Regional satraps, all astute politicians and mostly from southern states, are positioning themselves to play kingmakers if the Lok Sabha results do not throw up a definite mandate.
The list of these possible kingmakers is impressive: Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party, N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and M.K. Stalin of the DMK.
One of these leaders, Mayawati, has already declared her prime ministerial ambitions — not once but twice, the latest being on Wednesday. It is easy to see why she backs herself in that position. Apart from being from Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most important state politically, she is India’s preeminent Dalit player and a master practitioner of caste politics.
Her younger mahagathbandhan partner Akhilesh Yadav, with whom she has had a smooth alliance without the friction that one would have expected given their history as political adversaries, could position himself as an important post-poll player. However, he does not have the political heft that Mayawati does.
Naidu has emerged as the most politically active leader among the possible kingmakers. He has veered towards the UPA after supping with the NDA and is now running a campaign to mobilise opposition unity. Among the key leaders apart from Sonia Gandhi that he has met recently are Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal and Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.
Two regional leaders who have kept their cards close to their chests are Reddy and Chandrashekhar Rao. Rao had first proposed a non-Congress, non-BJP federal front — an idea that went out of favour soon after only to be back on the table now. His idea of a federal front appears to be to create an alliance that would give outside support to the ruling alliance at the Centre, much like the Left parties between 2004 and 2008 during UPA-I. He might not bring in huge numbers in the Lok Sabha — Telangana has 17 Lok Sabha seats — but an agglomeration of parties behind him would make him an important leader.
Reddy has played a wait-and-watch game. This has also meant confusion for those who have watched him from outside. If he has praised the Prime Minister, he has also said that he has forgiven the Congress party, presumably for not backing him for the chief ministership after the death of his father, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, in 2009. He might not bring in huge numbers, but has shown that he can be a sharp political player.
Stalin is clearly in the UPA camp, a powerful regional satrap who is expected to do well in these elections. Sources say he has given an assurance that if it is touch and go on government formation at the Centre, he will deliver the numbers for the UPA with the help of other parties in the south.