What if no one wins the 2014 poll?
As we run headlong into election year, the big question has always been whether a Congress-led UPA will manage to hang on to power despite strong anti-incumbency, or a BJP-led NDA will manage to squeak through, despite the absence of a pro-BJP wave.
Some people have also speculated on the possibility of a Third Front government (which surely drives the hopes of Mulayam Singh Yadav) with outside support from either a weakened Congress or BJP.
The results of the latest opinion poll by C-Voter, based on a nation-wide random sample survey of 38,332 respondents during January-March 2013, throws up an intriguing possibility: for the first time ever the Congress and BJP together may not cross the halfway 272 mark. In short, if the survey results are any guide, power has shifted away from national parties to regionals.
Though it is obviously too early to tell what issue will dominate the polls closer to election day, the C-Voter poll shows that between them Congress and BJP will muster only 254 seats – with the BJP ahead at 141 and the Congress crashing all the way to 113.
The poll still shows NDA ahead with 184 seats, and the UPA lagging at 128 seats, but given the recent spat between the BJP and Janata Dal (United) over the possibility of Narendra Modi being named the PM candidate, the lead cannot be taken for granted: some 19 of the 184 seats in the NDA tally belong to JD(U) and a split will dent both the JD(U) and BJP in Bihar, with a huge loss to NDA.
The poll is interesting not because it will be accurate – it probably won’t be, given the distance we currently are from elections – but because it highlights the daunting problems we face in trying to cobble together a government post-poll.
As things stand, a Third Front comprising Samajwadi Party, the Left Front, the Biju Janata Dal and Telugu Desam, among many other smaller parties, would land up with 11 seats, and a potential Fourth Front would have 120 seats – including AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, the YSR Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, et al.
Another interesting aspect of the poll is the kind of allies that BJP or Congress could woo, given current realities. The poll gives 73 seats to parties that can’t ever ally with the BJP (SP, Left Front, RJD, JD-S, etc), and 41 that possibly cannot ally with the Congress (Telugu Desam, AGP, TRS and Biju Janata Dal).
The “anti-nobody” parties, according to C-Voter, account for around 117 seats – and these include Mayawati, Trinamool, AIADMK and YSR Congress, among others. Try putting these iron ladies together in one coalition and anyone can throw his hands up in despair.
But these categories are not necessarily cast in stone, for the fact remains that barring SP and the Left Front, almost all other parties are open to doing deals with either front.
These are some obvious takeouts from the poll:
One, both NDA and UPA are essentially defunct entities, with a very small core group that won’t change sides opportunistically.
Two, 2014 will probably see a coalition of state powers dictating the government at the centre – even more so than now. Since it will have no visible central unifying force, it either cannot last, or it will have a minimal governance agenda to rule. This is not what the country needs.
Three, despite the shift in public mood against the Congress, the BJP is not gaining much. It is difficult to see the party forming a government easily, unless the mood swings more sharply in its favour in the near future.
Four, Uttar Pradesh will probably be the one state that will decide the next government, since all the critical players’ fortunes are tied to this state: Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, BJP and Congress. The poll gives the BJP only 11 of 80 seats in UP, and if this holds, there is no way the party can make any headway in seat count. Without a total tally of 170-180 seats, the BJP will be hostage to every regional power – and the same could be the case with the Congress.
Five, the C-Voter poll shows the regional parties gaining almost everywhere – including earlier two-party states such as Andhra Pradesh, where parties such as YSR Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samiti are making headway.
Six, the vote-share shows a dramatic drop in the UPA’s total from 37 percent in 2009 to 24 percent, and a gain in NDA from 25 percent to 31 percent. The NDA’s gain, which needs to be adjusted for Nitish Kumar’s potential exit, will be lower if they split.
Seven, given the kind of stalemate we are heading towards, the BJP cannot really lose anything by playing its wild-card, Narendra Modi. It can either gain a lot or lose a lot by fielding him, but the C-Voter poll shows that the next election may be one for gamblers.
As for who will head the next government, you can take a pick from anyone: P Chidambaram, Mulayam Singh, Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, J Jayalalithaa. But in case of a hung parliament, one might as well pick a name out of a hat. Last time we ended up with Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral. In hung parliament, the weakest candidate will be least disliked by strong regional players. So it’s anybody’s game.