As the race towards the 15th Lok Sabha gets off the starting blocks, our political field has begun to resemble a gigantic swayamvar. Suitors are racing around, garland in hand, trying to net suitable matches. In the melee, the contours of the political formations that will finally go into the April polls are still nebulous. But one thing is clear: ideology and greater principle are not going to keep potential allies away from each other. It all boils down, quite simply, to who can give what to whom to firm up the numbers. The Congress has set the agenda by shunning a national alliance, preferring instead to stitch up allies at the regional level. This has not gone down well with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar. The Maratha leader has issued a veiled threat that unless the Congress looks at national alliances now, he may have to look elsewhere. And where would that be? Yes, that ‘elsewhere’ is the on-again, off-again Third Front that may just materialise if the big two, the UPA and NDA, don’t get their act together.
The Third Front had semi-materialised around BSP leader Mayawati’s messianic brand only to fall by the wayside after the BSP found itself in dissonance with the CPI(M). But with big battalions on her side, Mayawati could well end up as either the kingmaker in a post-poll scenario or the pivot of a Third Front. The crucial tie-up for the UPA remains the one with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. But this poses two problems. One, that the Congress wants far more seats than Mr Yadav can reasonably hand over without alienating his rank and file. The other is the new-found love between former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh and Mr Yadav, something the avowedly secular Congress is downright allergic about.
At the moment, the two main formations seem to have more than their fair share of troubles in sewing up viable alliances. The Congress’s go-it-alone policy is putting off potential suitors like the NCP. The BJP’s projection of octogenarian leader LK ‘I Can Lift Weights’ Advani is not making many ripples. But it is fairly clear that smaller political formations will enjoy disproportionate clout as the polls draw nearer. It may not be quite the sort of representational politics that we would like. But we are definitely in for a roller-coaster ride. And the devil’s in the numbers.