The various exit and post-poll projections bring out an extraordinary feature of the 15th general election. At least three very different kinds of governments are possible . While different projections vary on detail and break-ups, they agree on some basic common points.
(1) none of the major alliances is anywhere close to even a simple majority. None can reach the majority mark by simply adding an ally or two; the new government has to be made up of many pieces.
(2) It is difficult to say with certainty which of the two big alliances, or the two big parties, UPA and NDA, will finish ahead of its rival. The race appears too close to call even at this stage, given the limitations in the information that is availble. On balance though, the UPA appears to have an edge over the NDA.
(3) No government can be formed without involving either the Congress or the BJP. While different polls offer different estimates for these two, they agree that together, the two big parties will control nearly 300 seats. While we cannot rule out a non- Congress, non-BJP government, it will have to depend on either the Congress or the BJP for support.
When the final figures are known, the race may not appear as close as it does today. At this stage, with the uncertainty of projecting seats in a first-past-the-post system, several routes to power appear possible.
The Second Possibility
The UPA’s advantage does not lie in its slightly higher numbers alone, but in the fact that it has more than one route to power.
At the beginning of this campaign, the Congress gave up, or was perhaps forced to give up, its best route to power. Under this scenario, the UPA would have retained all its allies while bringing new ones on board such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Trinamool Congress (TC). The new allies would have brought some 40 seats of their own and helped the Congress pick additional seats. And an expanded UPA would have reached close to 250 seats and formed the government with some small post-poll allies.
Now, the Congress has three other routes open to it:
If the UPA gets 200 seats, which more than one poll suggests is possible, it can look at the possibility of forming the government without support from the Left. It would need to get back its “fourth front” partners, who appear eager to be courted. It can then look to potential partners such as the AIADMK, PMK, MDMK, BJD, RLD and some Independents to cobble up the numbers. This scenario hangs on the outcome in Tamil Nadu and will work only if the AIADMK secures most of the seats and can transfer at least 25 seats to the UPA kitty. Otherwise, the UPA would need to do very well in Tamil Nadu and push its overall tally close to 220.
The second route is of course to approach the Left, which is likely to secure around 30 to 40 seats. The second option offers greater comfort in terms of numbers but involves very tough negotiations.
The final route involves using unconventional and somewhat desperate measures such as roping in the JD(U) and other NDA allies. The last route is improbable as NDA allies may not switch so easily; also the Congress leadership may understand that such an ugly operation has its long-term costs.
As for as the NDA is concerned, it has only one route to power.
Should the BJP finish ahead of the Congress, and NDA ahead of the UPA, then there is a real possibility of L.K. Advani realising his long cherished ambition of being Prime Minister.
This would require the BJP gathering all its existing, past and potential allies. If the NDA finishes close to 200, it can approach ex-NDA partners such as the AIADMK, PMK, MDMK and TDP. But that would not suffice. The BJP would need to bring on board the BSP. The difficulty for the BJP is that every single piece in this equation must fall in place for the NDA to reach the majority mark. The BJP leadership would also have to consider the long -term cost of forming a potentially unstable government.
The Third Possibility
A non-Congress, non-BJP government is a third possibility. In the last few weeks, the possibility has receded somewhat as some key constituents such as the BSP and the Left are reported to have done worse than expected. The latest moves by the TRS and JD(S) have underlined the anxieties about the coherence of the Third Front.
However, the declining possibility of a Third Front government does not rule out the prospect of a non-Congress non-BJP government. That would require existing Third Front partners to come together with some of the Fourth Front allies and some Congress and BJP allies. Even such a large and unwieldy coalition will be considerably short a majority and have to depend on Congress support from the outside.
This possibility may come about only if the Congress realises that none of the three routes available to it gives it a majority. It is impossible at this stage to anticipate the form and shape of non-Congress non-BJP government.
But it cannot be ruled out.