As the deadline for filing nominations for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections 2019 draws closer, the BJP and Congress are scrambling to carve seat-share arrangements with key allies in several states.
After suffering reverses in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress has finally forged alliances in key states, including Bihar and Kashmir. Notably enough, things have taken a promising turn for the prospective Congress-AAP alliance to take on the BJP in Delhi.
Members of the Delhi Congress who were divided about joining hands with the Arvind Kejriwal government in the national capital, have come around and left the final decision to party chief Rahul Gandhi.
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.
AAP hasn’t taken kindly to this confusion.
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.
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, of 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 assembly elections will be held simultaneously with the election to two parliamentary constituencies.
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 elected BJP government soon. He said the NEDA will continue to exist despite many of its members contesting the polls independently.
Eighteen 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.
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’s 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 may also feature on the second list of candidates.
CPI-led Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front have taken turns to govern the state, although NDA made considerable inroads in the state in the 2016 election.
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 the AICC late Friday.
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 and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni-led Vikashsheel Insan Party 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.
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 heavyweights 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 more Tamil regional parties—the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), and the Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK).
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 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 formula 3+3+1 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.
After Rahul 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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