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Will a Congress-backed federal front trump BJP?

As things stand, the next Lok Sabha may turn out to be even more contentious than the last one.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 18, 2019, 06.22 AM IST
The Opposition knows that whatever the final picture will be, BJP will, in all likelihood, emerge as the single-largest party
Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement that Congress would be willing to support someone other than a Congressman for prime minister was calculated to kill many birds with one stone. This, after Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) made a fresh bid to create a‘Federal Front’ earlier this month. This was when the Opposition parties had been clear that they would select a PM candidate if and when the time came only after the election.

It is hardly a secret that KCR would hand over the reins of power to his son K T Rama Rao in Hyderabad and move to the higher climes of Delhi politics. It is also known that he and Jagan Reddy of YSR Congress have been moving in tandem. It’s also known that both southern satraps will probably do well in their respective states, together making up a sizeable chunk of MPs. The south is likely to be well-represented in the 17th Lok Sabha by the regional parties, and they will provide the necessary balance to BJP’s northern presence.

BJP is not expected to make headway in most southern states, except in Karnataka where it may hold on to its existing tally of 17 of the 28 seats. Even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when Narendra Modi was not a factor, BJP had notched up 19 seats from Karnataka.

The Opposition knows that whatever the final picture will be, BJP will, in all likelihood, emerge as the single-largest party, and the president will invite it first to form the government. Additionally, BJP has the comfort of a pre-poll alliance with its NDA partners, and the Opposition does not have a pre-poll alliance.

A pre-result ‘Federal Front’ would have ensured, at least theoretically, the coming together of regional satraps, including some of the ‘neutral’ ones like Telangana Rashtra Samithi, YSR Congress, Biju Janata Dal (even as there has been a visible softening of Naveen Patnaik towards Modi after Cyclone Fani), as well as those aligned to Congress. Were the numbers to allow it, they could make a bid for power within minutes of the result coming in, and be supported by Congress.

This could happen in a scenario in which BJP, plus NDA parties, are short of the magic number, and would need ‘NDA-plus’ parties that would have shifted to the other side. If the choice of the yet-to-be-formed Federal Front’s prime ministerial candidate was Sharad Pawar, he would be a front-runner, with other claimants cancelling each other out.

It would be difficult for Shiv Sena to withhold its support to him, being from Maharashtra, and Sena would then add to the front’s numbers. But the Federal Front has not yet come into existence, even as an initially reluctant DMK chief M K Stalin finally met KCR, and KCR agreed to accept its support to Congress, though not to lend it.

On its part, Congress has agreed to support a regional chieftain as PM. The regional parties are a worried lot today. They are wary of aligning with BJP and don’t want BJP to ‘do a Shiv Sena’ on them. In other words, to reduce them to ‘junior party’ status. Nor would they like a repeat of West Bengal — an aggressive growth of BJP at their cost — in their states.

If there is one state where the crowd reaction to Modi - if not in numbers but in the nature of response - is reminiscent of 2014, it is West Bengal. Hence the resistance (and violence) as Mamata Banerjee has been fighting back to safeguard her fortress.

But there are too many ifs and buts - and contradictions - in the ‘Federal Front Plan’. Congress’ offer to support a regional satrap as PM - and someone like Azad would not have made his statement without the go-ahead of Congress High Command - is an acknowledgement of the existing realities on the ground: that Congress may not get more than 100 seats. And that Congress may decide to play second fiddle to the regional chieftains, if there was even an outside chance of keeping Modi at bay. Also, that Congress has decided to make a virtue out of a necessity and calculates that this may give it more time to revive and rebuild the party.

As things stand, given the aggressiveness displayed by BJP and the likely backlash by regional outfits and Congress, the next Lok Sabha may turn out to be even more contentious — and divided — than the last one. It is likely to pose unforeseen challenges for a polity, which is becoming increasingly fractured, divided on North-South, Hindu-Muslim and upper caste-dalit lines.

The challenges before the economy, which stare us in the face, will need urgent attention, and several states are clamouring for a special category status. Our democratic institutions — and values as we have known them — have come under strain. What could be more poignant areminder of this than Pragya Singh Thakur calling the Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a‘desh bhakt’ (patriot). That, too, after the Bhopal election was over. It is as if this comment was made to give legitimacy to that view — if she wins in Bhopal.
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Copyright © 2019 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service