A handful of small parties will play a key role in picking India’s next Prime Minister

  • There are three clear sides in the ongoing electoral race in India for the Lok Sabha.
  • However, in the case of a fractured mandate a bunch of regional parties will play a key role in deciding the country’s next Prime Minister.
  • Regional satraps, from 3 states with 86 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats in all, will have an outsized say in government formation.
The polls are all but coming to a close, but party machinations are very much at hand. Ahead of the last phase of polling, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has alleged that Nitish Kumar, the current Chief Minister of Bihar and leader of the Janata Dal (United), will do a backward flip-- and break away from its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The basis of this speculation comes from JD(U)’s party secretary, K C Tyagi’s statement seeking special status for the state,which is one of Modi’s undelivered promises from 2014.

While striking a dissonant chord with ally BJP, JD(U)’s Tyagi has also tried to woo rivals in Odisha ( Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Naveen Patnai), and in Andhra Pradesh (YSR Congress’s Jaganmohan Reddy and his immediate rival Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) Chandrababu Naidu), who have similar demands from the centre.

A motley crew of regional satraps ahead of the last phase of polling may be a crucial political manoeuvre. On May 19, 60 seats in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are going to the polls.

The Kingmakers

Apart from its traditional rival, the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is challenged by Mahgathbandhan or a Grand Alliance that includes 12 political parties. It is led by Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party (SP), who were former foes turned friends; proving yet again politics makes strange bedfellows.

These are the clear sides in the election so far and one of the leaders is likely to become the next Prime Minister.

However, the BJD, the YSR Congress, its state rival TDP, and the Telegana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) led by K Chandrashekhar Rao who are yet to pick sides, will have fewer seats but an outsized say in deciding the winner of this Lok Sabha election, in the case of an utterly fractured mandate.

The three states put together have 86 seats at stake in the Lok Sabha. Even half of those seats will wield significant power in case any of the other three national coalitions fail to cross the halfway mark.

‘Special’ unity

The one factor binding four out of the five regional parties is the demand for ‘special status’ for their respective states.

Special status is given to states with historic disadvantages be it geographic issues like tough terrains or unviable state finances. It provides them with autonomy like the ability to establish development boards, and decide on reservations.

Special status has also been the bone of contention between BJP and TDP. TDP head Chandrababu Naidu broke away from the NDA, after BJP refused the status, as Naidu re-builds the state after Telangana split from AP.

What is bringing these parties together is a recent comment from the union finance minister and BJP leader Arun Jaitley that categorically dismissed the demand for special status for AP, saying the ‘time for seeking special status is over’.

While JD(U) has denied any attempt to break away from the NDA, it has enough common ground with the other four parties that can influence government formation. This may be the prelude to hectic parleys after the results on May 23.
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