India awaits vote count, parties sniff for friends (Roundup)

May 15th, 2009 - 10:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) India, the world’s largest democracy, was set to count Saturday millions of votes cast in Lok Sabha elections even as leading political parties continued to hunt for new allies to make up the numbers in a fractured parliament.
While both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voiced confidence that they would be the single largest group in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, their strategists began contacting smaller and regional parties that are expected to play a key role in government formation.

In the process, there were signs that the Third Front, made up of the Communists and regional parties, could be cracking up under the weight of the political deals the BJP and the Congress are quietly offering to some of its vulnerable partners.

But the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) insisted that the Third Front was alive and kicking, despite the dramatic departure of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Amid the political tension that has gripped the Indian capital hours before votes are counted, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar declared that he was not in the race to be a prime minister in the event the Congress tally slips.

Speaking to Times Now television channel, Pawar distanced himself from colleague and former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma’s appeal that the NCP should ditch the Congress and Pawar should bid for prime ministership.

“Sangma has an independent view, which the party has never approved,” Pawar said. “His appeal is not accepted by NCP. We are part of UPA and our efforts are to form a UPA government.”

Exit polls and projections at the end of staggered five-phase polling Wednesday showed that the Congress could get 145-160 seats in the hung Lok Sabha and be the single largest party, followed by the BJP’s range of 135-157. They said the UPA could bag 185-205 seats and NDA 165-208 seats.

With the Third Front tipped to score around 100 seats, a new government would become near impossible unless two formations gang up or key sections of one alliance decide to prop up another coalition.

Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal told reporters: “The Congress believes it will emerge as the single largest formation, and it is all set to form the government. What shape the government will take will be known when we are aware of the exact numbers (each party gets).”

BJP president Rajnath Singh asserted elsewhere that his party would be on top of a split Lok Sabha and that BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani would certainly occupy the top post.

With political bargaining intensifying a day ahead of the vote count, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar set the cat among the pigeons by saying he was willing to support any party that would grant his economically-backward state “special status”.

The BJP immediately scrambled to assert that Nitish Kumar was still with the NDA while the Congress pointed out that it had given substantial funds to the eastern state.

With the NDA bagging the TRS and eyeing the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Congress opened secret channels with AIADMK-ally PMK and actor-politician Chiranjeevi in Andhra Pradesh besides Orissa’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which only months ago divorced the BJP after 11 long years.

Political sources said the hunt for numbers that lead to the majority mark of 272 would continue through the night. “This will accelerate once the results are known tomorrow,” a Congress leader said. “If one party or alliance crosses the 200-seat mark then that party or alliance will be in the driver’s seat.”

And amid rumours that Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati had a covert meeting with BJP’s Advani, her party denied having any talks for a prospective alliance with either the UPA or the NDA.

Mayawati’s confidant Satish Chandra Mishra meanwhile met CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, who also contacted AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha to keep the Third Front in the contention for power. The BSP fought elections on its own but has been closely aligned with the Left.

But the Congress dismissed the Third Front with contempt, saying it did not matter in the scheme of things. “There is no Third Front. It was only an idea before the polls. After the polls it will not be a reality,” said Congress spokesman Sibal.

Officials meanwhile said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would resign Sunday in line with constitutional provisions but remain in office until a new government is formed.

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