Maya quiet, keeps guessing game alive
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati spent a quiet day in Lucknow on Thursday, giving no hint of her intentions once poll results are declared.
She may still be part of the Third Front, but her enthusiasm for it has waned ever since it refused to project her as its prime ministerial candidate during the campaign. No matter how many seats she wins they will all be up for grabs for whichever front — the UPA, NDA or Third Front — offers her the best deal.
Though her Bahujan Samaj Party is contesting more than 400 seats across the country, her relevance lies in the fact that her core area Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats, all of which she is contesting. Exit polls claim Mayawati, 53, stands to win between 25-35 seats, which will substantially boost the tally of whichever front she chooses to back.
She has contested polls in UP in alliance with the Congress in the past, as well as formed governments in alliance with the BJP. Which way she will turn remains a completely open question.
The last Lok Sabha was a rare one in which UP played no role at all in determining who would rule India. The UPA with Left support managed a majority without the help of either of UP’s main players — Mayawati’s BSP or Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP. But this aberration is unlikely to be repeated.
Karat may not practise what he preached
The Prakash Karat-led CPM on Thursday said categorically that the Communist parties would not let the BJP form the government at the Centre. The CPM was joined by the CPI in making this statement to the media, 48 hours before the elections results are out on Saturday.
In addition to this, the Left parties also said that sitting in the Opposition benches would be their last resort, indicating that the parties would rally the Third Front to play a more proactive role in government formation this time around.
The statements would have boosted the Congress’s hopes of forming the government once again though the Left insists that it will try to form the next government.
The shift in the CPM’s strong anti-Congress stand before the elections seem to have been tempered by the possibility of a fractured mandate emerging on Saturday.
As West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said recently, Karat’s statements about not supporting a Congress-led government were a “pre-poll” position, which the party would take a call once the numbers are out. HTC, New Delhi ***
Hands tied, Mulayam prays for numbers
Mulayam Singh Yadav, 69, was already in Delhi on Thursday, holding prolonged consultations with key aides, as exit polls showed both his Bihar partners in the Fourth Front — Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP — performing poorly.
But the same exit polls showed that Mulayam’s SP was unlikely to face any similar collapse. It may not repeat 2004, when it bagged 35 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats, but it will win enough to remain a key player.
Its options, however, are limited by three factors: first, given its vote base, it cannot back the NDA; second, given the antagonisms of state politics, it cannot back any coalition that includes Mayawati; third, with Mayawati in power, it needs to back the winning side at the Centre, to get reciprocal patronage and thereby stand up to her.
The Fourth Front has committed its half-hearted support to the UPA, but the SP’s relevance will depend directly upon the number of seats it captures. Given Mulayam’s stormy relations with the Congress, only a good chunk of seats can restrain the UPA from succumbing to the temptation of dumping him and turning to Mayawati.
Naveen fate in Orissa to decide Central role
Orissa chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, 62, first needs to re-anoint himself king in Bhubaneswar, before he can step out to play kingmaker at the Centre.
Following the break with the BJP in March, Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is contesting elections on its own for the first time. With assembly polls also being held in Orissa, Patnaik has first to win a majority in the 147-member House, to have options at the Centre. If the BJD falls short, and either the BJP or the Congress steps in with support, Patnaik will have no choice but to reciprocate at the Centre. All Patnaik’s pre-poll rhetoric as a leader of the Third Front that the BJD will support neither a Congress-led government nor a BJP-led one, will be rendered meaningless. His options and relevance will be severely curtailed.
But if he gets a majority in the state polls, the 10-12 Lok Sabha seats — out of 21 — that the exit polls predict he will win, can take him far. Both Congress and BJP will woo him, while the Third Front will struggle to keep him in its fold.
The man everyone wants to tango with
It was a routine Thursday for CM Nitish Kumar, 58, but he is expected to leave for Delhi soon after results are announced.
Despite efforts by both UPA alliance and Third Front to wean him away, and his own somewhat ambiguous statements to the media, it became abundantly clear after his attendance at the NDA’s Ludhiana rally Sunday last, that Nitish remained committed to the NDA for the time being.
With his JD(U) and the BJP running a coalition government in the state, Nitish stands to lose his chief ministership if he parts company with the latter. Exit polls have confirmed what campaign trends in the state had earlier suggested — the NDA combine stood to win most of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. If it happens, Nitish is bound to play a key role in the post-poll politics of Delhi.
