Only one phase of election—May 19—has left. What can be predicted with certainty is no party—neither the BJP nor the Congress—will get a majority. Chances are the BJP, along with allies, may emerge as the single largest party and Modi may become the PM again but a weak one.
Even senior leader of the BJP, Ram Madhav, has gone on record, saying the BJP will not get majority. The Shiv Sena has also firmly indicated there is no chance of BJP getting a majority. BJP has inevitably to bank on other parties to form the government. That means a lot of bargaining and horse trading.
Chances are the Congress will increase its numbers in the Lok Sabha and, pollsters estimate it may go up to 140, thus becoming the second largest party. It may also try to stake its claim to form the government and seek support of likeminded parties. Whoever forms the government—BJP or the Congress—it will be a coalition and a weak one and may not last for more than a couple of years. A mid-term poll, therefore, appears inevitable.
While the Congress may have failed in stitching up alliances in some key states, it is aware it will need all non-BJP forces on the same page to muster numbers to keep Modi out. And regional forces conclude in case of a hung Lok Sabha, if NDA is short, they could be major swing players.
All this has meant in the final week of the election, there are these seemingly paradoxically processes at play. On the one hand, we are witnessing bitter and sharp campaigning against adversaries. On the other, there are both public and private channels opened to reach out to prospective allies.
Modi’s efforts to drive a wedge between Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav is not only an effort to win over her Jatav base in eastern Uttar Pradesh, but also send a signal the BJP is willing to engage with the BSP. The PM’s praise for Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik for his work to minimise the losses by cyclone Fani could be seen as signal all doors are open.
Mayawati, for her part, despite attacking Congress relentlessly, categorically said her voters will support Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Meanwhile down south, TRS leader K Chandrashekhar Rao—who already has an understanding with the YSR Congress to bargain as a collective block in Delhi—has reached out to DMK leader, MK Stalin, Kerala CM and CPI(M) leader, Pinarayi Vijayan, and is in touch with Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy. Stalin and Kumaraswamy are part of the UPA; and the CPI(M) is firmly in the anti-BJP camp.
It means while parties are preparing for the outcome on May 23, they are already looking beyond May 23. In the coming weeks, all forces will slowly explore options to advance political interests. Indian politics has often thrown surprises and it is best not to rule out any permutation and combination.
The meeting between leaders are read as an exercise to figure out possible common ground after the opposition parties fought the election on different platforms and some parties not in direct communication with each other, given region rivalries and differing viewpoints.
Having emerged as a bridge of sorts among opposition parties, Andhra CM and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu met Congress President to plan, it is learnt, a meeting of the anti-BJP Bloc of around 22 parties tentatively on May 21. While voting will end on May 19, the result will be declared on May 23. The discussions on May 23 are expected to facilitate a fast-track approach in meeting the challenge of a hung Lok Sabha.