With just a day to go before the results of the closely fought assembly elections in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab and Manipur are out, political players are leaving no stone unturned to ensure they get to form the next government. Some are taking recourse to an increasingly popular trend of today – parking party candidates in a resort to avoid ‘horse trading’.
After the exit poll results were flashed on news channels on the evening of March 7, the first visible action to try and remain in power was seen among Bharatiya Janata Party’s Goa unit. Sitting chief minister Pramod Sawant flew down to New Delhi the next morning to have a one-on-one with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The night before, the TV channels had given Goa a fractured mandate with the BJP’s bête noire, the Congress, an edge in that coastal state. This essentially meant there might be a need to do some backroom string pulling to ensure smaller entities come to the aid of the party.
Sawant seemed to have needed the personal assurance of top national leadership that they are up to it, particularly considering that this was the party’s first election since its Goa stalwart Manohar Parrikar passed away.
After meeting Modi on March 7, Sawant told the media, “Modi told me that BJP will form the government.”
He also said the prime minister, who himself campaigned in Goa, “Took constituency-wise details about the number of seats BJP will secure in Goa.” He also added, “We will form the next government in the state and in case we are short of a majority, independent MLAs will support BJP.”
A Times of India report said, he also added that if required, the party would go to Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) too.
Already, the Goa in-charge of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Dinesh Gundu Rao had told local reporters in Panaji that if his party falls short of 21 seats to reach simple majority in the 40-member assembly on March 10, it would not mind approaching the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the MGP and the Trinamool Congress to seek support.
In tandem, hectic parleys of the two national parties have reportedly begun with smaller parties.
Sawant’s open invitation to MGP to join hands with BJP has pushed both Congress and new player in Goa politics, TMC, to act fast. TMC is in a pre-poll alliance with MGP.
As per news reports, TMC top guns Abhishekh Banerjee and Derek O’Brien, along with its chief poll strategist Prashant Kishor, are busy on site with efforts to stitch a possible alliance with MGP and Congress if the numbers do not favour the BJP. Party sources told India Today, “The TMC and its allies are open to the idea of an alliance with Congress. If Congress sends any proposal for a post-poll alliance, the top leadership would review it.”
A senior party leader, on condition of anonymity, added, “We (TMC) are in a position to secure nearly three Assembly seats and our ally might get two to three seats. Together, we would be able to win roughly five assembly seats in Goa. And that is a praiseworthy success.” The leader also said, “The Congress has emerged as the single largest party in Goa in the 2017 Assembly polls and yet the BJP managed to form the government. All of us know what unfolded after the results were out. How Congress MLAs were poached. That is the reason we are also staying alert.”
With the BJP chief minister openly talking about reaching out to the MGP for the required numbers to form the next government, the TMC is naturally wary of that regional party breaking its pre-poll alliance if the TMC fails to corner any seat.
Meanwhile, in a bid to not repeat the 2017 fiasco in Goa, the Congress has dispatched a set of senior leaders to the state and has particularly tasked its strategist and Karnataka state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar to take over the reins. Sources in the Congress have told Deccan Herald that Shivakumar will camp in the state for three days “to ensure that the grand old party, which missed a chance to form the government by a whisker in the last Assembly elections, does not commit the same mistakes again.”
News reports also said that the party on March 8 evening moved all its 37 candidates to a resort in North Goa to ensure no ‘horse trading’ attempts by the BJP is successful.
With TMC-MGP possibly playing kingmaker in Goa, one cannot discount the independents, including the former chief minister and BJP rebel leader Laxmikant Parsekar, former Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, and deputy chief minister and BJP leader Chandrakant Kavlekar’s wife Savitri Kavlekar.
In Uttarakhand, a similar picture
Hectic parleys can be seen unfolding in Uttarakhand too where also the exit polls have predicted a hung assembly. Local reports said top leaders from both BJP and Congress, the two major contenders, have rushed in to “manage” a situation that might arise after tomorrow’s counting.
