The Swing Parties

Janata Dal (Secular)

Now: Third front

Options: UPA

The JD(S) is not expected to be big on numbers when the election results tumble out. What it lacks in numbers, the party is expected to make up with its flexibility. It is believed that the H D Gowda-led party could just as easily go with the UPA, stick to the Third Front or, if the situation warrants, go with the NDA. Going into the parliamentary polls, of course, the JD(S) was, for all public purposes, a Third Front entity.

But it is not entirely a secret that the JD(S) had a tacit understanding with the Congress, allowing it to set up straight fights with the BJP in the majority of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka. This understanding is what allows the JD(S) a foot in the UPA door. During the campaign in Karnataka, Gowda's son Kumaraswamy stated that the Congress must "learn to appreciate help given by others".

Swinging the NDA way is the least likely of the JD(S)'s moves, especially given the relatively recent history of acrimony between the party and the BJP over the transfer of power in Karnataka.

Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)

Now: fourth Front

Options: UPA, NDA, Third front

It HAS been said that whether it is with the Left or Right, Ram Vilas Paswan wants to be at the Centre. A Communist leader once famously called Paswan a "completely soluble item". There may be malice in those descriptions but Paswan's party has a record of political/ideological flexibility. Between 1996 and 1998, when H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral headed shaky coalition governments at the Centre, Paswan was Union minister for Railways. When the NDA formed its government at the Centre, Paswan crossed over, became Union minister of Communications in the Vajpayee government. Then the LJP won four seats in the 2004 elections and joined the UPA. Now, Paswan called the NDA "communal" and became minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers in the Manmohan Singh government.

Even though Paswan is currently part of a front along with the RJD and Samajwadi Party it is being called the 'Fourth Front' he may not let that affiliation prevent him from charting his own course after May 16. The LJP's first choice could be the Congress-led UPA, given his protestations of "secularism" and insistence that allying with the BJP-led NDA was a mistake.

Samajwadi Party (SP)

Now: Fourth front

Options: UPA

The post-Babri demolition period saw the SP surge in UP, mainly based on its aggressive opposition to the BJP's mobilisation on the Ram temple issue.

But despite his anti-BJP stance, when Mulayam Singh Yadav became chief minister for the third time in August 2003, rumours of tacit support from the BJP didn't go away.

The SP found itself in a precarious situation after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Despite having 35 MPs, apart from three MPs of its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal, it was not invited to be part of the then ruling dispensation at the Centre. The Congress-led UPA at the Centre didn't let the Mulayam Singh government off the hook; the spectre of dismissal was kept alive.

Then, the SP lost power in the 2007 Assembly elections and Mayawati's BSP achieved a majority in the Assembly.

This prompted Mulayam to revise his strategy again. He extended support to the UPA, breaking ranks with friends in the Left on the Indo-US nuclear deal. But the SP distanced itself again from the Congress in the run-up to these elections after the collapse of seat-sharing between the two parties.

Currently, Mulayam's SP is part of the 'Fourth Front'. But the SP leadership has made a conspicuous effort not to burn bridges with the Congress. Out of power in UP, the SP will try to be part of the government at the Centre headed by the Congress or a party of the Third Front (other than the BSP). Given its cracking Muslim base, the SP's open support to a BJP-led government is highly unlikely.

Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS)

Now: Third Front

Options: nda, Upa

The TRS is one of the partners in the TDP-led Grand Alliance in Andhra Pradesh. But though its president K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) surprised his partners by pledging support to the BJP-led NDA in Ludhiana last week, there are no guarantees it won't shift loyalties again once the results are announced. Spearheading the separate Telangana movement since 2001, the TRS has influence in only in six of the 10 districts in the Telangana region. But KCR knows that even if his party wins three or four LS seats, it would be important to any coalition that forms the next government. He also knows that if numbers are in favour of the Grand Alliance, the TDP cannot form a government without its support.

By joining the NDA, KCR has ensured that in case the NDA gets a chance to form the government, he gets a share of the spoils. It is likely, however, that KCR will not hesitate to switch loyalties again in case the UPA with which it shared power from 2004 to 2008 seems closer to forming a government

Telugu Desam Party (TDP)

Now: Third Front

Options: UPA

N CHANDRABABU Naidu has been receiving feelers from the NDA ever since the first phase of elections was held. However, the TDP, an important partner of the NDA in 1999 which broke ties after it bit the dust in the 2004 elections, is apparently steadfast in its stand of not joining the NDA. Party leaders insist that the alliance with the BJP was largely responsible for alienating the Muslim vote from the TDP, causing its 2004 rout.

The BJP even sent its former president Venkaiah Naidu to Hyderabad on Monday to aggressively woo the TDP president through backdoor communication but Naidu was reportedly unmoved. He is with the Third Front, he says.

