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LS polls: KCR, Naidu eye kingmaker's role, but anti-BJP coalition's opportunism plays into saffron party narrative

Has the Opposition picked up signals that may have eluded pollsters and political analysts? Or is it a case of hedging one’s bets? Either way, the churn under way among regional political circles is significant with just two phases and 118 Lok Sabha seats left to go for polls. Ironically, the churn also justifies BJP’s attempt to turn India’s representative electoral process into a presidential contest centred around one man.

The gauntlet for a post-poll scenario has been picked up by two leaders from the south: Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and his bête noire K Chandrasekhar Rao, the chief minister of Telangana. Both leaders are working under an assumption that the BJP will not only fail to get simple majority, it may fall far short of the target — maybe even under 200 — when the possibility of a hung Parliament will come alive and kingmakers will dive into the fray.

 LS polls: KCR, Naidu eye kingmakers role, but anti-BJP coalitions opportunism plays into saffron party narrative

File images of Chandrababu Naidu and K Chandrashekar Rao. AP/AFP

This is obviously an assumption. The question may arise why Naidu and KCR are already busy meeting and sending feelers to rival political leaders and regional chieftains when the result will be known only on 23 May: notwithstanding exit polls that may point towards a broad trend when casting of ballots for the final phase is completed by 19 May.

There are two reasons why these two leaders from the south have already started the heavy lifting. One, in a hung Parliament scenario, they want to have the ‘first-mover’ advantage by quickly cobbling together a grand post-poll coalition of anti-BJP parties or even a non-Congress, non-BJP ‘federal front’ formulation.

The idea is to put public pressure on President Ram Nath Kovind so that the post-poll ‘coalition’ gets the first invite from the President for a shot at government formation by proving the numbers on the floor of the House. Normally, in the case of a splintered verdict, the president asks the single largest party to prove its numbers. The Opposition is trying to pre-empt this move and deny BJP the chance to have a go at it.

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However, any public pressure on the president on this issue is possible only when the Opposition — whom Arun Jaitley calls ‘a coalition of rivals’ — is ready to settle their considerable internal differences and put up a semblance of unity through a common minimum programme. This is easier said than done because instead of a ‘mahagathbandhan’, we have seen anti-BJP parties fight on their own agendas and platforms and sometimes work in cross purposes against each other’s core interests.

Take the case of Kerala, where Congress president Rahul Gandhi has decided to contest from Wayanad constituency apart from his traditional bastion Amethi, thereby angering the Left Front which has vowed to put up a fight even though the Left remains a member of Congress-led UPA. Or in Uttar Pradesh, where Akhilesh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP sank their quarter century of deep-seated rivalry and joined hands against the BJP, but left Congress out of the equation.

The Congress, in turn, turned the Uttar Pradesh battle into a three-cornered contest. The SP-BSP coalition lashed out at the Congress for behaving as a “vote katua” party and helping BJP’s cause and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra got drawn into a war of words with Mayawati.

In West Bengal, the CPM and Congress failed to come at any sort of understanding, leaving the field for BJP to become the ruling Trinamool Congress’s chief opposition in the state. In Delhi, the AAP and Congress played out a charade on Twitter about a coalition that never happened, leaving the possibility alive of a three-cornered contest which, again, might benefit the BJP.

These realities go against the ambition of the Opposition to present a united front. This is where we come to the second reason why Naidu and KCR have set the ball rolling already. The meetings and sending of feelers are intended to open channels of communication between rival parties so that an eventual movement towards a common ground may become possible.

The meetings that are taking place are interesting and tell us something about the ambitions of these two players keen to emerge as kingmakers. Naidu, who has buried his differences with Congress after deserting the NDA last year, met Rahul on Wednesday. According to media reports, both discussed “post-election possibilities”.

The Telugu Desam Party chief then left for West Bengal to share the podium with TMC chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. It is being said that more than 20 Opposition parties may meet on 21 May to firm up a post-poll alliance. Meanwhile, the Left leaders are also meeting senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel to boost chances of a coalition.

In parallel talks, however, TRS chief and Telangana CM KCR dashed to Kerala to meet chief minister and CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan. He reportedly also plans to meet MK Stalin even though the DMK chief appears to be coy about it. KCR, who is trying to cobble up a non-BJP, non-Congress formulation, is reportedly also in touch with Karnataka chief minster and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy.

The TRS leader, who seems to be adamant on a “federal front”, also met six regional parties representing six states before the issue of election notification, as a report in The News Minute pointed out — Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, DMK patriarch late M Karunanidhi, Mamata Banerjee, SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh, YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh and JD(S) leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda of Karnataka.

What makes KCR’s maneuvers interesting is that many of these leaders are perceived to be UPA constituents. The DMK, for instance, have openly proposed the name of Rahul as prime minister, thereby going against the grain of KCR’s ambition. The Telangana chief minister has criticised Rahul several times in the past and is perceived to be close to the BJP. It is worth noting that Modi, whose campaign pitch revolves on the axis of anti-dynasty politics, during a recent rally took apart all dynastic regional rulers except KCR, whose son is ready to succeed him in the party.

It is possible that KCR is hedging his bets for both scenarios. He may cozy up to the BJP if the latter ends up close to a simple majority and provide issue-based support, or spearhead the movement of a “federal front” in national politics if the BJP ends far behind the magic number of 272. This presents the picture of rank opportunism among the anti-BJP coalition and feeds the BJP’s poll campaign that the “mahamilavat” gang is busy sniffing a route to power for personal gratification instead of putting the country first. Since two more phases are still left, this may present BJP with another opportunity to hammer home the message.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 21:40:01 IST