One of India’s most powerful ruling politicians said on Wednesday any new Congress government may have to rely on support from the communists or other regional parties to win a parliamentary majority after a general election.
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is head of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that is a part of the Congress Party-led ruling coalition and holds huge sway over the politics of the western Maharashtra state.
The former defence minister has also been mentioned as a possible compromise prime minister if there is no clear winner after the April/May election.
Congress relied on the parliamentary support of the communists for four years before they withdrew to protest a civilian nuclear deal with the United States. The government then switched last year to the regional Samajwadi Party to rule.
“We should not forget one thing, that without the support of the left it wasn’t possible for us to provide stability in government for four years,” Pawar, 68, told Reuters.
“When they withdrew, immediately Samajwadi Party has come forward to support ... So we have to accept one thing -- the situation might come that we have to depend on these political forces.”
Pawar’s comments highlight an investors nightmare -- a repeat of the 2004 election aftermath when left allies blocked Congress from making many economic reforms, such as privatisation.
The main vote battle is between an alliance led by Congress, the United Progressive Alliance, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
A “Third Front” of communist and regional parties is challenging them.
Pawar, who formed the NCP after being expelled from Congress, is again in alliance with the party, but his statements also underscore how many Congress allies may jockey for key political posts if Congress performs badly and is supplanted by a diverse coalition of smaller parties after an election.
A Reuters poll this week of 14 leading analysts predicted a 31 percent chance of a Congress government with communist support.
Pawar, a former defence minister, has been called the “Maratha strongman” for his influence in the economically-important state. His party governs Maharashtra -- which has 48 lawmakers -- in alliance with Congress.
Potential prime minister?
“If he has prime ministerial ambitions, this may be the time,” said political analyst Amulya Ganguli, referring to the chance of a weak performance by Congress or the BJP.
Pawar said a Congress alliance could do better than 2004.
He said millions of farmers had done well with rises in prices of farm products like wheat offsetting an economic slowdown.
But he hinted that there could be hard fought coalition negotiations after the poll, and it would be more likely the Third Front could turn to Congress.
“In such situations, I don’t think these Third Front friends will be able to support the NDA or BJP.”
Publicly, Congress has said it will do well enough to avoid another tie up with communists. But leading communists have now said they could talk to Congress, and Pawar was candid.
“I think today they (the Congress) are saying no, but reality will be when both of us have to accept each other.”
Pawar himself was coy when asked if he may be prime minister.
“As I said I’m a private person, I will be able to react on this set of questions after the polling.”