With nearly half of the country’s 714 million voters having made their choice at the end of the second phase polling on Thursday, the two major contenders – the Congress and the BJP — are counting each other’s losses.
Congress faces the possibility of a reduced tally of Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh and Assam – where it had 32 and 10 seats respectively in 2004. And the BJP is looking at reverses in Orissa, though it hopes to hold on to Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
After the first two rounds of voting for 265 of the 543 seats, a hung parliament is looking imminent. And this has had a sobering impact on parties — poison talk has quickly given way to peace talk.
Key allies of the ruling UPA — Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan — are warming up to the Left parties suddenly. “I honestly feel this time we require the blessings and support of the Left parties,” said Pawar. The Bihar duo of Lalu and Paswan went a step further. “We have been friends with the Left for a long time,” Lalu said.
But the Left has been very clear so far: it wants to have nothing to do with the Congress. So, what is the story here — UPA allies going to the Left or forcing the alliance to get closer to the Left?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had himself made an overture to the Left last week, sounded cautious though. “I would not like to comment,” he said when asked by reporters about relations with the Left. Singh was in Dispur, Assam, to cast his vote.
Winning over the Left could be necessary for a non-BJP formation to cross the halfway mark in Lok Sabha.
Of the 140 seats in 12 states for which voting took place on Thursday, the Congress and its allies with 66 seats had an edge over the BJP in 2004, which had managed 50.
The realignments across the states have changed the situation completely this time. The Congress is on its own in Andhra, having lost the Left and the TRS to its traditional rival, the TDP this time.
In Bihar and Jharkhand, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan decided to dump the Congress and team up in a desperate bid for backwards consolidation. The division in votes has shown that the move by Lalu and Paswan may prove counter-productive.
For the BJP, which was hoping to turn the tables on its friend turned foe, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal in Orrisa, the going appears to be tough. The party is bracing up for losses.
The BJP poll managers appear confident about retaining its tally in Madhya Pradesh and a possible improvement in Karnataka.
The problem for both the parties is that none of them appear to be making a dramatic improvement in their existing tallies to put them on course to capture power in Delhi.
The Third Front propped up by the Left parties, appears to be fledgling at the moment, but more and more parties seem inclined to do business with this front. The statements by Pawar, Lalu and Paswan are a clear indication of what is weighing on their minds.
The second round of voting was by and large peaceful, but heat wave conditions dented voters’ enthusiasm.
The day temperature hovered between 42 and 46 degrees across poll-bound areas. “Heat wave appears to have kept many voters indoors,” said a senior Election Commission official.