Electoral predictions are an imperfect science, yet most poll pundits are predicting a fragmented verdict on 16 May 2009, when results of general elections to the Worlds largest democracy are declared by Mr. Navin Chawla the Chief Election Commissioner then. The perils of a fragmented verdict however have not been examined in depth so far, for the scenarios could well be scary to say the least.
On the larger plane this would set back the coalition experiment in India which has been successful in providing stability to the central polity in the country for the past decade after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 1999 followed by the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress in 2004.
Despite their many imperfections of these alliances succeeded in completing a full term. On the other hand witness what happened before when the National Front a coalition of political parties, led by the Janata Dal between 1989 and 1991 with the late Mr V P Singh as the Prime Minister, survived purely on the good will of its supporting parties and collapsed under its own weight.
The next time a fragmented verdict led to a front coming to power was the United Front which formed India's government between 1996 and 1998. Here again it lasted as long as the previous experiment.
The principal lesson from history therefore is that while in 1999 and 2004 the alliance was based on a single party, the BJP and the Congress respectively acting as a unifying force, the other coalitions failed to last because either their core party was weak or even worse they did not have a core at all.
In 2009, a similar situation seems to be emerging. So let us see the latest poll survey, by Nielsen and Star News quoted in the Indian media on 23 March 2009. The Congress and the BJP between then are predicted to be getting 281 seats with a difference of 7 seats for the Congress in the lead. The Third Front comprising of a mixed group would get 96, which leaves a large number of seats, 164 to the smaller parties of varying hues led by the Samajwadi Party in UP at 30 and the DMK at Tamil Nadu at 24 followed by many others with a history of volatile relations in a coalition such as Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress expected to get 13 seats.
The other dangerous part of the survey indicates a close call between the Congress and the BJP in the general elections with a difference in the seats of less than 10 would imply that this would increase the possibilities of post poll alliance which are not predictable at present.
Thus many parties from the block of 164 seats as well as the Third Front block of 100 seats would have a potential to switch to either the NDA or the UPA and the Third Front. Parties as the RJD of Mr Laloo Prasad have possibly been preparing for just such a switch. The large number of floaters also creates possibilities for the Third Front. If the Front crosses the magic figure of 100, it would certainly be hoping to cobble together a government, with outside support of parties as the Congress. Thus the post poll formulations continue to be dynamic.
Mr Karat, General Secretary of the CPM has also expressed possibility of the Third Front coming to power with the support of the Congress. On the other hand there is also a statement by him that the Left Front could support a Congress led government as it was done in 2004, thereby it is obvious that the Left Front is keeping its options open.
The delay in nominating a candidate for the post of Prime Minster is one of the issues which highlights that parties want to keep their options open for making alliances once the arithmetic is clear after the results are declared. This is particularly true of the Third Front, for as it will from an alliance of a number of parties with major regional leaders, each having only 20 to 30 seats, by projecting a single candidate at this stage, they would desist other big leaders to join them, thus a post poll PM candidate most suits the Third Front.
But coming back to our original hypothesis of instability devoid of a single large core party in a coalition, the other unifying factor in 1999 and in 2004 have been the Prime ministers. Mr A B Vajpayee and Mr Manmohan Singh were both highly respected figures and could inspire other parties and leaders to stay on with the coalition. The same sadly cannot be said about the Prime Ministerial aspirants today ranging from Ms Mayawati to Ms Jayalalitha, Sharad Pawar and Laloo Yadav.
An extreme scenario of a government comprising of a number of parties with the largest party having around 30 plus seats and a prime minister with a giant size ego as Ms Mayawati would lead the country towards instability. Hopefully the Indian electorate is sensible enough to recognize the perils of such a verdict and facilitates a coalition that will work.