Modi-Jaya-Naveen bonhomie: Are we reading into it too much?

The Modi-Jayalalithaa-Naveen Patnaik bonhomie has opened the possibility of new equations in the Indian polity. Political analysts see it as a win-win combo that might set the tone for political developments before the general elections of 2014 and its aftermath. But are we reading into it too much at this point?

From a neutral perspective, the supposed game-changing potential of this mini alliance rests on too many premature presumptions. The way it plays out in the coming year is too difficult to predict. Here’s a look at the presumptions.

• A third front is inevitable since neither the UPA nor the NDA will muster majority on its own.
• That there would a realignment of constituents of the UPA and NDA.
• That there will be axes within the existing formations trying to have prime ministerial candidates of their own.
• That the chief ministers in question will bag all the seats, at least a whopping majority, in their states.
• That Jayalalithaa wants to be prime minister.
• That Narendra Modi would pressurise his party make him the PM candidate on the strength of the support from NDA and non-NDA players such as Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik, Parkash Singh Badal and a few unknown friends.
• That Nitish Kumar will have his own network of allies to prop his case.

Let’s elaborate the points for more clarity.

Prime ministerial ambitions? Image courtesy PIB

Admitted, neither the Congress nor the BJP are in a great shape at the moment. But the general elections are still close to two years away. That’s a long time in politics. Both have ample scope to set their houses in order before 2014. The Congress does not have teething problems on the party front but it will need to keep its allies together. The BJP will definitely make serious efforts to settle intra-party issues and seek to expand the NDA to include new parties sooner than latter. It’s a desperate situation for both. There will be enough space for a third front but it won’t be a strong force given its inherent instability.

Contrary to the presumption, there is little chance of constituents of either of the alliances breaking away or shifting allegiance to the other formation. This happens in a situation when the other alliance is strong and is in a position to win the elections. None of the formations is in that position. If at all they decide to shift, it would be after the elections. The Trinamool Congress would keep the UPA on tenterhooks but would be risking alienating Muslim voters in West Bengal if it joined the BJP-led NDA.

The assumption that there would be smaller coalitions within the bigger coalitions follows from the anticipation that the Congress and the BJP won’t be in a leadership position of the respective alliances after the polls and the alliance of smaller parties would have a big say in portfolio allocation and even in the choice of the prime minister candidate. It is possible. If the national parties fail to secure at least 150 seats on their own their bargaining power would go down. The problem is particularly serious for the BJP on this front. But, again Congress and the BJP are national parties. They have better leaders in terms of experience in running the government. Even if they diminish in strength, they will have a big say in coalition matters, particularly in the selection of the PM.

Let’s move to the next one. The combined force of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik is expected to influence NDA matters a lot, specifically the issue of prime ministership. In the best case scenario the AIADMK and the BJD would have 60 seats between them. But there’s no guarantee. If Narendra Modi secures all 26 seats in Gujarat—the BJP has 15 from the state in the current Lok Sabha—it still may not be a strong counterweight to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who is likely to rope in socialist parties in his favour.

For all the leadership confusion and ego issues, the BJP still might go for Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. The party’s options are limited. He delivers a state to them and a few non-NDA allies too. He is their best bet.

And does Jayalalithaa seriously want to be prime minister? We have no clue yet. The full page advertisement eulogising her achievements today may hint at that but she has shown no real inclination to move out of Tamil Nadu. If she does that then she would need to build a network of alliances of her own. Moreover, she has to be acceptable to a large number of smaller parties across the country. She has not started the process.

The situation is too fluid at the moment to draw definite conclusions on the course of events. The series of assembly elections starting at the end of this year would help settle the equations.

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