Why Mulayam may be preparing for mid-term polls in 2013

Is the Samajwadi Party’s announcement of Lok Sabha candidates for the next general election an indicator that we are headed for mid-term polls in 2013?

On Friday, the party declared its first list of 55 candidates for Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats, including “Netaji” Mulayam Singh Yadav and three other Yadav family members. “It is always wise to be prepared for any situation”, says the Hindustan Times quoting Ramgopal Yadav, a cousin of Mulayam Singh.

Since the Congress party has also announced the appointment of Rahul Gandhi as head of the party’s six-member election coordination committee, mid-term polls clearly cannot be ruled out.

While obviously nobody in the Congress or the UPA’s allies will say what is on their minds right now, one can only put two and two together and gaze into the crystal-ball. And this is what the crystal-ball shows right now.

With parliament due to meet for its winter session next week, one cannot rule out mishaps like a trust vote defeat or another kind of embarrassment that could lead to a mid-term poll.

Mulayam Singh Yadav with leaders of the Left party. PTI

But with Himachal and Gujarat due to reveal their victors only on 20 December, it makes no sense for any party – barring the regional ones – to press ahead right now. The Big Two will assess their chances only after 20 December.

Right now, neither the Congress nor the BJP can hope to make real gains in the elections. The Congress is still on the ropes over corruption, but the BJP has lost its sting in the wake of the Gadkari episode and infighting at the top of the party. So neither party is likely to push for early elections before we know what happens in Gujarat.

The BJP knows it will lose seats in Karnataka, and has little to gain elsewhere, except Rajasthan. In this scenario, it is not going to cross 140 seats in any premature test of strength.

The Congress will certainly be down from its current strength of 206, but at the very least it will not do worse than it did in 2004.

But this is where the regional parties may think they are in with a chance.

Mulayam Singh is hoping to gain 40-50 seats in parliament from Uttar Pradesh. Trinamool Congress can hope to have 25-30 MPs in the next elections. Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik can hope to have 25 and 10 seats at least in the next round.

While DMK can expect to be shredded in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK should make significant gains – perhaps winning 25-30 seats in the state.

While the Left Front won’t make much gain either in West Bengal or Kerala, it will still be a substantial force in the next Lok Sabha.

A Third Front, in this scenario, could be a contender for power – but it would not be able to make it without outside Congress support.

If we assume that Congress and BJP between them will win around 290-300 seats, only the Congress will be able to form a government of the 2004 kind. But it can’t do so without both the Trinamool and the Left.

Also, the Congress may not want to lead yet another shaky coalition when the country’s economic situation is headed for the reefs. Tough economic decisions have to be taken, and it  may prefer to back a Third Front government from the outside – as it did in 1996 with Deve Gowda and IK Gujral.

On the BJP side, the party, even assuming Narendra Modi is crowned leader, will not be able to make a huge difference to its national vote in such a short time. With 140-150 seats, a Modi government would not be able to attract enough allies. So even the BJP would try and see if it can back a pliable Third Front PM from the outside.

If an election happens in 2013, both Congress and BJP may want to see a doddering and unstable Third Front in power for one or two years, before bringing it down in the hope that people will give them a better mandate in 2015 or 2016.

Plan B for both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi will be to support a Third Front till it collapses under its own weight.

This is where Mulayam Singh may be scenting a chance for himself of becoming PM with outside Congress support.

So why won’t the Congress wait till 2014. One reason could be this decision will depend on what Mulayam Singh and Mayawati do in the winter session over FDI in retail.

Even assuming the Congress weathers the winter storm and hopes to battle on till 2014, the party may not fancy a Rahul versus Modi battle in 2014, where the BJP would be more unified and better prepared. It may thus be willing to let go in 2013 in order to play for the longer term.

A 2013 election may suit regional players and Congress but not the BJP, which will have had no time to create a unified party under Modi in the short time available to it.

A 2013 mid-term poll could be the result of a Congress-Mulayam Singh short-term understanding.