With barely a few days left for the fourth phase of elections to be held, there do not seem to be any clear winners in the 15th Lok Sabha polls. This is the most issueless election ever and both the Congress and the BJP have not been able to set any agenda. Both seem to be contesting , as others are doing, in a political vaccum. This explains why regional parties have already started flexing their muscles and are certainly going to play a major part in the formation of the next government.
The BJP, which, at one time, found it difficult to cross the three-figure mark, has done reasonably well in the first three phases and is certainly past the century mark. Many analysts also believe that at the end of the third stage it could even lead the pack. But it is the fourth phase, which is crucial for the Congress. If it is able to win or retain seats already in its kitty, it should have no problem in emerging as the single largest party.
The number one slot has become important since whoever gets the maximum seats will have more options open to it than the others. For instance, the party that comes out on top will certainly be in a position to be the first to be invited to form the government. The party shall always have the option of either sitting in the opposition knowing well that the stability of the next government may always be in doubt. The largest party similarly may also determine which regional leader or party should lead the government if it decides to support the government from outside.
The likely scenario emerging after three phases also has given ample indication that it will be increasingly difficult for either Dr Manmohan Singh or Mr L.K.Advani to lead the next government. Though nothing can be said with finality in politics, things seem to be moving in this direction.
The BJP is apparently the first party to acknowledge the difficulties in Advani becoming the next Prime Minister. The suggestion by Arun Shourie, Arun Jaitley and Yashwant Sinha that Narendra Modi could be a possible PM nominee in the post- Advani set-up is not without significance. The suggestion shows the anxiety of these leaders over the fate of the BJP and Advani in the post-poll scenario. It also indicates that the uncertainty over the BJP assuming the leading role has given way to a power struggle within the saffron brigade.
Sushma Swaraj, another leading BJP leader was the first to criticise her own colleagues for bringing up Modi’s name while the contest was still on. She cited Hindu scriptures and traditions and said that sons do not participate in Rasam Pagri when the father is still around. She, in effect, lashed out at the supporters of Modi for the top position. Even Venkaiah Naidu, whose own disillusionment with the way things are happening within the BJP, has increasingly distanced himself from any suggestions regarding Modi being made the top BJP boss. Rajnath Singh whose seat is being hotly contested also chose not to give any credence to the Modi brigade.
What is happening in the BJP is also the result of the reshuffle within the RSS where Mohan Bhagwat, a stickler for ideology, has taken over. He is allergic to Advani and some of those who are today trying to prop up Modi. His opinion about Modi may be favorable but he certainly wants to bring about a change within the BJP with some others in mind. He has been able to contain the ABVP lobby within the RSS and is now set to assert himself in the post-poll scenario. It is on his instructions that the RSS cadres are working hard for the BJP nominees even in constituencies like East Delhi where the Congress appears to be in a strong position till date.
The Congress is banking on the fourth and fifth phase to give it the number one slot. But it is also equally worried about the final result. Poor poll management has jeopardised the party’s chances in many constituencies. But, despite that, it hopes to cross or equal its 2004 score of 145 seats. The party has not changed its position regarding the prime ministerial candidate as yet. But post-poll compulsions may compel it to adopt a different strategy.
The Congress managers know that if the Congress and the BJP add up to over 272, the halfway mark, then no government can be formed at the Centre without the participation or support of either of the two parties regardless of the understanding amongst regional players.
The game is wide open as of now and in this lacklustre and issueless election, the outcome may be full of surprises for the big two if they are unable to assess the ground realities and act accordingly. The 15th Lok Sabha will be short-lived unless there is a convergence of interests among some regional parties.