I learnt my lesson about elections in 1992. Labour was expected to win and the Chief Whip on our side took me as a junior whip, along with other whips, in the House of Lords and showed us where our new offices were going to be. I was going to be on the government payroll so I would have to give up my job at the LSE for which I made arrangements. Alas, Labour lost the election and I continued as before. That taught me the truth of the opera adage: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”.
While waiting for the fat lady (note to EC — this is not a reference to any candidate of any party or minority or majority) to sing and bring an end to the suspense on May 16, it may yet be time to think of the other possible prime ministers in the race for 2014. This time, the electorate has a rich array of possible candidates for the top job with three women among them — Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata. All three have experience as chief ministers of big states and Mamata has experience as a Cabinet minister at the Centre as well.
Each of them has a scenario in which somehow Modi and/or BJP falter at the last minute and the race for the top is left wide open. Each hopes to have a bag of 25-plus seats with which to bargain for the top slot. This is another reason why the 2014 election is so unprecedented. There has never been greater certainty among the opinion polls and more uncertainty among the political classes.
The scenario which each aspirant has is different, but goes something like this. After May 16, the BJP is the single largest party, but, even with NDA partners, has got below 200 seats. There is a gap of 75. In comes J/M/M offering their bag of 25 or maybe 30 seats. They promise to bring in more ‘secular’ partners. But on one condition: no Modi as prime minister. Of the three aspirants, Jayalalithaa is likely to get 30 seats or more as of now, more than Mayawati or Mamata. She may also be more acceptable to the BJP than the other two.
The scenario for Mayawati or Mamata is that the BJP tries to go it alone with only its core NDA partners, but fails to win the vote in Lok Sabha, like in1996. The President would then have to call the Congress to try its hand. There seems to be dispute in the Congress about this. But let us suppose the hunger for power wins over principles (as always). Then, there may be a large ‘third party’ move to join the coalition. For that coalition, given the reluctance of Rahul Gandhi to be PM, we have a choice for PM. The Congress may prefer Mayawati to Mamata after its bruising experience with the Trinamool Congress in UPA II. Mayawati also brings the Dalit image with her and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress needs all the help it can get.
Mamata Banerjee would have to wait for neither the BJP nor the Congress to form a coalition, but for her dream ‘federal’ coalition to suddenly materialise and be invited by the President perhaps two months down the line after the others have failed to win confidence.
Of these three scenarios, the least unlikely is the Jayalalithaa one. It requires the BJP to be almost at the finishing line, but not quite. And then for Amma to rescue BJP/NDA and bring it to power with herself at the head. She is, of course, no less authoritarian than Modi, but then all chief ministers are like that. She has been a more successful Chief Minister of a prosperous state where the human development dimension is strong. She has built no statues of herself or of her mentors all over the state. Her Amma kitchens where people can get subsidised meals is the most imaginative idea that has been implemented since it does not give people raw food grains, which is often of dubious quality as it comes from PDS shops, but cooked food. Giving prepared food is also gender friendly as it saves the woman in the house the trouble of cooking.
If only the Congress had thought of that for its Food Security Act!