially 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 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 Mayawait and a meeting with BSP in-charge Megh Raj in Rohtak. Names of nominees from Sirsa, Gurgaon, and Kurukshetra are still to be announced.
National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah on Friday 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.
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).
Congress’s general secretary for UP(E), Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is set to launch her campaign trail from Allahabad; meanwhile, the party continues to send mixed signals when it comes to pre-poll alliance with the Mahagathbandhan—Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
The Congress has chosen to fight the polls in UP on its own strength after the SP-BSP offered it only two seats. The party announced the names of 16 candidates for the state, including heavyweight and former BJP MP Savitri Bai Phule.
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.”
He, 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.
The ruling alliance of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) seems strong on the surface. A few months back, however, a senior Congress leader had slighted the ally’s role in governance, 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 on Sunday 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.
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.
Contrary to its earlier strategy to contest the elections from Delhi alone, the Congress indicated that it is rethinking the possibility of an alliance with AAP, where the 3+3+1 formula would be adopted.
According to it, two parties will keep an equal number of seats and give the seventh seat to a strong independent candidate, like Yashwant Sinha. Although this will entail the dropping of certain enthusiastic candidates, which can lead to trouble, the Congress wing, led by AICC general secretary P C Chacko. is in favour of a tie-up.
Rahul Gandhi met all top leaders of the Delhi Congress and discussed the issue with them once again, after having earlier decided to go it alone in Delhi. According to ABP News, an alignment may be on the cards, with the Congress offering four out of seven seats to AAP, but there is no confirmation yet.
After Gandhi’s meeting with senior-most leaders of the Delhi Congress, NDTV reported that four former Delhi Congress presidents—Ajay Maken, Subhash Chopra, Tajdar Babar, and Arvinder Singh Lovely—have also favoured an alliance with the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
However, this plan has met stiff resistance from three working presidents, Devender Yadav, Rajesh Lilothia, and Haroon Yusuf and former chief minister Sheila Dixit.
Meanwhile, AAP hasn’t taken kindly to this confusion and is upset over Congress’s dilly-dallying and internal feud, and has already announced its candidates for all seven Lok Sabha seats. In the absence of a final word, the party has also indicated that it might already be too late for the two anti-BJP parties to get together. Demand for full statehood has also surfaced.
While Pawar acts as the mediator for Congress in the national capital, he has reportedly roped in Raj Thackeray to lead an anti-BJP campaign in the state. NCP can benefit from Raj’s relentless attack on the BJP, Pawar said last month.
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, farmer’s 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.
The power and unity among regional parties has the ability to deal the Centre its comeuppance, but it must stand the test of time and temptation first.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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