If the NDA comes within striking distance of forming the government, the JD(U) will not only have contributed substantially to its tally, Nitish himself, with his secular image, will play a key role in wooing likely allies. Nitish has claimed he is in touch with some regional party leaders. “Nitish’s image of being secular and development oriented, despite being in the NDA, is bound to benefit the alliance as it searches for allies,” said Shivanand Tiwari, JD(U) spokesman.
Everyone’s choice, but who will he choose
If the alliances are here to stay, the national parties cannot ignore Sharad Pawar, the man who became chief minister way back in 1978 by cobbling together a coalition in Maharashtra.
Pawar, 68, a four-time chief minister, is known for bringing together strange bedfellows.
And this is the reason why Pawar will throw in his hat if it comes to choosing a candidate who would be acceptable to both the Congress-led UPA and the Left-led Third Front.
Two strong partners in the Third Front, the BJD and the AIADMK, have indicated that they could accept Pawar as the prime ministerial candidate. Significantly for the Left, Pawar has been a “friend’’ right from his days in the Progressive Democratic Front experiment in Maharashtra in 1978.
For the SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav too Pawar could be the best bet. His party is already in alliance with the NCP in Maharashtra. And above all, corporates would prefer someone like Pawar rather than a Left-nominated PM. Under Pawar, Maharashtra was seen as an industry-friendly state with the Tatas and Bajajs setting up several factories. HTC, Mumbai
All roads open for Jaya, the fence-sitter
AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa, 61, spent Thursday inside her Poes Garden residence, refusing to meet any visitors.
Though nominally a part of the Third Front, she has no ‘secular’ baggage that could restrain her from joining the NDA coalition after the polls, if it suited her interests.
She could well support the UPA too — provided it dumps its existing ally and her primary antagonist M. Karunanidhi’s DMK, which is presently its coalition partner.
Indeed, if the UPA does forms the next government, joining it would be doubly advantageous: her party would be part of the ruling coalition at the Centre, while the DMK government in Tamil Nadu too would no longer survive. If the Congress withdraws its support to the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the government will fall.
Her relevance will depend critically upon the number of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu she manages to win. Her campaign saw huge, supportive crowds at her meetings. But exit polls have differed on how well her alliance — which includes the PMK and MDMK — has performed.
Telangana route to Rao’s destination
K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) spent the day networking with major political players in New Delhi on Thursday.
Several surveys said he is expected to get five Lok Sabha seats. That will mean repeating the 2004 results when the Telengana sentiment was very high. If that happens he will have proved that he is not a flash in the pan but a leader to reckon with. It will massively improve his bargaining power and he could side with the highest bidder. He could use the numbers to get some berths in the Central cabinet besides getting statehood for Telangana, which now has 17 of the state’s 42 seats.
But can he be relied upon? Probably not, as the Congress and now TDP have realised. But it does not matter to him. “ I will do anything for Telangana,” he said.
Though he had pitched in with the Third Front earlier, Rao was seen in the company of BJP leaders at an NDA rally before the last phase of the elections on Wednesday. Yet, there’s no saying what Rao will finally do. HTC, Hyderabad
Naidu crucial to Third Front plans
A lot of attention will be paid to how the N. Chandrababu Naidu’s party, Telegu Desam, fares in Andhra Pradesh.
The state with a total of 42 Lok Sabha seats has played a crucial role in installing successive governments at the Centre for nearly two decades.
In 1991, after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress won 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state and got back to power with PV Narasimha Rao as prime minister.
After the 1996 elections, in which the TDP did well, Naidu helped instal the United Front government under H.D. Deve Gowda — with Congress support from the outside.
The TDP went to the polls with the Left parties in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections but Naidu dumped the United Front and joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
Naidu is believed to be keeping his non-Congress options open and will be in the picture if either the Third Front or the NDA are in a position to form the government.
Pre-poll alliance limits Mamata’s options
Mamata Banerjee, 54, spent most of Thursday at her Kalighat residence in south Kolkata, holding one meeting after another with close associates.
Having entered into a pre-poll tie up with the Congress, her options, while the new government is formed, may be limited. She has to support the Congress-led front.
But her relevance lies not just in the number of seats she adds to the UPA tally or the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance in this election. (Exit polls put Trinamool’s tally alone at 10-15 of West Bengal’s 42.)
If the UPA does fall short of numbers — as it is expected to — Mamata can become a major hurdle in forming yet another alliance with the Left. She has said so — and she means it — that she will break her alliance with the Congress if it makes any such move.
If that happens, the UPA loses not only the seats Trinamool will contribute, but also any fighting chance it had of dislodging the Left Front from Writers Building in Kolkata, from where it has been ruling the state for the past 32 years, when Assembly polls are held in 2011.