Now, the regional parties, specifically JD(U), TMC, BJD and TDP (they are also wooing DMK) want to claim the Delhi Durbar for themselves in quest of a ‘Federal Front’ chimera.
The idea of a Federal Front was first floated in 2013 to defeat the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in Parliament on the grounds that the Centre was taking over the right of the state assemblies to legislate their own anti-corruption law and to stall the formation of a Central counter-terrorism body (NCTC).
It was wholeheartedly supported by the BJP. But now, the possibility of the front as a political alternative to the two national parties may come to haunt it. More so, as the Federal Front as a new alliance could give Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his counterparts in Bengal and Odisha an alternative platform to flex muscles.
Ironically, the next general elections could well become the first open fight of might between two blocs led by regional leaders, propelled by the ambitions of chief ministers to reach 7 Race Course Road. The tentative political moves towards a yet-to-be crystallised Federal Front -not a Third Front - initiated by TMC boss and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been lapped up by Nitish Kumar and BJD’s Naveen Patnaik.
This is coinciding with the emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s campaign chief or the face of the NDA face in the coming elections.
A hard look at the numbers stacked in the Lok Sabha show that the Federal Front could only be a temporary face-saver for regional parties at a loose end to play some stakes at national politics without initially being forced to be part of a Congress-led or a BJP-led alliance camp.
The JD(U), TMC and the BJD, along with Chadrababu Naidu’s TDP, that forms the core of the profederal front lobby, will be contesting 145 seats.
The numbers game
Even if Mamata Banerjee and the TMC, the prime mover behind the Federal Front idea, tries to make forays into Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura or Uttar Pradesh, her mainstay continues to be West Bengal, which offers her 42 seats and no more. There, she will be pitted against her bitter political opponent the CPM-led Left Front and her former ally, Congress.
In Bihar, if it does not share seats with the BJP, the Nitish Kumar-Sharad Yadav-led JD(U) can try their Federal Front experiment in 40 seats, where it will be up against a resurgent former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, a vengeful former ally - the BJP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP along with the enfeebled Congress.
In Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD is in the fray for 21 LS seats in a direct fight with the Congress, as well as against mentor-turned-foe Pyari Mohan Mohapatra and a Modi-led BJP which is trying to reconnect with its core Hindutva agenda.
In Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has been out of power for more than 10 years. It would be an uphill task to claim the lion’s share of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. A fragmented state, Andhra now has any many claimants to the throne. In Telangana, where Naidu has a dubious record of first blocking its formation and then doing a volte face, he has to contend with the TRS (which is quietly moving towards the BJP) and his traditional old foe, the Congress.
Two other strong regional satraps who could lend numbers and heft to the Federal Front, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, have not revealed their cards.
While, Jayalalithaa is keeping her focus on winning all the 39 seats in her state for a clean sweep against her nearest rival, M Karunandhi’s DMK, Mulayam seems to be targeting the Delhi throne for himself. However, in the 80-odd seats in UP - the largest chunk in LS - he has to contend with anti-incumbency of his son Akhilesh Yadav’s government, Mayawati’s BSP, an Amit Shah-Modi monitored BJP and a Rahul Gandhi-led Congress. Nonetheless, Mulayam could come in the way of a Federal Front. He can sour Mamata Banerjee’s dreams of leading an alternative front if he panders to the Left’s original item, the Third Front. Already, the TMC leader’s aide Mukul Roy has indicated that Mamata would never trust the SP chieftain after the way he had ditched her during the presidential elections to support the Congress candidate.
That brings us back to the point that a Federal Front grouping which can at the most contest 145 seats can hardly hope to be anywhere near the halfway mark of 272 in the next Lok Sabha, even if the DMK wins a few seats and joins the band-wagon.
On the other hand, the BJP-led NDA with the projection of a “strong leader’’ in Narendra Modi and promise of good governance will be contesting in large parts of the country.
Strapped to Modi’s image it may only have a restricted alliance base comprising Shiv Sena in Maharashtra (11 seats) and Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab (4)-compared to the 24-party alliance of Vajpayee-Advani era-then the NDA had 270 seats with 29 TDP MPs supporting from the outside as against 150 now with JD(U)’s 20 MPs.
The saffron party’s advantage today is that it is not restricted to a single state, like the federalists. The BJP’s calculation is that the number of seats it may lose in pre-poll alliances can be made up in states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and maybe even in UP and Bihar (where it did well in the Assembly polls).
It would hope to even wrest few seats in Haryana, Telangana, Kerala and Karnataka. It would also hope of roping in Jayalalithhaa’s support. The Congress-led UPA, deserted by allies, hopes to bounce back with Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition bill as well as special packages for backward states.
The Congress on its own always contests that maximum numbers of seats and has a presence in all states across the country. If a non-Congress, non-BJP force becomes a viable political option after the 2014 elections; allies like Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Farooq Abdullah’s National Congress could part ways with it. But then, it would have the option of wooing between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad in Bihar; the Left and the TMC in West Bengal and arm-twist a merger with Jagan Mohan and TRS in AP. But before all that happens, the Congress has to take on Modi with a viable alternative. Until now it continues to shy away from pitting Rahul against the Gujarat strongman.