The 26-party Opposition launched a united alliance to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with much fanfare in its Bengaluru meeting held on 18 July naming it "INDIA”. On the same day, a rechristened NDA held a meeting of 38 parties with the Prime Minister calling out the alliance as "unholy", and "opportunistic" with only the aim of defeating Narendra Modi.
Social media was abuzz with #INDIAvsNDA contest with right-wing supporters giving it a "Bharat versus India" twist. A 'much ado about nothing' debate, names of alliances do not win elections, political parties and leaders do.
What the alliance does is provide voters with an alternative to the Narendra Modi-led NDA, thus, negating TINA (There is no alternative) factor to a large extent.
Despite skepticism from many analysts, these parties have covered a long distance in a short time in just their second meeting. The alliance partners also laid out the agenda for the third meeting to be held in Mumbai.
Many issues still need to be tackled including leadership, not just the Prime Ministerial candidate but also who will lead the alliance, how will the common minimum programme look like, and how will the seats be distributed, to name a few.
Seat Distribution: Tricky or Smooth Affair?
The biggest question, though, is of seat distribution, among the alliance partners. The trickier states are Punjab where the AAP and Congress are the top two forces, UP where Congress could demand a respectable share from SP, Kerala where CPM and Congress are historical rivals, and West Bengal where there is a tussle for ceding space between Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and Congress.
However, it appears to be more difficult than it is. Let’s see how!
If the alliance partners adopt the principle of leaving the seat for the winning party (in seats they won in 2019) and to the runner-up party (where it finished 2nd in 2019), then seat distribution should not be such a big problem. The formula is also based on the principle of natural justice.
Out of the 26 parties, 17 parties won seats in 2019, totalling 144 (Table 1), this is after adjusting for the break up in Shiv Sena and NCP. Congress leads the pack with 52 seats, followed by DMK (23), TMC (22), and JD(U) with 16 seats. This takes care of 27% of Lok Sabha's strength. (Note: By-poll results have not been considered).
21 parties of the alliance were runner-up on 328 seats in 2019 (Table 2). Congress leads the pack with 209 seats, followed by Samajwadi Party on 31 seats, TMC on 19 seats, NCP on 15 seats, and CPM on 13 seats.
While it is clear which MP is part of the Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar faction, who the candidates finishing second owe their allegiance to is not available. However, since these parties finished runner-up, they are likely to stake a claim for these seats, and rightly so.
Of these 328 seats, however, there is an overlap of 44 seats, meaning one of the alliance partners won the seat in 2019. For example, CPM is runner-up in 13 seats, all of which were won by the Congress in 2019 in Kerala. Similarly, Lalu Yadav’s RJD was runner-up on eight seats whereas Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) was the winner. CPM, RJD, and other such parties theoretically should give up their claim on these seats.
Adjusting for these overlapping/common seats, parties part of "INDIA” were runner-up on 284 seats. This takes care of another 52% of Lok Sabha's strength. Distribution based on rank 1 and rank 2 takes care of 428 seats (144 + 284) or 79% of the seats (27% + 52%).
Now we have 57 seats (Table 3) where largely it is Congress that has a claim on these seats. These include Andhra’s 25 where the main contest is between Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP and TDP, no other claimant apart from Congress. Similarly on seven seats of Karnataka where JD(S) contested in 2019, now Congress would want to fight, and rightly so. In 19 seats of Odisha and six seats of Telangana Congress finished 3rd so it would fight again from here.
Adjusting for these 57 seats, we have taken care of another 10% of Lok Sabha strength. Distribution-based on Tables 1 to 3, takes care of 485 seats (144 + 284+57) or 89% of the seats (27% + 52% + 10%).
Then there are 58 seats which will need to be distributed, 37 of these were contested by the BSP in Uttar Pradesh as part of mahagathbandhan, 12 in Bihar where allies like HAM, RLSP, and VIP have left UPA or parties no longer exist. This helps INDIA accommodate RJD in Bihar on these seats as it may have to sacrifice contesting on 8 seats which JD(U) won in 2019 and RJD was runner up. These 58 seats make for the balance 11% Lok Sabha strength which needs to be distributed.
So 89% of seats are settled based on the winner and runner-up formula, while just 11% need to be finalised with some new formula.
In this formula, there could be friendly fights in Punjab and Kerala totalling 33 seats. The good part for the “INDIA” alliance is that whoever wins these seats, AAP or CPM or Congress is not going to back the BJP-led NDA. So these seats remain within the family.
Critics may say it is too simplistic an assumption. So let’s attempt to look at the tricky seats from another angle. There are 115 tricky seats, 37 in UP which BSP contested, 44 where both rank 1 and rank 2 parties are now part of “INDIA” (including 20 of Kerala), 13 in Punjab, and 42 in West Bengal. CPM couldn’t win or finish runner-up in any seat in 2019, so logically it doesn’t have a claim. Congress can claim max 2 seats it won. Here also we could see some friendly fights.
These 155 tricky seats represent 28% of Lok Sabha strength, so by this logic on 72% of the seats, there should not be much issue in ticket distribution.
How Can ‘INDIA’ Ensure Seats
In the next ten months, "INDIA” needs to create a perception that it is winning the elections in order to woo the fence-sitter voters, last-minute decision-makers on its side. It's easier said than done though. For this, it needs to present a common minimum programme and a roadmap for its implementation.
The presence of Congress in an apparent fulcrum position gives the voters comfort of stability and continuity of policies with the assurance that the alliance will be able to complete a full term.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)