The Congress and some other opposition parties are preparing to stake claim to form the next government as early as May 23 in a bid to pre-empt any invitation to the Bharatiya Janata Party from Rashtrapati Bhavan if the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) falls short of the majority mark of 272.
Last week, senior Congress leaders including president Rahul Gandhi, treasurer Ahmed Patel, and senior leader Abhishek Singhvi held a marathon meeting at Gandhi’s residence to chalk out a detailed plan for results day, two senior leaders privy to the developments told HT.
In accordance with the discussions, some drafts have been prepared by the party’s legal team — led by Singhvi — on how different opposition parties can express their support for a non-NDA government.
A senior Congress leader said: “In the possibility of a hung Parliament, we may communicate to President [Ram Nath] Kovind at the earliest opportunity. If the NDA falls short of a majority, we may replicate the Karnataka model and stake claim. The final call, however, will be taken by UPA [United Progressive Alliance] chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.”
In Karnataka, the Congress had quickly moved and offered rival JD (S) the CM’s chair to keep the BJP, the largest party, out of power and staked claim even as the governor invited the BJP to form a government and offered time to prove majority.
Singhvi, when contacted, declined to comment.
Parties usually wait till the President, after being notified by the Election Commission (EC), calls the largest group of parties or the single-largest party to form a government. But this time, to counter the BJP, the Congress-led Opposition is looking to stake the claim if the numbers don’t throw up a clear majority for the NDA. The party wants to leave no stone unturned in exploring all legal chances to form a government even if the BJP gets more seats than it but the NDA is short of a majority.
The Indian Constitution empowers the President to invite a party or a group of parties he thinks can offer a stable government. The largest party or the largest pre-poll pact get precedence over others. In 2004, president APJ Abdul Kalam invited Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to form a government after the parliamentary polls did not throw up a clear winner. The Congress, with 145 seats, got preference over the BJP, which had 138 seats. The Congress quickly put together a post-poll alliance under the UPA to form a government with outside support from the Left.
This plan to come together to stake a claim has already been discussed with select “friendly” leaders, including Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, according to the Congress leader quoted above.
Yechury, according to a second Congress leader, suggested that the Congress should not insist on all Opposition parties to sign on a single letter of intent to form a government, but allow them to give their own letters of support – since parties such as the Aam Admi Party or the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) or even Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) would not be comfortable to sign a joint letter.
When contacted, Yechury said, “We are all fighting this election to oust the BJP. Opposition parties are committed to forming an alternative government at the Centre. Let us see where we stand after the results are out.”
A third Congress leader said that the party brass had also okayed a plan to explore what is loosely called as a “post-poll, pre-result” pact by getting Opposition parties to write letters to the President before the results were out. A draft document for this purpose was prepared by the legal team and Naidu was entrusted to talk to other opposition leaders to bring them on board. But West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Yechury opposed the plan and said that the parties must wait for the final verdict.
The Congress has started reaching out to fence-sitters such as the BJD and TRS through senior leader Kamal Nath and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the third leader said.