The long time between the first and the final phase of polling for general elections 2019 has created the space for speculations in the media of what all could happen after the votes are counted on May 23. And leaders of parties, those confined to one state of their own are also turning restless; that of K Chandrashekar Rao, TRS chief and N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP are cases in point.
With polling spread over all the seven phases in their states, leaders similarly placed as Mamata Banerjee of the TMC, Akhilesh Yadav of the SP and Mayawati of the BSP seemed saved of such a condition – the state of restlessness – that makes normal people do things that they will not even think of when busy. Restlessness, one will realise, turns human beings as well as animals move about, most often without any specific aim; such movements, however, follow a rhythm. Take the case of a tiger or a lion in a cage pacing up and down, following its own steps, across the four corners of the cell and the movement, if one notices, will be rhythmic to the dot.
This, indeed, could be one way to describe the private meetings that Rao and Naidu have held and tele-conversations the two leaders carried on with others in the political theatre and the exemplary way they made sure that these were put out in the media and even publicised. It now turns out that there is nothing private with political leaders and their meetings with one another and yet the reports of these continue to be attributed to ‘sources’.
Having said that, there is also something that one could call the moves by the TRS chief in the past couple of days involving a flying visit to Thiruvananthapuram and an attempt to spend time with the DMK chief MK Stalin in Chennai (when the DMK leader happened to be in Aravakurichi campaigning for his candidate in the assembly by-election there) and a telephone call to his Karnataka counterpart, HD Kumarasamy have led to a castle being built in the media of a Federal Front in the making.
The cost that the Telengana chief minister incurred for all these trips and the phone calls, I presume, will be passed on to the people of Telengana. Be that as it may. The same is true with all that was spent, towards this business of drawing the road-map for the next government in New Delhi, by Naidu; the people of Andhra Pradesh will end up bearing the cost. Be that too as it may.
Let me try go beyond such cynical thinking and attempt to read between the lines. While Naidu had hitched himself, from many months before the general elections were scheduled, behind a coalition that will necessarily consist of the Congress party and even prepared to reserve for himself a berth in the bogie (place one or more from his party in the Union cabinet), he did imagine the possibility of a room for himself, say as convener, of some committee that may steer such a coalition. He had, after all, ended one such important person in 1996!
Well, a lot of water has flown down the bridge across the Yamuna between then and now. 2019, in fact, is where a coalition appears inevitable and unlike in 1996, the terms of any coalition will be either as that it were in 1998 (with the BJP as the nucleus) or as it emerged in 2004 (with the Congress at the centre of it). A repeat of 1989 or 1996 when the BJP and the Congress, respectively, held afloat a government consisting of several parties is certainly a thing of the past, at least in May 2019.
This should imply that Naidu’s will remain a pipe-dream; and with the prospect of his party losing power to the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh and his party’s strength in the Lok Sabha falling substantially, he may even have to end up watching the Congress or the BJP entering into a partnership with Jagan Reddy and leaving Naidu out in the lurch.
As for the TRS chieftain Rao, things seem a lot more optimistic. However, he too, seems to be walking towards a mirage if he believes his project of a Federal Front enlisting as many leaders of regional parties together forming itself into a cartel, and thus, bargain hard as a collective with the Congress. Rao seems to have information that the Congress, along with its pre-poll allies and not the BJP will end up closer to the threshold of 272 in the evening on May 23, 2019.
He then, seen by his followers in Hyderabad and in the media as ‘shrewd’ has embarked upon a yatra to enlist support for a cartel of regional parties that could bargain hard (the power that cartels have always shown to possess); hence he thought of meeting with the DMK leader and is also reported to have spoken to Kumarasamy, already an ally of the Congress party. He had, even in the past, held meetings with Mamata Banerjee.
Lessons from history teach us that cartelisation helps smaller players enlarge their strength and strike profitable business. But then, history also teaches us that cartels are formed only after small players in business end up realising the losses they have had to incur when they did business alone and left the big player to turn them cannibals, eating one another in the process.
Politics, indeed, is a different ball game even some practices from the world of business and management are used there too. And herein is the relevance of numbers; the most that Rao can command as his in the Lok Sabha after May 23 will be 16 MPs, presuming his party will sweep the elections from the State; and he cannot even think of the 17th MP from Telengana, which could be Sultan Owaissi, in his camp. This will be less than half of that which Mamata Banerjee is likely to have and just as much that Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati may end up with. The YSRCP too may fall in this league.
Rao will be in league with MK Stalin and his party in Parliament will be a bit larger in size than Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Tejaswi Yadav’s RJD or the CPI (M).While some of these leaders have entrenched themselves in the Congress-led UPA and dug their heels deep in the sand, such others like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh and Mayawati need not depend on any cartel that Rao seems to have in mind and giving it the name of a Federal Front to work as a pressure group within another large front. They will set their terms themselves and depending on how much their numbers are inevitable to lend the next government its majority.
It is an interval until May 23, 2019. All that the chiefs of the TRS and the TDP are indulging now, and will do until then, shall be treated as that. The point is, intervals serve a useful purpose.
Krishna Ananth is an associate professor at Department of History, Sikkim University.