The pre-election polls and forecasts were not far wrong. The Congress (I) has lost a large number of seats in the Lok Sabha and has been routed in some of the states, notably in Tamil Nadu. The Bharatya Janatha Party (BJP), as predicted, has emerged as the single largest group. Projections show that while the BJP will win as many as 190 seats, the National Front/Left Front (NF/LF), with around 150 seats will be second, and the Congress (I) with only around 140 seats would be content with third place. The Congress Party, which has governed India since Independence, except for two brief periods in 1977-79 and 1989-90, has suffered its worst election defeat since Independence. The reasons for the disastrous performance of the Congress (I) are not far to seek.
The defection of party stalwarts as a result of dissatisfaction with the leadership of Narasimha Rao, the corruption with which leading party members were tainted, electoral alliances of doubtful value, such as in Tamil Nadu with the AIADMK of Jeyaram Jeyalalitha, and a whispering campaign about the uninspiring leadership of Narasimha Rao, contributed to the disillusionment of the voters with the ruling Congress (I) government. The economic reforms instituted by Narasimha Rao and the consequent overall improvement in living standards together with the promise of stability, did not suffice to counteract the factors which worked against Congress (I).
There is much speculation and uncertainty as to who would form the next government in India. Political manoeuvring has already begun, new friends will be sought and old enmities will be forgotten. An Indian garment exporter, when asked as to what he thinks would happen in the political horse-trading to follow, said with much insight, "Everyone is an opportunist when it comes to power."
In keeping with convention, President Shankar Dayal Sharma will first call upon the leader of the largest single group in the Lok Sabha to form a government. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the leader of the BJP, will then try to invite or induce either another large political group or a sufficient number of smaller parties and independents to join the BJP in forming a viable government. This is not likely to be an easy task because of the BJP's image as a party pledged to promote Hindu culture. The Congress (I) and most other political groups which stand for secularism are not likely to join or support a BJP-led government. The BJP has been dubbed fundamentalist and extreme Hindu and is known to be in association with elements like the Shiv Sena, led by Bal Thackeray, which are openly and even stridently for a Hindu Bharat. I. K. Gujral, foreign minister in the V. P. Singh government of 1989-90 and a leading member of the Janatha Dal, has said categorically that his party will not go into a coalition with the BJP.
Mr. Vajpayee himself is known to be a moderate and has been described as a liberal democrat. He was the foreign minister in the short-lived Janatha government of Morarji Desai in 1977-79 and served with wide acceptance. During his stewardship as foreign minister, India's relations with her neighbours were extremely cordial. He would certainly be a steadying influence on his more extreme colleagues but only time can tell whether, in the event of his forming a government, he would be able to resolve the tensions that must necessarily arise when decisions have to be made in keeping with the BJP's declared policies of Hindu supremacy, nationalism in economic affairs, and a firm attitude towards Pakistan and the Kashmir issue.
If the BJP finds it impossible to form a government it might well decide to remain in the opposition expecting to gain an overall majority in the next general election which is considered likely sooner than later. In that case, the second largest parliamentary group, the National Front/Left Front (NF/LF), will try to put together a coalition to form a government. They have ruled out any coalition with the BJP but would not discount the possibility of getting support from some of those who left the Congress (I) or of those who might defect from the ranks of a defeated Congress (I). Asked if the Congress (I) would agree to join a coalition headed by the NF/LF, Pranab Mukherjee, foreign minister in the Narasimha Rao government, has said that he could neither confirm nor deny such a possibility. Since the Congress (I) under the leadership of Narasimha Rao has been badly defeated there is bound to be agitation seeking his resignation from the leadership of the Congress (I).
Already there are moves to ask Narasimha Rao to resign. But the question of a replacement would present difficulties for the Congress (I). A proposal has already been made to appeal to Sonia Gandhi to assume the leadership. At the present moment it is not known what Sonia Gandhi's own preferences are; whether she would decide to plunge into the maelstrom of Indian politics or would find it more advisable to be the power behind the throne, supporting someone like Arjun Singh, who was expelled from the Congress after differences with Narasimha Rao some time ago. Sonia Gandhi is known to be dissatisfied with the inability of the Narasimha Rao government to bring to a speedy conclusion the trial of those alleged to be responsible for her husband's assassination five years ago.
There are several persons who would aspire to the leadership of a coalition government led by the NF/LF. V. P. Singh would have been an obvious choice if he would consent. He is said to be unwilling to stake a claim, partly because he is not too well. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswam and Laloo Prasad Yadav, leaders of the deprived castes, are all senior members of the National Front but none of them have much clout outside their own States. The veteran and ageing Communist leader, Jyoti Basu, has a reputation for being uncorrupt, has served with distinction as Chief Minister of West Bengal for many years, and has effected reform in the rural areas of Bengal. He would find support in the ranks of the National Front/Left Front to become prime minister.
Asked about the possibility of the Congress (I) joining a coalition led by the NF/LF, the Congress (I) Secretary, D. N. Twivedi, said that the Congress did not generally believe in coalitions. On the other hand they would not mind supporting such a coalition on the basis of issues, while sitting in the opposition benches.
While losing a large number of Lok Sabha seats, Congress has fared disastrously in the States as well. It has been routed in Tamil Nadu where M. Karunanidhi's DMK has swept the polls. The position in Tamil Nadu would be similar to that in 1989/90 when Karunanidhi held office as Chief Minister with the National Front in office at the Centre. The defections of Congressmen like P. Chidambaram and G. K. Moopanar after Rao teamed up with Jayalalitha, have contributed to the Congress rout as much as the widespread allegations of corruption against Jeyalalitha.
The results of the parliamentary and state assembly elections in India, and especially in the State of Tamil Nadu, are of considerable interest to Sri Lanka. Of course, whatever happens, it must be Sri Lanka's policy to establish cordial and friendly relations with both the Centre in New Delhi and the State government leaders in Tamil Nadu and to ensure that her own national interests are correctly conveyed to and viewed by India's leaders with understanding and sympathy. Sri Lanka has been able to do that with the Congress (I) government of Narasimha Rao. It should not be different with either a BJP government led by Vajpayee or a National Front/Left Front government headed by Jyoti Basu. Both these leaders are fully conversant with the situation in Sri Lanka and have condemned the terrorist activies of the LTTE. I recall the sentiments expressed by both these leaders in July 1990, when a multi-party parliamentary delegation led by Speaker M. H. Mohamed met with Indian leaders of all the major politial parties.
It is a fact that in Tamil Nadu there is always widespread sympathy and concern for what is perceived there to be "the suffering of the Tamils of Sri Lanka". But even Karunanidhi has been reluctnat to express open support for the LTTE in view of the known sentiment among the vast majority of Indians regarding the alleged involvement of the LTTE in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It will be in Sri Lanka's interest to establish close relations with the newly elected leaders in Tamil Nadu, to convince them of the Sri Lankan point of view and to assure these leaders that there is really no cause for concern, except in the event of the territorial disintegration of Sri Lanka. A separate Tamil Eelam, or even conditions which will inevitably lead to Eelam in the future, will not be in India's interest either. In spite of all the carefully orchestrated and vile propaganda being conducted against them internationally, Sri Lankans are known to be tolerant and reasonable and will always endeavour to resolve internal problems with justice and fairness to all citizens.
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