Saturday, April 18, 2009

Indian elections: A look at the possible coalitions

With the forthcoming elections knocking at the doors, the time is ripe enough to gloss over the issue of possible coalitions, and at their relative strengths and weaknesses. To begin with, electoral polity in India went through 3 different phases: 1953-1967 was a Congress dominated phase, 1967-1989 was a Congress-opposition dominated phase and 1989 onwards was a post-Congress era. Indian election is the largest single organized event where 700 million voters would be participating. The votes would be cast electronically in 5 different phases (between 16 April-13 May, 2009), under the guidance of 7 million civil servants. The three possible major coalition fronts, which would try their lucks to form the government during 2009 parliamentary election are: the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Bhartiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance and the Third Front. It is expected that post-election coalition, as what had happened during the formation of government in 2004, would be based on commonalities in interests and agendas of the major political parties. During 2004, the UPA coalition chiefly comprised of: Indian National Congress (INC), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Left parties etc. The National Democratic Alliance during the last time in 1999 comprised of: Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), Shiromani Akali Dal etc. With the Left parties withdrawing its support to the UPA government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, possibility of an alternative Third Front has emerged. Hence, the newer coalition partners of UPA or the NDA would not be same as it were earlier. The Third Front in that case might comprise of the Left parties, Telegu Desam Party (TDP), AIDMK, Biju Janata Dal etc. A Fourth Front is also on the rise.

The formation of post-election coalitions seemed natural until a few days back. The political sphere of India has currently exhibited the movement of different political leaders across the spectrum in order to handhold for alliance formation. The present scenario appears grim for the Congress in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where it was traditionally dependent on seat sharing arrangements with the Samajwadi party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, respectively. The spate of killings of innocent Tamilians by the Sri Lankan troops in order to combat the rebel LTTE forces might distance DMK and AIADMK away from the Congress. Trinamool Congress from West Bengal, headed by Ms. Mamata Banerji, which took the issue of displacement and dislocation due to industrialization in Singur and Nandigram, has emerged as a possible coalition partner for the Congress in the forthcoming elections. The Left parties are facing opposition from the Christian community in Kerala on issues related to the Church and hikes in higher education fees, which might affect their vote bank. The BJP has emerged stronger in the recent assembly elections, held in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Karnataka. The recent comments made by Mr. Ashok Gehlot, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, on the pub violence case of Mangalore, might affect Congress’ prospects amidst the urban, young voters. Mixed results are expected for the Congress from states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand

Uttar Pradesh is going to be another battle of Awadh to determine, whether Ms. Mayawati from the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), could emerge as the Prime Minister of India. Her recent approach towards the Third Front seemed cautious enough so as not to distract the mindsets of the potential voters, who like her image. The results of the parliamentary election of 2009 are going to be important in the sense that presently the country is undergoing several crises: food and agrarian crisis, financial crisis and the crisis of security. The onus of future economic and national security would fall on the alliance that comes to the power, which most of the political parties have understood. The election manifestos of the major political parties are reflecting this reality. Moreover, they would not like another hung Parliament this time. While there are chances that the Left might join hands with the Congress in the post-poll days in order to keep the BJP-led NDA away from the government, there are others who feel that Left would lose its edge in the forthcoming elections.

There are a variety of factors that might determine the prospect of a candidate for being elected in the forthcoming polls, which include: importance and depth of local issues over national and international issues, media coverage, display of muscle and money power, caste and religion-based propaganda that are communal in nature. Caste-based politics and voting patterns are expected to be stronger in states like: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Voters from rural background, and belonging to groups like scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other backward classes, are expected to be more serious over casting their ballots. While the national media has focused more upon issues like global meltdown, terrorism and political extremism, Indo-US civil nuclear deal et al during the recent past, the regional print media has clearly brought before us local issues like: caste equations, unemployment, farm crisis etc., which would matter the most for the ordinary and poor citizens. Farm crisis and agrarian distress have the potential to become major issues in states like Punjab, Karnataka and Chattisgarh. While the urban Indians, residing in the posh colonies of the metros, may not get attracted to the polls, it would be gala time for the urban-based journalists, reporters and private television channels to capture and declare the results of the polls before the ever-hungry audience. The problem with this year’s election as was with the earlier ones is that issues like poverty reduction, transparency and accountability, better quality of public services delivery like heath care, water supply & sanitation, food and nutrition etc. would take a backseat. Wish, the Indian democracy matured overtime!