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Elections end, but President thinking out of the box

By Sheela Bhatt/
Last updated on: May 13, 2014 13:33 IST
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'Just in case the NDA is unable to reach 272 seats and is in the low range of 220 seats, then some novel ideas may spring up. Like a 'national government'.'

Sheela Bhatt/ reports on the various scenarios that are being considered by the political parties, and by Rashtrapati Bhavan.

As the last vote is cast, if you think that the sound and fury of the 2014 election campaign is over and there will be no more abuses hurled by political leaders and that peace will at last return to India's horizon, then you may have underestimated the Himalayan scramble for power among the main stars of the ongoing election war.

The real show begins now.

If the National Democratic Alliance does not get a clear majority of 272 seats, India is in for many twists and turns. Wait for unimaginable surprises and trendsetting events that nobody has scripted, yet.

The election is over, but it is only the intermission now. As we know, in a parliamentary democracy, the other half of the story involves Rashtrapati Bhavan and the new government registering an actual majority inside the Lok Sabha.

Rashtrapati Bhavan on Raisina Hill is busy with meetings after meetings.

India's best legal brains, including Fali S Nariman and Soli Sorabjee, are being contacted.

In New Delhi, inside the political parties, inside Rashtrapati Bhavan and inside government as well, different options are being weighed, various scenarios are being anticipated, and possible responses being debated.

In short, what all can happen and what is actually possible, are under discussion.

President Pranab Mukherjee is being assisted by T K Vishwanathan, the former law secretary and former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, in this crucial exercise.

Congress Working Committee managers are busy in necessary formalities like thanking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his 'contribution in nation building'. They are also keeping the communication lines open with President Mukherjee.

Post demitting office, Dr Singh will be worried about his own prestige. The 2G spectrum case and coal scam case are at a crucial stage and he would like to see that, without State power backing him anymore, he can withstand the legal fallout as both scams reach a climax. Now he will need his party more than before.

P Chidambaram has decided to get busy with two things. He will start a lucrative arbitration practice, and he will get involved in working for the Tamil Nadu assembly election which is due in April 2016 in which he harbours high ambitions for his only child Karti.

As of today there seems to be no direct or immediate threat to the Gandhi dynasty or to Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi's position within the Congress party. But if the electoral debacle of the Congress is shameful -- meaning, the party wins just 100 seats or around it -- then it is obvious and expected that there will be some finely tuned response from the Gandhis.

There may or may not be some talk of 'offer to resign', but the country knows the final outcome of such political developments.

The Congress debacle and its aftermath are easy to predict because of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor enjoyed by the Gandhis. Can you name one Congress leader, just one, in the entire country who will ask Rahul Gandhi to resign as party vice-president if the Congress gets anything less than 120 seats?

Since the answer is in the negative, the Congress is likely to be stable even after facing a complete rout and its leaders will sport rhinoceros skin while sitting in the television studios. Also, only Congressmen can be so positive as to search for signs of hope in the emerging power, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

They won't be totally off the mark.

The most difficult days ahead are not for the Congress alone, but the BJP's Narendra Modi as well.

If, as expected, he wins handsomely, he will carry a heavier burden than the weight of the Himalayas on his shoulders. His loyal voters think that as soon as he comes to power India will become a swarg (heaven). Modi is expected to do not just many things, but all things.

Top among the burden of high expectations is to control rising prices and provide jobs. No less than five million jobs will be needed in the first year to register a perceptible difference in the job market. Can Modi do it? The Congress's revival will begin in the crushing expectations that people have from Modi.

If the NDA gets anything above 220 to 230 seats the Congress is likely to behave in a cool manner and not indulge in a patchwork of parties to form a rag-tag coalition or any kind of backroom hera pheri. It simply doesn't have the stomach for it in its current condition.

Also, if measured by her ways of taking decisions in the last 15 years, Sonia Gandhi is mature enough to count the remaining blessings in the middle of a devastating blow from voters.

She is likely to read the message correctly, that the voters expect the Congress to sit in the Opposition.

But if the BJP gets only around 180 seats and if the NDA is unable to reach even 230 seats, then a huge range of possibilities open up and it will be difficult to predict the final outcome.

If the BJP gets less than 200 seats, then automatically it means that Modi's fantastic high voltage political propaganda has not worked.

One thing is for sure, that it won't be just the Congress which will be an active player then. Just in case the NDA is unable to reach 272 seats and is in the low range of 220 seats, then some novel ideas may spring up. Like a 'national government'.

In fact, it is an open secret that India's corporate sector is wary of a Third Front government. They would prefer Modi as prime minister, but in case he is unable to muster a majority or faces strong opposition from potential coalition partners, then Corporate India would prefer a Congressman as prime minister who is no longer in the party.

President Pranab Mukherjee would have been the natural choice of Corporate India to head the government if circumstances allowed for it.

It seems that this time, if no pre-poll coalition gets a clear verdict, the idea of a 'national government' may be tested covertly.

The idea may not be a viable option because the BJP would not agree with it at all and the Congress is unlikely to support a non-Congressman. However, the argument will be made that instead of a Third Front, a national government has more advantages.

If Mukherjee could not get his party nod to become prime minister when he was in government and was almost running the government, why as the possible head of a proposed national government would he get the support of his former party? Sure, it seems unlikely, but to Mukherjee's fans the idea is tantalising.

Since President Mukherjee has been highly political throughout his life, things will not be routinely dealt with; the President is expected to be thinking creatively while remaining within the framework of the Constitution.

If the NDA gets a majority then it is a different story, but if the NDA searches for new partners to cobble together a majority, then Rashtrapati Bhavan is likely to tread cautiously, as expected.

One of the options debated among New Delhi's legal brains is that instead of inviting the party with the largest number of Lok Sabha seats to form the government once it submits the list of supporting parties, is there any other way to handle the situation?

The government of Atal Bihari Vajapayee was sworn-in in May 1996 but it lost power due to the absence of a majority on the floor of the House. And the invitation from the President went in vain.

Will it happen again given the present circumstances?

In New Delhi, many legal brains are debating if a situation can be avoided where the government loses the trust motion soon after being sworn in.

The legal brains are asked if it is necessary to invite the leader of the party with the maximum Lok Sabha seats to form a government, go through the swearing-in ceremony first and then prove its majority in Parliament.

Can the chronology be different under the present provisions of the Constitution?

However, there is no concrete move so far on any issue. Only the election results on May 16 will decide the real course of action.

If the exit polls released on Monday are closer to the real picture, then Modi should not face any hurdles and Pranab Mukherjee won't need to go through past precedents, law books and the advice of Constitutional experts.

Come May 16, any which way, history will be created.

Image: First-time voters flaunt their finger with the indelible ink mark. Photograph: Ashok Bhaumick/PTI Photo.

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Sheela Bhatt/