A Presidential dilemma   (24 Feb 1998)



So okay, I know I am not an astrologer. Never knew much about stars or suchlike, but I think I should be able to get away with this little prediction: President K R Narayanan is going to burn some midnight oil as soon as the poll results come.

Provided there is no sudden Vajpayee wave, the BJP and its allies would get maximum 230-240 seats. The total number of seats with the non-BJP forces — including the Congress, its allies, and the United Front — would be between 270 and 280. Naturally, the President will have to decide whom to invite first to form a government. The BJP or the others?

See his dilemma?

Probably, this is the first election in which nobody is able to make any prediction. It is a close fight; either of the two major blocks may form the government. Both the BJP and the Congress plus the UF are hopeful. While in the BJP camp the discussion is on who should be the finance and home ministers (and such nitty-gritties), the Congress and the UF are still working on who should be the prime minister.

The names which have been suggested for the top job in Congress include Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh besides half a dozen others like N D Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and Jitendra Prasad. In the UF, apart from I K Gujral, three other names have been put forward — Jyoti Basu, G K Moopanar and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Unless the Congress and UF leaders do not send a letter to the President staking their claim for government formation within two days of the poll results being announced, the President will have to call Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government and prove his majority in three weeks time.

But I dont think the UF and Congress will do any combined letter-writing. Why? Because of five great personalities — Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A B Bardhan, M Karunanidhi, Chandrababu Naidu and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The minute the results are out these five will start shouting their refusal to support a Congress-led government. And this time, the Congress would just dig in its boots and say, Nope, no dice, we want to have a PM of our own! The Congress would agree to share power with the UF only if it kicks out the DMK. But Surjeet-Naidu company will take a minimum of one week to reconcile to such a position. Meanwhile, the President will not have any other choice but to call the BJP. After all, the President cant wait that long, can he? And why should he?

Sensing this scenario, Mulayam Singh, Moopanar, Kanshi Ram and Laloo Yadav have already indicated they wouldnt mind a Congress-led government. If the major UF constituents are ready to accept the Congress, people like Mahanta and Chandrababu Naidu may join the BJP camp as outside supporters. Karunanidhi would have also supported the BJP if it had not allied with Jayalalitha.

Meanwhile, the election scenario in Uttar Pradesh is getting further complicated. The Samajwadi Party is giving a tough fight to the BJP in 25 constituencies. Of this, Mulayam Singh is confident of winning 22 seats. Kalyan Singh, for his part, claims the BJP would get 44 seats of the 53 that went to poll in the first phase. In the second phase, the party would get 16 of the 21 seats, he believes.

The most significant thing in the state is that the SP has enhanced its base in western UP also and is fighting the BJP in 75 seats. Another significant development is that the Muslims are not allergic towards the Congress this time around. In the next election, it is likely that the community would go to the Congress in good numbers all through the country. The Bahujan Samaj Party is facing rough weather, and may not get more than four seats. As it is, it is fighting only six seats.