It is almost certain that the Congress is back in the driving seat insofar as determining alliances is concerned
The Congress party managed to secure a majority in Parliament for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail. The little worry within the party initially had changed into sanguine bliss as it was assured of the support of the two Uttar Pradesh rivals, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The two while claiming to oppose FDI in retail for the sake of their largely poor constituencies went meekly along with the government through strategized abstentions and direct votes to ensure that its controversial measure got Parliament’s approval.
The ruling party is now hopeful that this ‘cooperation’ where the allies stayed largely with the Congress on this vote will extend into the general elections next year. And that while it is more or less certain of not doing too well in the all important state of Uttar Pradesh, it will be able to get the support of either the Samajwadi party or the Bahujan Samaj Party in the final analysis. The very fact that both were ‘persuaded’ to vote on the same side of the fence on FDI in retail is a clear indication that the Congress, using the same arguments as this time, will be able to get the support of one or the other of these parties post the Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly during this term of Parliament both the BSP and the SP ended up supporting the Congress on several issues being seen more as allies than as opposing parties.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj spoke of the CBI pressure on the two UP leaders facing corruption charges, with sections of the media carrying reports of a suggested deal between them and the government on this front. Mayawati has strongly refuted this since, but the rumours still refuse to die down with both the UP parties being largely seen as compromised. This may or may not be true but the fact remains that the pressures that worked on the SP and the BSP to join hands with the Congress on the vote in Parliament, will continue to work on them for alliances after the parliamentary elections.
The Congress is also in the midst of talks with the Janata Dal (U) and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Although the JD(U) has till date remained firmly in the opposition giving no indication that it has inched closer to the Congress, highly placed sources admit that “talks are on” and Nitish Kumar is not averse to a post poll understanding with the Congress party. He is not still in the race for Prime Ministership largely because of the absence of regional support, and the fact that he cannot get sufficient seats in Bihar without Muslim support. The last is dependent on his decision to break away from the BJP but then in this complex world of politics, this will lose him the powerful Bhoomiyar vote in Bihar. So while he mulls the best way forward, Nitish Kumar is keeping his options open with the Congress through high level contacts and deliberations.
The Congress is thus, hopeful of tying up the two major states where it is weak through strong alliances. Of course it is always possible that one or the other of the regional allies might develop flying ambitions if he or she gets a larger than expected number of seats. Then the concerned leader might want to lead the government, and while this will not be to the Congress liking it will consider supporting such a government if it fails to manipulate a consensus in its favour. But chances of this appear to be slim given the differences between the regional parties, and the fact that the Left as the favoured coalescing force is not interested in getting these parties and their leaders together. More so as it has its own worries in West Bengal and Kerala and has decided to work for its own revival than seek a third front option based not on ideology but on egos.
The vote in Parliament has thus come as a major boost for the Congress. It has demonstrated one, its control over the Uttar Pradesh parties and its ability to pressure the two arch rivals to follow its lead; two, it has also made it clear that the opposition, even when united on an issue, does not have the necessary numbers and given the state of affairs it is unlikely that the BJP will improve dramatically in the next elections; three, if it can control UP and eventually Bihar it will sail through the next general elections with or without the mercurial Mamata Banerjee. Clearly the Congress has decided not to waste too much time on her, accepting her support if proffered but making sure that it does not remain dependent on her whims and fancies.
Of course for this to work it is important for the Congress to ensure that it emerges as the single largest party, and is not beaten at the hustings by the BJP. If this happens then the picture will change with at least Mayawati in UP and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu having little to no hesitation in supporting it for forming the government. For this to happen the Congress party will have to ensure a better performance in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka even as it retains Delhi and Haryana.
After the vote on FDI in retail it is almost certain that the Congress is back in the driving seat insofar as determining alliances is concerned. Clearly for whatever reasons, stated or unstated, it has control over the Uttar Pradesh parties and that will be a plus if its own tally does not drop dramatically. But then the voters have always been able to upset the most carefully thought out calculations, and defy political predictions with amazing tenacity. So nothing is as it is, until the vote is cast and counted.