NEWS ANALYSIS The presidential polls have split not just the National Democratic Alliance but also the United Progressive Alliance and the Left

The presidential polls have split not just the National Democratic Alliance but also the United Progressive Alliance and the Left. While the results of this election may be a foregone conclusion, with the UPA’s Pranab Mukherjee already assured of over 60 per cent of the votes in the electoral college, the choices made by various parties including those which have broken ranks with their coalition — or grouping — hold out portents for 2014.

Indeed, the behaviour of the leaders of regional and smaller parties — all those other than the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — would suggest that the more ambitious amongst them believe that neither of the two national parties will be in a position to lead the government that is to be formed after the next general elections. The presidential elections have provided many of the regional satraps with a soapbox to signal the politics they intend playing over the next two years.

Nitish’s balancing act

For instance, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar took on the BJP publicly to oppose the possibility of its naming Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate to keep alive his own prime ministerial prospects in the NDA and also send out a message to Muslims of his State: to the anti-Modi camp in the BJP, this was music to its ears. But when Mr. Kumar followed up his public diatribe against Mr. Modi with support to the UPA presidential candidate, the BJP was not amused — and the Bihar Chief Minister retreated, ordering party colleagues to tone down their rhetoric against the BJP, lest it upset the social combination over which he presides in Bihar, JD(U) sources told The Hindu. For, he has been doing a delicate balancing act, with his stint in power dependent not just on his own support base of non-Yadav OBCs and Mahadalits but also on the BJP’s upper caste vote.

The recent murder of the former Ranvir Sena boss Brahmeshwar Mukhia, a Bhumihar, has upset that equilibrium. Mr. Kumar’s attempt to hold the upper caste vote, while adding Muslims, in case he needs to break with the BJP, is also a gamble that could go awry.

In neighbouring Orissa, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, taking the lead in the campaign for Purno Sangma-as-President, has not just sent out a strong anti-Congress message but, as a senior BJD leader explained, also addressed the 23 per cent tribal vote at home, as well as in the northeast, especially Christians.

Indeed, the manner in which Mr. Patnaik has conducted himself in recent years is extremely interesting. He broke with the BJP after the Kandhamal riots, went on to win the next Assembly elections and established his secular credentials. Now by proposing the name of Mr. Sangma, who will contest against the UPA candidate, Mr. Patnaik underscores the fact that he stands firmly against the Congress, which is also the BJD’s chief rival in Orissa. BJD sources, stressing that the party was currently keeping equidistant from both the Congress and the BJP, said that had Mr. Sangma been the NDA’s candidate, the BJD would not have backed him. But as the former Lok Sabha Speaker is the candidate of the BJD and the AIADMK, the party has no objection to other parties, such as the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal, backing him.

The sources also said that while the BJD would not support either a Congress-led or BJP-led formation after 2014, it could be part of a non-UPA, non-NDA formation, supported by the BJP from outside — a replication of the presidential election situation, as it were.

For separate identity

Meanwhile, in West Bengal, the fact that the Trinamool Congress has broken ranks with the UPA to oppose Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature is all about State politics. For Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the possibility of Mr. Mukherjee’s elevation to Rashtrapati Bhavan upsets her plans to edge the Congress out of the State’s political space altogether. Congress sources said if she were to support Mr. Mukherjee, it would send out a message that the Trinamool and the Congress were one happy family in the State. But Ms. Banerjee has always maintained that she left the Congress because Mr. Mukherjee’s “proximity” to the Left Front ensured its ruling the State for 34 years. For the Trinamool supremo, this is a battle to maintain the separate identity of her party. The party may continue in the UPA till 2014, Trinamool sources say, but the results of the general elections will determine the direction it takes after the polls.

Similarly, the compelling reason for the CPI(M), along with the Forward Bloc, to back the UPA candidate has more to do with politics than ideology. General secretary Prakash Karat has written in the party paper People’s Democracy that there is need to utilise the “fissures” in the ruling alliance, and has confirmed that the Congress-Trinamool “rift” played a role in the Polit Bureau’s decision to back Mr. Mukherjee.

Clearly, the presidential elections have led to a churning in the polity. While there may be no immediate change in the existing alignments, the choices made by the parties are a pointer to the future.

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