UPA’s Sonia Gandhi has sought to take centre-stage by calling a meeting of opposition leaders on the evening of 23 May, the day the Lok Sabha election results are to be announced. (Owing to VVPAT matching, the EC expects that the process could go into the early hours of 24 May.) The trends should, however, be clear and it would be time for the opposition to decide whether the EVMs are to be challenged or a bid made to form the government. By taking the initiative, Sonia Gandhi has clearly indicated that she expects Congress to be in the lead when it comes to providing leadership to the future alliance.
On the other hand, Mayawati’s pitch on the campaign trail clearly indicates she expects to be the preferred candidate for the post of Prime Minister and the coalition should form around the BSP-SP-RLD ‘mahagathbandhan’. It is a do-or-die situation for her, because she can no longer afford to be away from power if she wishes to retain her caste base. If the South Indian anti-BJP parties get a substantial number, they would, in turn, be loath to surrender the top job to some other, who commands fewer seats.
How many of the opposition leaders would be willing then to attend Sonia Gandhi’s do? It would be the natural if the Congress scores well, but not otherwise. It would be like surrendering pole position at the very start of the negotiations. How many of the more down to earth politicians with experience in politics would be willing to form a government with parties that have made excessive or extreme promises during the campaign? Mayawati promises to bring the reservation principle into everything, including the private sector. The cost of Rahul Gandhi’s post-paid promises has already reached an astronomical amount. No coalition would like to take on such burdens in a critical situation. Many would like to keep their cards close to their chests, particularly if the NDA reaches close enough to the majority. A well-bargained deal with the BJP would not only ensure a stake in the government, but a longer stint in power.
The basic strategy of the UPA constituents has been to deny the NDA a straightforward majority. The Congress knows that, despite its present difficulties, it has a wider base than most of the regional parties. Those that have committed themselves against Prime Minister Modi would be forced to extend support. If, however, the ‘Third Front’ gets the largest number of seats, the Congress downslide will continue.
All of these scenarios would be moot, however, if Modi returns with a bang. It will be time then for the EVM blame game.