Lok Sabha polls: The challenges of forging alliances

Politics may make strange bedfellows. But, newly-bonded politicians do not make easy fellow travellers on the electoral road. Both the national parties have gone through the twists and turns of wooing regional and sub-regional parties and satraps. This time, even allies gave the BJP headaches with their tossing and turning—the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Upendra Kushwaha in Bihar and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, Narendra Modi used his magnetic charm and other persuasive skills to convince the weakened AIADMK to sacrifice nearly half the seats it held in the outgoing Lok Sabha; these seats went to the BJP and its other allies. The discarded 17 MPs and their supporters were left twiddling their thumbs as their two leaves symbol vanished from EVMs. Some have adjusted and started working for the new partners. But, the majority have either remained silent or begun working for T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, floated in the name of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa and remotely controlled from prison by V.K. Sasikala.

Illustration Bhaskaran Illustration Bhaskaran

Compared with the AIADMK’s sacrifice of 17 seats from the party basket, giving up even one constituency had been tough for the Congress in Karnataka. Janata Dal (Secular), its coalition partner, demanded Tumkur held by S.P. Muddahanumegowda. But, the MP was not willing to give up the seat even when JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda wanted to contest. Even though the Congress-JD(S) partnership has been running the state government for a year and fought five byelections together (winning four), there is bitterness at the ground level in south Karnataka. Finally, Deve Gowda and Congress leader Siddaramaiah managed to get Muddahanumegowda to withdraw his nomination. The duo, once known as guru-shishya before their bitter 2005 fallout, are jointly campaigning now, and the local media has dubbed it as maitri (friendly) alliance.

The friendly alliance compulsions has caused the BJP and the Congress flags to be waved together in Karnataka. A section of Congress workers, upset at the denial of the Mandya ticket to Sumalatha—widow of superstar Ambareesh—are campaigning along with the BJP workers for the yesteryear heroine. JD(S), ignoring local sentiments, has given the seat to Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s actor-son Nikhil. But, as the Congress needs JD(S) support for its own candidates in the state, both the Congress and JD(S) leaders are apologising to the Congress rebels.

The Congress has been wary of hugging Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, despite tremendous pressure from Arvind Kejriwal and the friendly chorus from old ally Sharad Pawar. Rahul Gandhi was favourably inclined for an alliance with the AAP. But, the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee under Sheela Dixit opposed the move. When AAP said it wanted alliances in Haryana and Goa as well, the local Congress units protested. In Delhi, there is an arithmetic advantage if the two parties come together. But, their chemistry at the ground level is highly combustible.

A.K. Antony, the senior Congress leader in charge of alliances, has two iron rules. One, he does not conduct negotiations with other parties, leaving it to more skilled communicators like Ahmed Patel, K.C. Venugopal and Mukul Wasnik. Second, he will approve an alliance proposal only if the local PCC is agreeable. Apart from AAP, an alliance proposal from the CPI(M), too, fell through because the local PCC was against it. Bedside manners are important in an election, and an open fight is better than two parties clinging on to opposite edges of the electoral bed.