Polls 2009 stuck in mirage of alliances

March.15 : The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan is a clear sign of the chaos and failure of governance in that country, where diverse power bases are fighting for internal control.

The global community, which is immersed in an economic crisis, is fast losing patience at the way things are being run in Pakistan and it seems only a matter of time before the Army sets in to provide some sort of order.It is sad that things are out of control there. Meanwhile, we have to be on full alert as terror networks can use this confusion as an "opportunity" to hit out.

The reality of the situation may well be that the President of Pakistan, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League leader, Mr Nawaz Sharif, have lost control to more "extreme" elements.

Pakistan is under the shadow of the Taliban regime. We have to be on full alert as the situation is very fluid both in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Meanwhile in India, the political churning continues as the BJD and the BJP go their separate ways in Orissa and in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress are firing blanks at each other and declaring candidates. There is even talk of friendly fights, though there is no such thing in politics.

The BJD decision in Orissa is not a surprise. I have been predicting in all my recent articles that there will be changes both before and after the elections in all the three groupings as every leader and every party battle for survival in their state.

The chief minister, Mr Navin Patnaik, and the BJD have done what the Telugu Desam, the AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress have done earlier.

But their final alliances will be determined only after the elections and this will depend on the number of seats each party secures in the election.

In fact, the recent changes give an insight into local conditions which need to be examined in detail.

In the last election in West Bengal, the Trinamul Congress won one seat (they will win in double digits this time). Obviously Ms Mamata Banerjee cannot align with the BJP and risk the minority vote in West Bengal.

Similar is the case of the Telugu Desam which had won five seats in 2004 and can now win 10-15 seats. It also cannot risk losing the minority vote. The AIADMK is trying out a new combination with the Left which can help it win more than 25 seats.

The AIADMK, the Telugu Desam and the BJP will have an election agreement with the Left. But this means little unless the Left gets enough numbers after the polls to play a decisive role in government formation.

The situation was not easy for Mr Patnaik in Orissa after two terms (the anti-incumbency factor may come to play) and the party felt that a triangular fight will suit it better than a straight fight against the Congress who is the main opposition.

Mr Patnaik has a high reputation for integrity but is this enough in the current situation? My feeling is that there will be a very close fight between the BJD and the Congress both in the Lok Sabha and in the Assembly elections.

The charts on "groups" is eliminated as most of the political forces can travel in any direction and the Congress and the BJP will be under pressure as both will need 120-150 seats of allies to form a government.

It is also possible that the potential "allies" may form a group and offer a option to either the Congress or the BJP. All this will be based on numbers.

Ideally, political parties should avoid the use of harsh words against each other as few can predict the alliance pattern which will evolve after the elections.

I still feel that the Third Front is not viable and is only a temporary instrument for certain political parties. Once the winners and losers are clear the attention will shift to government formation.

The charts show minor changes as gains and losses in individual states are balancing each other. No decisive trend is visible and political arithmetic is never easy.

We have 100 million new voters. Will they vote "differently" and influence events? The economic slowdown is adding to the political confusion. This is a very difficult election to predict.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

Arun Nehru

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