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India’s next government

Three days from now, the last votes will be cast and general elections 2009 will be all over bar the counting. The Congress, BJP, and ‘Third Front’ will probably try hard to come to power. A look at which of them is most likely to form India's next government. Rajesh Mahapatra elaborates. See Graphics

india Updated: May 10, 2009 02:42 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra

Rahul Gandhi praises Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for giving governance a new face in his impoverished state. He praises Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu for his developmental initiatives. Prime Minister hopeful LK Advani refrains from criticising Mayawati even as she puts BJP candidate Varun Gandhi behind bars.

In general, there’s a lot of politicians being nice to each other. The sudden attack of generosity is due to reasons other than altruism. These elections are unlikely to give a majority to any single party or even an existing pre-poll alliance.

Pollsters and pundits don’t see much change in the electoral prospects of Congress and BJP, which have taken turns to run successful coalition governments in the past decade. But both have lost some of their allies and a momentum for a Third Front government has gained currency. Some political observers would suggest that there is still hope for both the Congress and BJP to expand their respective alliances after the elections and stake a claim to form the next government.

A closer look at the state of play, however, suggests that roping in new allies to touch the magic figure of 272 is not going be easy for either Congress or BJP. “The Congress can’t form a government without the Left’s support,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of history at Delhi University. “The BJP, too, would need support of two big regional parties not with them now.”

If Congress stays in the reckoning with a tally of 150 or more, the Left may come around but it would want to negotiate the prime minister’s name. Congress has ruled out any change in its candidate — Manmohan Singh. BJP, too, has to reach the 150 mark and win back former allies like TDP and Biju Janata Dal. But both are now firmly in an alliance with the Left that’s pushing for a non-Congress and non-BJP government. Then there are some groups that would never share the same platform.

BSP’s Mayawati will never come on board if rival Mulayam Singh Yadav is already there. Tamil Nadu’s J Jayalalithaa can never see eye-to-eye with M.Karunanidhi. The same holds true for Bengal’s fiery leader Mamata Banerjee and the Left Front, and for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. Such examples of incompatibility have a bearing on the way numbers add up for a winning coalition. That is why the prospects of a Third Front government have brightened, but it's not a done deal yet. Even if all non-Congress and non-BJP parties come together in the most illustrative case of a political miracle, their numbers would unlikely add up to 272. So they would need support from either the Congress or the BJP. No wonder everyone’s trying to win friends, and goodwill that will deliver where numbers fail.