The old order is changing, but the new one is yet to take shape, and this is expected to firm up after the Gujarat polls. Much will depend on how Narendra Modi fares, and whether he clicks with a disillusioned urban middle class in the country, says Neerja Chowdhury.
Even as existing alliances are loosening and new formations are yet to crystallise, all eyes are now fixed on the Gujarat elections, which will take place on December 13 and 17.
The Congress' allies have begun to distance themselves from it; the National Democratic Alliance does not come across as a cohesive entity; and Mamata Banerjee has floated the idea of forming a federal front.
While a regrouping of political forces has started to take place, and this week's events are pointers in that direction, Gujarat is expected to catalyse the new political order and the shape of things to come.
The week started with Mamata -- now she is clearly making a pitch for national space -- roaring from Delhi's Jantar Mantar, taking on the ruling Congress, whose partner she was till a few weeks ago. The most significant aspect of her speech was her declared intention to bring together regional parties and create a federal front in the country, which, she said, could not be run from Delhi. And that state capitals must have a say in what transpires on the national stage.
Mamata announced a schedule of rallies in Patna with Nitish Kumar, and with Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow in the coming weeks, and said she would be talking to Naveen Patnaik.
When she ended her speech, with a Jai Hind, it was followed by Jai Bihar, Jai UP, Jai Orissa, and so on, and she named several states. The symbolism of what she was aiming at was not lost on people and she must have referred to the formation of a federal front at least half a dozen times.
Mamata was joined on the stage by Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav, whom she had invited to be there. Yadav also happens to be convenor of the NDA, and that is also not without significance. His presence -- he showered lavish praise on her -- went to show that as she takes on the Congress frontally in a no holds barred battle, she is not opposed to joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party's allies, as long as the BJP keeps itself in the background.
While her anti-Congress venom makes the BJP happy, it also has cause to worry, for the Trinamool Congress is now getting ready to set the opposition's agenda and lead from the front as an opposition party in Parliament in the winter session.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has occasionally referred to the desirability of a third front, but since he is running with the hare and hunting with the hound, and this is bound to dent his credibility in the weeks to come, Mamata has now decided to position herself as the fulcrum of a federal front.
It goes without saying that the coming together of regional parties on a platform will increase their bargaining power vis a vis the mainline parties, and it will suit most of them. Implicit in the concept of a federal front is the acceptance that, even as these parties join hands, they will be safeguarding their individual turfs and may not leave seats for each other at poll time.
At a time, when everyone is in touch with everyone else, the ties of both the existing fronts are now loosening, in what has become a highly fluid political situation.
As far as the UPA is concerned, the Trinamool has already quit the UPA. The DMK has let it be known that it is distancing itself from the UPA. It has declared that it would be supporting the Mamata led resolution in Parliament against FDI in multibrand retail, which could hugely embarrass the government. It had participated in the bandh to protest against the "FDI in retail" decision, even though its ministers were part of the cabinet which took the decision. It has decided not to send its ministers into the cabinet to fill the vacancies caused by the resignation of A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran.
The supreme irony of it all is that even though Raja and Maran had to quit government on charges of corruption, the DMK leaders are openly saying that they have to distance themselves now from the Congress because it has become synonymous with corruption and price rise!
The decision of the Tamil Nadu government to refer the case of Azhagiri's son, who was denied bail in an illegal quarrying case, to the Enforcement Directorate, will further sharpen the contradictions between the Congress and the DMK. The DMK may not pull the plug but it is now signalling that it will keep its poll options open.
As for the Nationalist Congress Party, though Sharad Pawar has managed to quell the revolt of the NCP against the Congress in Maharasthra, with the acceptance of the resignation of his nephew Ajit Pawar as deputy CM, he has only managed to buy time. And Ajit Pawar lost no time in upping the ante against the Congress.
Sharad Pawar is under immense pressure from his nephew to pullout the party from government and give it only outside support. If this happens in Maharashtra, the national unit of the NCP will be under pressure to do likewise.
Even the two member Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-led by Babulal Marandi has cocked a snook at the UPA by withdrawing its support to the UPA because of its 'anti people' policies.
Come now to the NDA. It was only last week that L K Advani had made a pitch at Surajkund for the BJP to win allies so that it could lead to an 'NDA plus' situation -- if it was serious about power, which he felt was possible, with elections likely in eight months time. Though this was also Mamata's prognosis, Advani was pitching for an BJP-led government next time, and Mamata for one led by a federal front.
When Advani talked about 'secularism' or criticised the film on Islam which had agitated Muslims the world over, he was not making a bid to woo Muslim votes. He was pitching for the support of regional parties, which have to contend with Muslims as their vote base, and which -- barring the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena -- view the BJP with wariness.
Whether it is Advani or Modi, or Sushma or Jaitley as PM candidates, the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena are not expected to detach themselves from the NDA, though they have their own preferences on who should lead the alliance. But that cannot be said of the JD-U.
In readiness for the eventuality of the JD-U pulling out of the NDA -- which might happen if Modi is projected by the BJP after the Gujarat elections -- the BJP has now declared that it would contest all the Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in the next elections.
The old order is changing, but the new one is yet to take shape, and this is expected to firm up after the Gujarat polls. Much will depend on how Narendra Modi fares, and whether he clicks with a disillusioned urban middle class in the country.
Even if a federal front is formed as a pre-election entity, there is nothing to prevent the regional parties from shifting sides after the polls, if the situation so warrants it.