New Delhi : They are the fence-sitters, whose loyalties could tilt either way. With 48 hours to go for the outcome of the elections that is widely predicted to throw up a hung verdict, all eyes are on the fence-sitters whose decisions on who to side with could well decide who would form the next government in New Delhi.
All of these are regional parties, many led by satraps with prime ministerial ambitions, but minus the numbers to back them. So they are using their small numbers as a bargaining tool to gain political mileage for themselves, knowing well none of the two major parties or alliances may be in a position to form a government on their own.
In a Lok Sabha, the house of the people that has an elected strength of 543 members, a party or alliance needs 272 members for a simple majority.
But with both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and their respective alliances likely to fall short of the magic figure by a few dozen, these fence-sitters are being assiduously courted for their support.
Top of the list are two parties from Uttar Pradesh, the heartland state, whose two rival parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), are the main bargain hunters in the electoral stakes.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati of the BSP, who though sympathetic to the Third Front, contested the elections on her own and could be willing to tilt either way. She and her party make no bones of the fact that she is in the running for the prime ministerial chair.
A Left front leader, requesting anonymity, aptly described her position: “She is with the Third Front and is simultaneously not.”
“She is with the Third Front, including the Left, she has been with the BJP and there is no reason cannot be with the Congress,” a senior Congress leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.
SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose talks with the Congress for a pre-poll alliance had failed, joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan, both of whom went to the polls in Bihar independent of the Congress. They call themselves the “fourth front”.
Though technically with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Samajwadi Party could go with the Third Front.
Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), which espouses the cause of a separate state out of Andhra Pradesh, has already moved full cycle.
It separated from the Congress alliance, shook hands with the Third Front and finally its chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao pledged support to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Sunday. It can still go any which way.
While Chandrashekhar Rao, a key member of the Left parties-led third front, attended a show of strength of the BJP-controlled NDA in Punjab Sunday, major political parties are already trying to poach on players outside their respective alliances.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal (BJP), who divorced the BJP in the name of secularism after an 11-year-old marriage, claims to be a part of the Third Front. But he may take a final call depending on the election results.
That the Third Front, a motley crowd of parties with disparate ideologies, is cracking up is clear from the way the TRS went to the NDA.
On Tuesday, H.D. Kumaraswamy of Karnataka’s Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi amid speculations that they discussed possible post-poll alliance.
Ironically, former prime minister and Kumaraswamy’s father H.D. Deve Gowda is the prime mover of the Third Front led by the Communists.
That this makes him a fence-sitter does not need evidence. The JD-S has done business with the BJP earlier.
AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha has assured her commitment to the Third Front and she expects to do much better in this elections than in 2004 when her party did not get any seat in Tamil Nadu.
An important player of the Third Front, she is among the several prime ministerial candidates of the Communist-backed front. But she could forge ties with either of the alliances depending upon the numbers.
Not just the Third Front, there are restless partners in the UPA and NDA as well.
Sharad Pawar of the Congress’ all-important ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra has been in touch with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Prakash Karat.
Pawar is being viewed as a dark horse for the top post should the Third Front be able to cobble up a government.
Though JD-U’s Nitish Kumar — a key partner in the NDA — has consistently denied rumours that he would desert the alliance, he is being wooed both by the Congress and the Third Front.