A TOI report said, “While BJP rushed senior leader Kailash Vijayvargiya on Sunday (March 6) to assist party leader and former CM Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank in preparing for any political exigency, Congress deputed Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Hooda to Dehradun on Tuesday (March 8). Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel is scheduled to arrive in the city on Wednesday (March 9) and stay put in the state capital till things take a final shape after the results.”
The report added, “As BJP seniors went into a huddle almost immediately after converging in Dehradun, the Congress brass, including Hooda and state in-charge Devender Yadav held a series of meetings. In case of a hung assembly in the 70-member House, the kingmakers will play a big role in government formation. If sources are to be believed, both Congress and BJP have already reached out to regional parties and ‘strong’ independents, candidates who have a good chance of winning from their seats.”
In Manipur, where like in Goa of 2017, BJP formed a coalition government even though Congress emerged as the single largest party, other contenders are taking the exit poll results with a pinch of salt. The exit polls have given the BJP a clear majority.
Muchi Mithi, the Arunachal unit head of the National people’s Party (NPP) tweeted, “I am bombarded with exit polls of Manipur but I still hold my ground firmly. We will be the largest party in Manipur.”
On March 4, a day before the final phase of polling in the north-eastern state, Congress in charge for Manipur, Jairam Ramesh, held a press conference in Imphal accusing the Modi government of trying to buy voters by paying influential local militant groups Rs 16.63 crore under the Ministry of Home Affairs’ suspension of operation scheme in the state in the run up to the polls.
Calling it a shocking violation of the Model of Conduct the, Ramesh said, “The Union Home Ministry and the BJP State Government in Manipur released Rs 15.7 crores on 1.2.22 and further Rs 92.7 lakhs on 1.3.22 to banned militant groups under Suspension of Operation(SoO). This has made a mockery of elections in four districts.”
He said, “These payments have ensured that elections in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts in the first phase on February 28 have not been free, fair and peaceful. These bribes to banned militant groups under the Suspension of Operation would also influence the elections in Tengnoupal and Chandel districts in the second phase on March 5.”
In Punjab, where most exit polls have given AAP a clear majority, the two other contenders – Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – are yet to lay down their guards.
SAD leader Sukhibir Singh Badal told reporters on March 9 that he has no trust on the exit polls and such exercises need to be banned.
In Uttar Pradesh, where a close fight was anticipated between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) contesting the polls in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and some other smaller parties, the exit polls have given the ruling party a thumping majority.
This comes in spite of multiple news reports in the last few weeks of the ground slipping from under BJP’s feet at several places. Above all, the prime minister himself had to camp at Varanasi and roll out a public relations exercise particularly through the electronic media to ensure that his party holds on to all the seats from a constituency he represents at parliament.
On March 8, SP president and former state chief minister Akhilesh Yadav accused the state administration of conducting “EVM fraud” and “vote theft” in Varanasi. In a press meet at Lucknow, he said, “Varanasi DM (district magistrate) is transporting EVMs without giving any information to local candidates. The Election Commission (EC) should look into it. We need to be alert if the EVMs are being transported this way. This is theft. We need to save our votes. We may go to court against it but before that, I want to appeal to people to save the democracy.”
Yadav’s serious allegations come after video clips emerged on social media on Tuesday showing EVMs being transported in trucks. However, The Wire has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of these videos.
For the BJP, a lot is riding on these elections, particularly in UP which has 403 seats in the assembly. “Notably, apart from the future prospects of leaders like Adityanath, Akhilesh and his allies, the results from UP will also impact the Presidential elections due in July when President Ramnath Kovind completes his term,” a news report in The Tribune has pointed out. While the value of the vote of an MP is around 708, “that of an MLA depends upon the population of the state according to the Census and the number of elected members of the House.”
“The value is highest for a UP legislator (208) and lowest for Sikkim (7),” underlined the report.
By the end of March 10, it will be clear if the March 7 exit poll results on UP go the way the exit polls of the last assembly elections – in West Bengal – did.