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Political camps jittery, clarity eludes tie-ups ahead of assembly polls

The scramble for allies- even by a party whose victory is said to be a foregone conclusion- betrayed jitters in all camps in the run-up to the assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.

assembly elections Updated: Mar 08, 2016 11:54 IST
Deepak Kumar Singh
Deepak Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times
Assembly polls,West Bengal,Assam
Even if the Left and the Congress join hands in West Bengal, a survey has predicted 156 seats for the ruling Trinamool Congress in the 294-member assembly.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

There were many smiles in the Lok Sabha last Wednesday when Trinamool Congress leaders went out of their way to help the Congress.

Sudip Bandyopadhyay pleaded with the Speaker to allow a Congress leader to speak. Saugata Roy took out the rule book to oppose a debate on the Aircel-Maxis scam that allegedly involves former UPA ministers.

Until Thursday evening when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came to the central hall of Parliament to have a 20-minute tete-a-tete with Communist Party of India(Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Delhi’s rumour mill was on an overdrive.

A tacit understanding between the Congress and the CPI(M) in the West Bengal polls was no secret but the sudden push from the Trinamool to mollycoddle the Congress left political observers perplexed.

This scramble for allies- even by a party whose victory is said to be a foregone conclusion- betrayed jitters in all camps in the run-up to the assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry. As the campaign gathers steam, some states are witnessing a political churn on the ground in terms of shifting preferences and loyalties on the part of voters, making the stakeholders nervous.

After an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (NPF), BJP leaders believed they were well on course to create history by forming the government in Assam.

A pre-poll survey, conducted by IndiaTV-C Voter last week, however, predicted a hung assembly. Although Badruddin Ajmal of the All India United Democratic Front is expected to eat into the Congress’ minority votebank- constituting over one-third of the electorate- the ruling party sees the Muslims consolidating behind it.

“They (Muslims) know that we the only party that can keep the BJP out of power. We have also told them how sections of the BJP and the AIUDF are in cahoots,” Gaurav Gogoi, Congress MP and son of chief minister Tarun Gogoi, told HT.

If there is erosion in the AIUDF’s Muslim support base and the Congress manages to retain its sway over some sections of tribals, the BJP may find the going tougher than it expected.

In West Bengal, the survey predicted 156 seats for the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) in the 294-member assembly.

As per the party’s own assessment, an understanding between the Congress and the Left could restrict the AITC’s tally to around 180 seats. It would still be a convincing victory for Mamata Banerjee, but it’s far short of her earlier assessment of over 210 seats.

And, that explained the sudden push by the Trinamool to try to wean the Congress away from the Left. Besides, as per the assessment in the Mamata camp, Congress voters are less hostile to the Trinamool than the Left. The overt display of camaraderie between the Congress and the AITC in Parliament was also meant to send a subtle message to these voters.

In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is predicted to dislodge the Congress-led UDF government. Interestingly, this is one state where the Congress wants the BJP to do well. If the BJP eats into the Left’s largely Hindu votebank, the Congress may hope to romp home in a state where Muslims and Christians constitute 45% of the population.

For instance, the BJP’s alliance with the newly-floated BJDS (Bharat Dharma Jan Sena), founded by Ezhava leader Vellapally Natesan, is likely to affect the Left more than the Congress. “Since backward Ezhavas form the backbone of the CPI(M), the alliance is likely to cut into its vote share in some pockets of southern Kerala,” says political commentator Sunnykutty Abraham.

In Tamil Nadu, chief minister J Jayalalithaa is precariously perched. She is said to have an edge over the rival DMK-Congress alliance, but the equations may change if filmstar-turned-politician Captain Vijayakant responds to the DMK’s overtures. On its own, his party DMDK may not win more than a handful of seats, but with his 5% vote (in 2014 Lok Sabha election)- 8 per cent in 2011 assembly poll- he can add zing to the side he gravitates to.

“She still has the edge, though she would not be able to sweep like last time,” said political commentator, Prof Ramu Manivannan of Madras University. If DMDK joins the DMK-Congress alliance, the fight would become keener, he said.

(With inputs from KV Lakshmana in Chennai and Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram)

First Published: Mar 07, 2016 08:23 IST