Regional leaders whose support may become critical for government formation have begun raising demands and setting the agenda for negotiations, ahead of the counting of votes on Saturday to elect the 15th Lok Sabha.
The BJP, Congress and Left — principal constituents of the three coalitions: the NDA, UPA and Third Front — are trying to hold on to their existing allies and win over new ones as no alliance is expected to get a simple majority of 272 seats.
Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar (59) on Friday added a dramatic twist to the suspense surrounding the clandestine talks between parties.
Kumar said his party’s support would go to a government that grants a special category status to the state — meaning, more central funds and tax sops for investments.
Kumar — whom the Congress has been desperately wooing — appeared at a rally of the NDA last week to pledge his support. On Friday, he opened the question all over again.
“At a time when every party and pre-poll alliance is claiming that it will form the government, I ask parties in Bihar to make it a pre-condition for support that whichever party or alliance comes to power, will have to provide the special category status to Bihar,” he said in Patna.
Friendly with Kumar for at least three years now, the Congress was quick to respond. “Let Nitish say specifically what he wants. We’ll consider it,” said party general secretary Digvijay Singh (62).
Nitish could switch to the Congress, provided he gains confidence to face an assembly election immediately in the state. At present, his government survives on the BJP’s support.
Sixty-one-year old AIADMK supreme J Jayalalithaa, remained silent though the day after her statement on Thursday that “all options are open.” If her numbers become crucial for a Congress government at the centre, Jaya would want Congress support in the Tamil Nadu assembly in return.
She hopes to replace the current DMK government.
The BJD in Orissa will take a position in Delhi depending on the arithmetic in the state assembly, results of which will be announced simultaneously with the Lok Sabha.
The Samajwadi Party has put up demands for plum portfolios in a ministry that could be formed with its support. The party also has publicly demanded the dismissal of the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP, too, is in touch with both the Congress and the BJP.
The TRS has declared that it is willing to support any government that would facilitate the formation of a separate Telengana state by dividing Andhra Pradesh.
Party leader K Chandrashekhar Rao, 54, who fought the elections as Third Front constituent, on Friday declared the front was history. “What is third front? Who is its leader?” he asked.
As regional chieftains raised the stakes, the Congress and the BJP continued brainstorming behind closed doors. The focus has shifted from the war rooms to the residences of Sonia Gandhi (62), and LK Advani (81).
The fledgling Third front showed no signs of improvement, with the Left parties desperately trying to hold on to the allies, which appeared to be oscillating between the Congress and the BJP-led alliances.