With only a few hours to go before poll results start to come in Saturday morning, politicking and speculations were headed for a photo-finish, as poll analysts and media houses Friday remained clearly divided over not just the nomenclature of the new government but also the maneuvers that could be seen over the next few days.
Television channels were abuzz with debates on whether President Pratibha Patil would follow convention and invite the single largest party to form a government, or if she would ask parties to present letters of support issued by allies.
The day kicked off with reports of several political outfits expressing willingness to be weaned away from their ideological principalities, but as the day progressed most regional outfits continued to hold on to their aces taking the contest down to the wires.
In the first expressed indication of negotiations not yielding desired results just yet, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh said that his party would speak on the matter on May 17, the day when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh officially resigns from the post.
The SP leader exhorted party men not to speak on future plans till then, the statement came after senior party leader Janeshawar Mishra met him at his residence in New Delhi on Friday,
The instructions however, did not stop trusted aide Amar Singh from clarifying that though Bharatiya Janata Party chief Rajnath Singh was like an “elder brother” to him, SP support to the BJP led alliance was out of the question till the BJP gave up contentious issues like Ayodhya, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code.
Meanwhile, Mulayam Singh earned a breather from the Allahabad High Court which stayed his arrest in connection with an FIR lodged after SP ranks allegedly misbehaved with election officials during poll proceedings in the Mainpuri LS constituency of Uttar Pradesh on May 11.
Though, the SP was guarded in its expression of future plans, arch rivals BSP released a press statement rubbishing reports of a secret meeting between party supremo Mayawati and NDA prime ministerial hopeful LK Advani and iterating the party stand of a no-truck with alliances led by the BJP and Congress.
The search for future allies is fast crescendoing as both the Congress and BJP leadership held consultations with trusted aides over the emerging political scenario.
Amid indications of a terribly hung parliament, both the parties are pinning hopes of a future government on breakaway factions of the Left-led Third Front, while the Congress is counting on support from likeminded ‘secularists’ the BJP hopes to woo back into its fold past allies such as the Jayalalitha led AIADMK and the TDP.
The biggest gainer of the day on Friday was Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar who threw a spanner in the NDA calculations by linking support to a government to a special status he seeks for his state.
The JD(U) line was immediately swallowed by both the BJP and the Congress, BJP chief Rajnath Singh said, Nitish Kumar “knows that only the NDA can provide Bihar with such a package.”
The Congress was equally welcoming with party general secretary Digvijay Singh saying that Nitish Kumar’s demand could be accepted by the grand old party.
Meanwhile, the whimper of the day was provided by Nationalist Congress Party ‘leader PA Sangma, who said that the party – a UPA constituent – was not averse to BJP support to catapult party chief Sharad Pawar into the PMO.
Sangma’s claims were immediately refuted by Pawar who said that the north eastern leader’s view was “independent,” but party leader Praful Patel was more direct and said the NCP was firmly behind the Congress.
Despite the fact that most exit polls say that the Congress-led UPA may be slightly ahead of competition poll analysts say the secular pack may be hit by its present and future allies’ inability to stand on the same side of a government.
Trinamool, a recent poll partner of the Congress in West Bengal, cannot share an ideological dais with Left parties, and the same is true for the RJD and JD(U) in Bihar, the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
The RJD, SP and DMK are allies of the ruling Congress-led alliance, but poll setbacks suffered by them could push the Congress to seek support from their political opponents. The politically astute, however, suggest that such a ploy could only pay-off if the reversals suffered by allies are not split across the spectrum – a scenario that could prove to be the Congress’ worst nightmare.
Summing up the mood in the UPA principality, Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said: “Wherever there is a possibility to get support for Government formation…Those who want to come with us, those who believe in our policy, our doors are open for them, except BJP and Shiv Sena, which are communal parties.”
It is a tough – long night in New Delhi, as number crunching continues in both the Congress and BJP camps that are caught in the midst of a desperate search for allies, before poll officials start to add up the votes, cast over the five-phase polls for the 15th Lok Sabha, and translate them into mandate for a new government.