The 2014 general election is the most thrilling in the country's electoral history, possibly next only to the post-Emergency Lok Sabha elections in 1977. This is because while the electoral fortunes of the Congress and the UPA are down, the fortunes of the BJP and NDA are on the ascendance. There is also an increasing trend of political realignment among the political class in favour of the BJP/NDA. Nevertheless, the NDA may not get the required number of seats on its own, thanks to the rise of AAP, which could do well in the national polls, and also because regional parties are keeping their options regarding a federal coalition open. The attempts of the Left to bring them under a non-Congress and non-BJP Third Front have so far been a non-starter. So has West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's proposal for a so-called federal front.
This is hardly surprising. First, most regional satraps nurse prime ministerial ambitions. Second, there is no national party like the Janata Dal of yore to act as the pivot for such a front. Third, the Left has lost much of its electoral and political leverage. For these reasons, a bipolar coalition with a certain degree of stability provided by the NDA and the UPA for the last 15 years cannot be taken for granted after the general election.
The most likely prospect is, of course, a BJP-led NDA government and the least likely probability is a Congress-led UPA government. Yet the Congress had earlier made it known that it would be willing to support a coalition government from outside preferably to be formed either by the AIADMK or the Trinamool Congress. So what happened in the Delhi assembly elections last year — when the Congress helped form a minority government by AAP — may well repeat itself at the national level. But it would be as vulnerable to instability as the National Front/United Front governments at the Centre in the past and the AAP government in Delhi.
India needs a stable government for economic recovery and governance. But then, this prospect would dim if the BJP fails to maintain its momentum without reaching a critical threshold and the Congress slumps to a hopelessly low level.
The Indian electoral scene is complex and the party system is fluid and fragmented. The Indian political system must seek to curb the fragmentation of the party system by introducing appropriate party and electoral reforms through comprehensive legislation.
It will require a host of measures including inner-party democracy, compliance with the norms of our parliamentary federal constitution and transparency in party funding as recommended by the National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution chaired by Justice MN Venkatachaliah in 2002.
Rekha Saxena teaches at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.
The views expressed by the author are personal