Winning friends and allies: Congress has an edge

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By Amulya Ganguli
In terms of numbers, the show was impressive enough. As many as 14 parties participated in the convention of non-Congress and non-BJP parties organised by the Left in Delhi on Wednesday.

Arguably, their prime target was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since the objective of the meeting was to mobilise the people against communalism. Since this is a taint of which the BJP is often accused, it can be claimed that the organisers felt that the BJP was a bigger enemy than the Congress.

The presence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, currently one of the staunchest critics of the BJP, at the meeting confirmed its political orientation. There were a few other straws in the wind. One was that the AIADMK sent an emissary. Since the conventional wisdom is that its leader, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, is closer to the BJP than to the Congress, the presence of the visitor from Chennai is a sign that the mercurial lady is keeping her options open.

However, another mercurial leader, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was conspicuous by her absence, evidently because of the mutual antipathy between the Left and her. A similar antipathy between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) kept another formidable lady, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, away from the show.

Such aversions indicate how difficult it will be for the participants to coalesce into a viable alternative to the Congress and the BJP. It is not surprising, therefore, that they firmly discounted any such possibility while insisting that their present focus is only on fighting communalism.

All that can be said for the moment, therefore, is that the Left has played the Third Front card again – the last time that the comrades had done so was before the 2009 general election – but without any fanfare, since neither the communists nor those present at the meeting can expect to initiate a political movement which will give sleepless nights to the two major national parties.

The Left will, however, be pleased that after a longish interval following its defeats in West Bengal and Kerala in 2011, it is edging back into the limelight. While its initiative may seem to be a case of whistling in the dark, it is also true that, inchoate as the formation is, the parties which attended the meeting – along with others which didn’t, such as the BSP and the Trinamool Congress – can expect to win 20-30 Lok Sabha seats more than their 2009 tally of 220.

It goes without saying that if there was no ill-feeling among the constituents, this group would have been in a position to form a government. But this isn’t possible in a situation where not only are some of the parties at loggerheads in the states which are their strongholds but also that their leaders have highly inflated egos, which will prevent them from working in concert with others.

A scenario where Jayalalitha will agree to play second fiddle to Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati, or vice versa, is unthinkable. There is speculation, therefore, that the participation of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), an ally of the Congress, at the meeting indicates that union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is testing the waters since, as a senior leader, he may be acceptable to the prima donnas. His expressed disinclination to work under Rahul Gandhi is another marker on the road to power.

However, there is another difficulty. While the communists will want the group to follow their anti-American and anti-market line, neither Pawar nor the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Naveen Patnaik is likely to follow it.

What is likely to ensue, therefore, is a tug-of-war between the Congress and the BJP to win over as many of these parties as they can. As is obvious, the party with the largest number of Lok Sabha seats – which will in all probability be the BJP – will be at an advantage, for it will be closer to the finishing line and will expect to cross it with the help of a few friends.

But the BJP’s concern will be whether the Narendra Modi factor will be an inhibiting element. It is worth noting that for all the hype which the Gujarat chief minister is generating, only the Telugu Desam has indicated its willingness to join him. Others have been hedging their bets, like the AIADMK, Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP also cannot but take note of the fact that a large number of parties – 14 plus BSP, Trinamool and others – is against it, some of them quite virulently, like the four Leftist parties, the Janata Dal (United), the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Lok Janashakti Party of Ramvilas Paswan, and others.

The political battlefield, therefore, will be quite messy both before and after next year’s general election. But the Congress, with its secular pretensions, may gain more from the cluttered scene than the BJP.

(02-11-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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