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Saturday, November 28, 2020

ENDGAME IN INDIA

When Pandit Nehru was Congress leader,he won three elections in a row and thus he had two full terms where the same Party...

Written by Meghnad Desai | April 26, 2009 11:29:45 pm

When Pandit Nehru was Congress leader,he won three elections in a row and thus he had two full terms where the same Party and the same Prime Minister were returned to office by the electors. After that the pattern gets disrupted. Indira Gandhi won 1967 but did not serve a full term. In 1971 she did get elected but did not win the second time around in 1977. After her no leader won two elections that allowed them to serve two full terms.

This is then the first time since 1957,that it is likely,though not yet certain,that the same prime minister who has served five years may be returned to serve another full term. Of course,there are still many slips between the cup and the lip. Congress has to win enough seats to be the single largest party or at least enough so that it can form a coalition which will command a majority in the Lok Sabha. That,plus an agreement by the coalition partners that Dr Manmohan Singh is their choice. If that happens Manmohan Singh would have a unique record in Indian political history. How likely is this outcome?

Let us start with a descending order of probabilities. The Congress,in my view,will be most likely the single largest party with about 160 seats,giving it immense bargaining power over coalition partners. It could pick up whoever won Tamil Nadu—Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa—plus JD(U) in Bihar and TRS and NCP. At this stage it could flirt with the Left or Mayawati and leave RJD and SP in the cold. If Mayawati were to get more seats than the combined Left—which is not unlikely—then the Left can be given a polite brush-off. The crucial issue then would be,what will the Congress offer Mayawati to entice her with her 40-45 seats? She could be given Deputy Prime Ministership; she may accept even if with the certainty that she will not get the top job ever.

Mayawati’s chances are better if the BJP gets to be the largest single party. Even so I don’t see it getting more than 155 and hence Mayawati’s contribution will be crucial. BJP plus JD(U) plus whoever wins Tamil Nadu plus Shiv Sena and Akali Dal—in this coalition,with Advani as PM and Mayawati as deputy,she has a better chance of becoming PM eventually. The Congress may let such a coalition govern for a while believing it will never last the full five years.

There is yet another possibility—even if the BJP comes second,it may try and put together a coalition just to keep the Congress out of power. Here it would be the Left which will be crucial. It may ask the BJP to stand aside,support the coalition from outside and make Mayawati prime minister. This would be the only reason for the Left to co-habit with the BJP,neither taking office but supporting from outside. Here we could see JD(U),NCP,TDP and even RJD joining in.

The last possibility is the most fragile one and will not last the full five years. The possibility of BJP with 155 seats is the more likely outcome for a full five year term. But only the Congress with 160-plus has the chance of a five year term as of now.

So far the possible alternatives are looking quite fragile. Even in the best case scenario,if the Congress decided to change its PM candidate halfway through,perhaps because Dr Singh wished to retire,then Mayawati could easily walk out if not given the top slot.

Many people are distressed by such discussions. They dread the idea of Mayawati coming to power in any form whatsoever. She is a woman,she is corrupt,she is high-handed—and so they go on. But for every one of her so-called vices,I can point to many male MPs who still aspire to be PM and whose character is never critically examined.

I recall when people used to dread the BJP coming to power. It happened and now the fear is gone.

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