At first instance, it sounded like a smart one-liner but the meaning ran deeper. “This isn’t a five phase but a six phase election, sir, for the real voting will happen after polls,” broadcaster Sambhu Nath Chaudhary off-handedly remarked.
The inevitability of a fractured mandate is already making analysts conjure up post-poll matrimonies bereft of any ideological or moral basis. Protagonists might change but not the script played out in 1999 when the DMK dumped its historical distrust of the Brahminical BJP and the TDP its secular sensitivities.
These parties have since returned to the secular condominium comprising the Congress-led UPA, the Left-inspired Third Front and the Hindi-heartland ginger grouping of Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan.
Interpretations of split verdicts have standardised over the past two decades: the country cannot afford another election; people want parties to work together; prospects of regional prosperity through a share in power at the Centre.
In effective terms, it’s nothing but gross self-aggrandizement in the garb of popular will. Tamil Nadu is widely touted as a game-changer. But can anyone rule out a post-election deal where the Congress junks M. Karunanidhi to back Jayalalithaa in the hung State Assembly in return for support at the Centre?
“Anything can happen,” conceded a Delhi-based journalist with good access to Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK-led front has 104 seats in the 234 member assembly and the Congress’s 35, currently with the DMK, could tilt the scales.
That any such power shift will find resonance at the Centre is a no-brainer. Jayalalithaa’s political convoy in Tamil Nadu includes, besides the Left and MDMK, Anbumani Ramadoss’s PMK that kept its options in New Delhi by praising Sonia Gandhi while leaving the UPA out of local compulsions.
But Trinamool’s Mamata Banerjee will set up shop elsewhere in the unlikely event of the Left being persuaded by the Congress. “That’s what really makes the sixth phase crucial,” said a former Union Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government. He felt the Congress would have problems bargaining if its individual tally does not compare well with that of the Third Front.
Opportunistic last minute migrations or sworn rivals scooting in opposite direction — like the SP and the BSP — will prolong the suspense before the emergence of sustainable poles: UPA, NDA and the non-Congress, non-BJP front. A surfeit of prime ministerial aspirants, unlike in 1996 when the United Front had problems finding a PM, could be another hurdle in early government formation if the Congress and the BJP lack the numbers to foist their candidates.
The sixth phase could in that event take longer than the month-long election process.