As the deadline for filing nominations for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections 2019 draws closer, the BJP and the Congress are scrambling to carve seat-share arrangements with key allies in several states.
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 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday finalised its seat-sharing deal with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and Kerala Congress in Kerala for the Lok Sabha election.
While an alliance between Congress and the left had been ruled out as unfeasible, there was a glimmer of hope about the Congress arriving at a seat-share arrangement with them 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.
In a bid to drive a tough competition to the AIADMK-BJP-PMK alliance in Tamil Nadu, CPI(M) announced it would join hands with the DMK which had already concluded electoral pacts with three more Tamil regional parties—the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), and the Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK).
Although Raj Thackeray’s MNS has opted out of the polls, he is expected to play a key role in campaigning against the BJP. Meanwhile, things do not look very promising for the Congress-AAP alliance that can take on the BJP in Delhi. After suffering reverses in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress is finally able to forge alliances in key states, including Bihar and Kashmir.
Key alliances have also been forged in the north-east, while others failed amid uncertainties and rabid side-switching. With the elections less than a fortnight away, here’s where the pre-poll alliances stand now.
The People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) dismissed claims made by Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Takam Sanjoy last week, of forging a pre-poll alliance with the party. 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,” adding that the people of Arunachal are fed up of the lip services of both Congress and BJP.
Meanwhile, 8 BJP MLAs of the ruling dispensation switched to the National People’s Party (NPP) led by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma. A total of 18 BJP leaders joined the party on Tuesday, according to Northeast Now; many of them are believed to have left after the BJP denied them a running ticket.
“National People’s Party will not form 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 protests 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.
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 although we said that we would like to field our nominees. This is unacceptable.”
The list of Congress candidates was tabled before the AICC late Friday.
The BJP would 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 the BJP’s candidate from Thiruvananthapuram against Congress party’s Shashi Tharoor.
BDJS chief Thushar Vellappally is likely to be the candidate from Thrissur. BJP has fielded Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons as the candidate from Ernakulam; Congress defaulter Tom Vadakkan may also feature on the second list of candidates.
The state has been ruled alternatively by CPI-led Left Democratic Front or Congress-led United Democratic Front, although BJP-led National Democratic Alliance made considerable inroads in the state in the 2016 election.
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 the RJD will fight in 19 seats, the Congress will field candidates 9.
RLSP got 4 and three seats each have been given to Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Mukesh Sahni led Vikashsheel Insan Party (VIP), two seats have been given to the Left parties and one to Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD).
The BJP and the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union Party (AJSU) 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 who were 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.
National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah on Friday claimed to have 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 also keep India 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 ensure you (Congress)our full support,” he said, to which senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad added saying, “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 latter 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 the 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, made up of 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 heavyweights like former BJP MP Savitri Bai Phule.
Refusing to saddle with the Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati-led respected 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 of BSP, SP, and RLD 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 their ally’s role in governance, casting serious doubt on the future of the combine and the level of satisfaction with the current cabinet-share arrangement.
But Rahul Gandhi, in a generous move, awarded JD(S) chief and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy as many as eight of 28 seats for the upcoming polls, a decision for which he faced flak from his own party. Analysts further 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 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 is exploring a partnership with the AIUDF, targeting its voter base in the northeastern state. AIUDF reportedly has considerable pockets of support in Assam, particularly among Muslim voters.
NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad, which had quit the alliance over the Citizenship Bill controversy last month, is reportedly back in the fold, but it has been given just three seats by the BJP, limiting their power to only three Parliamentary constituencies. “A lot of AGP workers are aggrieved that the party has forged the pre-poll alliance with the BJP,” said Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told The New Indian Express.
Other regional parties in the northeast, which run states in coalition with the BJP, are sticking to their winning horse for now, making it a difficult contest for Congress, which lost a lot of ground here last time.
While the Congress debates on the presumably positive alliance, it is important that it learns from its mistake in 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.
While the Congress is still divided on aligning with the AAP, reports suggest that NCP leader Sharad Pawar has stepped in to try and bring the two parties together.
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 formula 3+3+1 would be adopted.
According to it, two parties would keep an equal number of seats and give the seventh seat to a strong independent candidate, like Yashwant Sinha. This would entail the dropping of certain enthusiastic candidates, which could lead to trouble. The AAP has further indicated that it might already be too late for the two anti-BJP parties to get together.
This plan has met stiff resistance from within; former chief minister Sheila Dixit openly voiced her opposition to the alliance saying that she was not consulted. Meanwhile, AAP is upset over Congress’s dilly-dallying and internal feud, and has already announced its candidates for all 7 Lok Sabha seats.
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 Thackeray’s relentless attack on the BJP, Pawar said.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief has declared he will not field any candidates from his party for the upcoming elections but he has urged his party workers to campaign against PM 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 our move.”
The current covert understanding with MNS will enable Thackeray 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.
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 BJP-led NDA government.
It is interesting that dethroning the BJP from the Centre remains at the fore of the entire 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 would try forging post-poll alliances, will be telling on the vote’s outcome.
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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