Non-Modi led Gov’t in India? Third Front in India Elections?

Non-Modi led Gov’t in India? Third Front in India Elections?
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

Will the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party prevail in elections that conclude on Sunday May 19? Or will the opposition Congress Party come on top and form he government? Or alternatively, will there be a third front comprising of a post-election alliance of non-BJP and non-Congress parties?

Based on the findings from surveys and conversations with voters in several parts of India, the BJP will come out on top in the election and in all likelihood will form the government. It is not clear whether BJP will win a majority of seats on its own. And as such it may depend on allies.  The Congress is out of the equation. And there will not be a third front government although the idea has been floated up till now.

The BJP is contesting the elections in a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that it leads while the Congress (INC) is leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).  The NDA is made up of 41 constituent parties while the UPA is made up of 36 parties. Each of the parties in both alliances is contesting the election under its own symbol and name with other parties in an alliance not putting up a candidate. 

In the 2014 general election, the BJP-led NDA won 336 seats in Parliament’s lower house – the Lok Sabha which determines the party that forms the government; the BJP itself won 282. The UPA did poorly, winning only 60 of the 543 seats up for contest; Congress won 44. It takes 273 seats to form the government.

Some regional parties, not part of either alliance, are of the view that neither alliance will win a majority of seats to form the government. These regional parties, primarily in the South of India, have floated the idea of a third front government that brings together parties not affiliated with the BJP or Congress. They hope to come together to form this so called third front as an alternative to the NDA and UPA to form the next government. It is a dream that will not become a reality. Tow of those parties, TRS of Telengana and YSR of Andhra Pradesh, are expected to sweep the elections winning most seats. Andhra has 25 seats and Telangana 17 seats; TRS could win a minimum 15 and YSR around 17.

Opinion polls did forecast a hung Parliament with neither the BJP nor the INC able to get the necessary majority to form the government on their own or with their alliances. This pollster forecasts a close call of a majority for the BJP-led NDA. It does not rule out a possibility that BJP could win a majority on its own. The Third Front, however, is an impossibility.

And the idea of a third front has not gotten much traction. There is bitter enmity among some of the leaders of those parties making it a non-starter. Meanwhile, Congress leadership itself has proposed the idea of an alternative government led by a Prime Minister not from the Congress. It too has no takers from the non-affiliated UPA parties. The Congress is trying to lure parties not affiliated with the NDA and UPA and even some allies of BJP to leave that alliance and join its UPA partners to form a government. The leader of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, has invited all leaders of political parties except those of NDA to a dinner at her home on May 23 to discuss government formation. The Congress claims that its survey showed that BJP and NDA would fall very short of forming a government. The Congress is willing to sacrifice the PM’s position to another minor party. But will BJP/NDA really fall short of the majority mark? This writer really does not feel so based on his surveys. The BJP should win about 250 seats. And the alliance will make up for the rest to get a majority.  Once NDA crosses 273, other parties proposing a third front will offer outside support to BJP.

If NDA comes up short, jealousies and rivalries will prevent formation of a third front or give support to UPA to form the government. In 2004 when the NDA fell short, the UPA formed the government under Congress leadership to keep the BJP out; sworn enemies came together to form the government. Some of the BJP allies in the NDA left the alliance and joined the UPA propping it up in exchange for positions. This time around the conditions and situation are different.  The Congress is very weak and will not win 80 seats. The other partners in UPA will not cross 40.  And the third front will at most get 120 seats.

Another reason a third front is not possible is its history. Third fronts were formed before led by four different PMs.  All collapsed. They were unstable and brought down by rivalries and manipulation by the Congress. The Congress brought down the third front and was able on one occasion to form the government after new elections. Voters do not trust third front. Such a government will take India backwards – will hurt economic growth. Thus, voters are likely to hand the NDA a decisive victory because of economic growth and taming of corruption.

Although there will not be a third front government, the parties floating the idea may end up being kingmakers after the proverbial horse trading (of who gets what and bribes to MPs) is completed. Exit polls will publish findings on evening of May 19 but they are very unreliable. The 1.3 billion Indians will have to wait till May 23 when the ballots will be counted in order to find out who will lead them for the next five or less years.