By Srinivasan K. Rangachary
Prior to the declaration of the final results on 23 May, there are two foregone conclusions of the current Lok Sabha elections. Firstly, the Bharatiya Janata Party, under the overall leadership of Narendra Modi, will emerge as the single largest party. Secondly, the Congress, which was reduced to a mere 44 seats in 2014, would decidedly be the largest Opposition party in Parliament, and thus would play a pivotal role in seeking to keep Modi out by extending support to regional outfits and their formation, in the eventuality of the Prime Minister falling short of numbers. It is also almost certain that the President would invite Modi to take the oath of office soon after the announcement of the final tally, basing his discretion partially on the Bommai case judgment and Punchhi Commission recommendations that make a strong case for both the single largest party and the single largest pre-poll alliance receiving an overriding priority over others. Although the relevant judicial pronouncements also make a mention of a post poll-alliance, which has the adequate numbers, yet the BJP would in all probability insist for an invitation much before the combined Opposition can stake any claim.
It goes without saying that much would depend on the numbers and if the BJP and the NDA are above the 240-mark, they would have an advantage over others, with the nation reposing total trust in the judicial and impartial assessment of the President. However, if the NDA is short of majority by more than 70 seats, any invitation to it would create a storm. The evident inference would be that horse trading was being encouraged to assist the ruling dispensation in acquiring a majority. Those opposed to Modi in this Game of Thrones say if the final tally puts the BJP and the NDA far below the half-way mark, the ethically justified conclusion, when seen through the prism of the highest democratic traditions, would be that the current rulers have lost the mandate, and thus have no right to stake any claim. The 1989 electoral verdict would be recalled as an illustrative point to ponder over, when Rajiv Gandhi, despite securing 197 seats, more seats than obtained by any other political party, decided to sit in the Opposition since he clearly stated that he had lost the mandate. In 1984, he was elected with the highest numbers of over 400 seats to the Lok Sabha, an unprecedented feat which at this time is unlikely to be replicated.
However, in the current political scenario, which is all about winning and not about honouring traditions and conventions, the example shown by Rajiv Gandhi is not remotely expected to be repeated. The Modi and Shah combination would never give an inch to their opponents to advance near the proximity of power, if in their perception they could muster up the majority by persuading or pressurising smaller parties. There has been an extensive talk regarding a BJP government being formed without Modi at the helm of affairs if the party was short of numbers and required support from fresh allies whose precondition would be to join the coalition provided the Prime Minister was no longer in the running. This appears to be an unrealisable dream, since Modi would rather have the BJP sit in the Opposition than allow someone else from his own party to head the government, given that it was on account of his hard work that the BJP had made it to the striking range. Hypothetically speaking, in this kind of a situation, he would prefer to support a regional player, like K. Chandrasekhar Rao, from outside, knowing that at an apt time he would be able to pull the rug from under his feet, thus forcing another election.
It would of course be interesting to see how the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh acts in the post-poll scenario, given that its participation in the current elections was far below the pro-active role it had played in 2014. Many in the Sangh have strong reservations regarding some top BJP leaders and believe that they deviated from the basic principle of “country first, party next and individual last”. Going by the campaign that has been carried out, the election has been about Modi first, Modi second and Modi third, everything else being irrelevant. On the other hand, there is complete confusion and lack of certainty within much of the Opposition, although Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is trying to play the role of a facilitator. It, however, would be an uphill task to get all the regional players, with conflicting interests, on a single platform. So far, the binding force has been their fierce opposition to Modi, but that alone would not be sufficient to hold the flock together. In the 2004 elections, CPM stalwart, the late Harkishen Singh Surjeet, had played a stellar role in forging an alliance against the NDA, with the Congress as the spearhead. It is now to be seen whether Naidu can be the equivalent of Surjeet in 2019.Naidu has been meeting various Opposition leaders to seek their views on the question of leadership, which of course, would be determined only once the poll results are out. Other than himself, the likely non-NDA leaders, who could possibly be in the race for Prime Ministership would include both Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. Although the DMK chief, M.K. Stalin, had some months ago, proposed the name of Rahul Gandhi for the Prime Ministership, it is improbable that the Congress president would join the fray. Rahul’s most important priority would be to keep Modi out, and for that he would be willing to offer support to any regional leader capable of securing support from other players. It could be a repeat of what happened in Karnataka, post the Assembly elections, where the Congress despite being a larger party, extended immediate support to the Janata Dal (Secular), so as to enable H.D. Kumaraswamy to become the Chief Minister.
If in the event circumstances entail the Congress to nominate a Prime Minister, Rahul would readily propose the name of one of his colleagues, in the same manner as Sonia Gandhi had in 2004 recommended and supported Dr Manmohan Singh. There is no dearth of hopefuls in the Congress, and those who could very likely find themselves on the political centre stage could include Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath or either of the leaders of the party in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad, respectively. On 23 May, the meeting of Opposition parties convened by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi would also impart an indication of the collective strategy of various parties opposed to the Prime Minister. At that point of time, given her experience of dealing with different regional leaders, she may, on the behalf of the Congress, take the crucial decisions.The Game of Thrones will not end on 23 May, stretching into a few more days, depending on how the outcome unfolds… INAV