PMs-in-waiting queer the pitch - GulfToday

PMs-in-waiting queer the pitch

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

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Narendra Modi.

BRP Bhaskar, Political Commentator

The grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which was being promoted by some opposition leaders, has not materialised.

The biggest stumbling block to a national-level alliance was the conflicting interests of opposition leaders with prime ministerial ambitions. Some of them believe a hung Lok Sabha with low Congress representation will better their chances.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati are among those who have an eye on the Prime Minister’s chair. Both are women who have risen to the top without any dynastic advantage.

Mamata Banerjee had broken away from the Congress in 1998, unhappy with its unwillingness to take West Bengal’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front head on. She then formed the All-India Trinamool Congress, which, despite the name, is essentially a regional party. In 2011, it put an end to 34 years of Left Front rule.

Mayawati, a Dalit, was groomed by Kanshi Ram as leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party which he had founded in 1984. Overcoming the disabilities of caste and gender, she became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state. She held the post five times.

Adept in social engineering, Mayawati furthered her career by devising schemes from time to time to attract Brahmins and Muslims. Recently she tied up with Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, which draws support mainly from the other backward classes.

Until the last Lok Sabha election, Mayawati stayed out of electoral alliances. While most of the candidates she fielded outside UP forfeited their deposits, the tactics enabled the BSP to emerge as the third largest party after the BJP and the Congress, in terms of popular votes.

In 2014, as a Modi wave swept the Hindi states, she could not win a single seat even from UP. This prompted her to revise her tactics but she is now on a course that may indirectly help Modi. The BSP-SP alliance’s failure to keep the Congress on its side and Rahul Gandhi’s decision to bring in his sister Priyanka Vadra to boost the party’s campaign in UP have opened the way for multilateral contests.

Mayawati is keen to restrict the Congress strength in the new Lok Sabha. She reckons it will rule out the possibility of a government led by Rahul Gandhi and improve her prospects in the prime ministerial race.

Soon after the BSP-SP alliance was finalised, Akhilesh Yadav indicated his preference for a Prime Minister from UP.  Many took this to mean he would back Mayawati for the post. But he has asked his father and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh, a prime ministerial aspirant, to contest the election.

Some time ago Rahul Gandhi had said he was ready to accept Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Minister. However, many senior Congress leaders are against his conceding leadership of a coalition government to anyone else.

Three southern leaders, Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra  Kazhagam leader MK Stalin, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao recently made interventions calculated to influence the course of national politics.

Stalin, son and political heir of former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is waiting for his turn to occupy the big chair in Chennai. He has endorsed Rahul Gandhi’s prime ministerial candidature.

Chandrababu Naidu and Chandrasekhar promoted the idea of opposition unity, the former more vigorously than the latter. It is not clear if they entertain prime ministerial ambitions or want to play the role of kingmaker.

The absence of a national-level alliance does not mean the BJP will have a walkover. Several small national parties and regional parties are strong enough to block its advance in their strongholds. Modi’s best hope now lies in the one-upmanship of the rival opposition leaders with overweening ambitions which is queering the pitch ahead of the poll.

In the event of a hung Lok Sabha, as the incumbent Prime Minister, Modi will be in a better position than either Rahul Gandhi or any of the other opposition leaders to cobble together a working majority.

If the Lok Sabha fails to throw up a government fresh elections will become necessary. Elections cost a lot of money, and no party, least of all the small ones, will want to go through them once again so soon.

Most of the small parties ranged against Modi were the BJP’s allies in the government led by AB Vajpayee during 1999-2004.  Ideological differences may not, therefore, prove difficult to surmount.