With the clutter of opinion and exit polls not coming in the way during Elections 2009, there is only one thing we are depending on to figure out who will form the new government of the 15th Lok Sabha: political behaviour. As May 16 rapidly approaches, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the two traditional national parties, the Congress and the BJP, are pulling out all the stops to keep old friends if not make new ones. The overtures made by Congress leaders right up to the Prime Minister to ‘old allies’ illustrate the up-in-the-air situation that exists and will continue to exist till a firm democratic pudding is finally taken out of the oven.
If the BJP has been able to lovingly interlock its fingers with those belonging to many of its NDA allies and has even left the door open for those who left the tent for the sake of ‘winnability’, the Congress, too, has felt the wind on its finger and is reaching out to ‘like-minded’ parties who may have earlier felt slighted by the Big Hand. But in a coalition khichdi that has one ingredient reacting violently to another, getting everyone into one of the two pots is impossible. Thus, the cooing sounds from the Congress and the BJP leading up to the impending mating season. But such amicable behaviour has also made us worry a bit about the Congress or the BJP — regardless of which party spearheads the next alliance at the Centre — bartering away certain unbarterables. One expects the Third Front experiment to stay in its petri dish. And with the Congress and the BJP clearly naming the UPA and the NDA prime ministerial candidates, we at least need not worry about who will be at the helm of the ship if either comes to power. But four key portfolios — Home, Finance, External Affairs and Defence — have been equally responsible for charting India’s new and steady course.
Today, policy continuity is paramount. Despite the accentual differences in Congress and BJP policies, the two parties have actually worked along parallel tracks in these four key areas, something that other parties have either shown no inkling of or have displayed downright counterproductive, retrogressive tendencies. It would be debilitating to toss about these four portfolios in the give-and-take of numberpolitik. If a hagglefest is upon us — and there will be allies hankering for their pounds of flesh — let these key responsibilities remain in the protective domain of a party that can think and act nationally.