The TDP's anti-BJP posture is also influenced by the Mahakutami or Grand Alliance it has formed in Andhra Pradesh with the TRS, CPI and CPM as its partners. With the Left parties opposed to the BJP, Naidu cannot support the NDA without upsetting what is left of the alliance after the TRS decided to show support to the NDA last week. But the election results on Saturday may yet soften Naidu's stance.

Praja Rajyam Party (PRP)

Now: No alliance

Options: UPA

BY SAYING that the PRP is open to discussions with 'like-minded' parties after Saturday, party president Chiranjeevi has left it open-ended. The actor turned politician has met representatives of all parties till now, neither refusing nor acquiescing to anyone. He also talks highly of the 'secular' Fourth Front.

But in case his claims of a 'silent sweep' for the PRP fail to materialise in the state, it is believed that Chiranjeevi's fledgling party will lend support to the Congress in the state. This may also translate into support to the UPA at the Centre.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)

Now: third front

Options: UPA, nda, third front

SINCE 1996, Tamil Nadu has in one way or the other decided who rules the country, thanks mainly to the clean sweeps and routs the electorate reserved for rival fronts. Last time it was the DMK-led alliance that enabled the UPA government to assume power at the Centre. This time, everyone's looking at the AIADMK.

The AIADMK is tipped to perform well in this election. It has a support base across the state that still has its moorings in the legacy of MGR.

It was the first Dravidian party to join power actively when its representatives Satyavani Muthu and Bala Pazhanoor were inducted into the Charan Singh ministry three decades ago in 1979. Its next shot at power was in 1998, when the first AB Vajpayee ministry was in need of the numbers.

After Jaya withdrew support for the BJP government, the DMK deftly took its place in 1999, forcing the party to fall back on its alliance with the Congress. In a reversal of roles, Jaya cosied up to the NDA again after other Tamil parties exited it in favour of a Congress-led alliance in 2004.

Ahead of elections this time, her feelers were rejected initially, though Congress leaders are not willing to rule out extending an invitation to Jaya if her party performs well as predicted.

Having already been a part of all possible political combinations in the last few years, the AIADMK will not have any problems joining any of the three possible fronts.

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK)

Now: third front

Options: UPA, nda

Even as its bigger regional allies have switched partners many times, none has been as tainted with the image of being a front-hopper as the PMK.

The political formation of the sizable Vanniyar community in Tamil Nadu, the PMK won for the first time in 1998 in alliance with the AIADMK, and joined its senior partner in supporting the BJP government. However, party founder S Ramadoss was not willing to follow Jayalalithaa's whims; his decision to stay back in the NDA made it an ally of the DMK. In the state elections of 2001, the AIADMK won back its support though the partnership was shortlived.

Again in 2004, the party decided to join the Congress and the DMK-led front instead of continuing its partnership with the BJP. But in 2008, the PMK's relationship with the DMK touched rock bottom though it continued as an ally at the Centre. Proving all predictions correct, Ramadoss joined hands with the AIADMK.

The PMK retains good relations with the Congress and cites the DMK's arrogance as the reason for moving away from the UPA.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (mDMK)

Now: third front

Options: UPA, NDA

The MDMK is another southern party that has been a part of national governments led by both the Congress and BJP. Like the AIADMK, the party is an offshoot of the DMK.

MDMK founder and general secretary Vaiko was one of the party's most brilliant young leaders when he was expelled from DMK in 1994. In '98, the party opened its account in the Lok Sabha elections for the first time and was part of the BJP-led coalition along with the AIADMK and PMK.

Like the latter, Vaiko refused to toe the AIADMK line in quitting the national alliance for not dismissing the state government and continued in the BJP-led alliance till 2004. During that period, Vaiko is said to have shared a warm relationship with Prime Minister A B Vajpayee.

When Vaiko was arrested under POTA in 2002, the party decided to follow the DMK's line and won four seats in the 2004 general elections. That relationship continued till 2006 when it took a U-turn to align with Jayalalithaa, who, as CM, jailed him for 19 months under POTA.

Vaiko has built his political base mainly on the emotional issue of the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians. In the run-up to polls, he was one of the leading critics of the Congress, till Jaya hijacked the rhetoric with her Eelam offer.

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)

Now: Nda

Options: UPA, third front

Ajit Singh, the RLD chief, who returned from the US to claim the political mantle of his late father Chowdhary Charan Singh, was initially a reluctant leader. This 'kisan' leader wasn't at ease in the local politics, or the local dialect.

In over two decades of public life, the Jat leader has metamorphosed into one of our most shrewd politicians, often accused of being a frank opportunist. Ajit Singh has been part of every government at the Centre, barring Manmohan Singh's and the short-lived Chandra Shekhar regime.

He was minister in the VP Singh-led National Front government, in the Congress-led government of PV Narasimha Rao and the two UF regimes led by H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral as well as the NDA regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections Ajit Singh is once again with the BJP. But when the contours of the mandate become clear post-May 16, Ajit Singh will be doing what he does best: he will be keeping all his options open.

Bureau reports

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