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Different strategies for local polls

Saturday 3 September 2005

Alliances formed during Assembly and Parliamentary elections usually fall apart during local body polls. The lower stakes in civic polls encourage political parties to take greater risks and test their strength in a large number of constituencies rather than share seats with demanding allies. Not surprisingly, in Andhra Pradesh, the two major players, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, have decided against any State-level alliance for the local body polls slated for September. Thus, the TDP and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, both keen on assessing their individual support base after the debacle in the last general elections, will fight separately in the local body polls. With the two parties having blamed each other for last year’s defeat, the alliance-free approach suggested itself. Any seat adjustment will now be left for the local units to decide. Similarly, the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti have chosen to stay apart. The TRS sees the civic polls as an opportunity to demonstrate its base and push the case for Statehood for Telangana. Apparently, the contest for control of hundreds of small administrative units such as village panchayats renders seat-sharing a difficult exercise. As junior allies press for a major share of seats, the senior partners find it more convenient to disband the alliance. Similarly, smaller parties with some pockets of influence can hope to win in local body elections where the constituencies are smaller. Even without the help of major parties, the smaller outfits can win the battle for administrative control of a limited number of panchayats. Actually, the outcome of such alliance-free elections, providing as it does a true index of the relative strength of the contesting parties, sets the terms for alignments in the Assembly and Parliamentary elections.

In Kerala, where the civic polls are to be held in September, both the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic Front are settled alliances. There is thus little room for the smaller parties to make their own forays. However, the entry of the Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran) in the electoral fray adds a new element. The party Mr. Karunakaran has formed after quitting the Congress would need to make an impact in the civic polls before it is taken seriously in Kerala’s polarised politics. In the prevailing situation, the LDF is comfortably placed for a return to power in the Assembly election next year; it needs no help from the breakaway group of the Congress. But, for the local body polls, the LDF and Mr. Karunakaran’s party have a "tactical understanding" in certain areas. Having already lost three smaller constituents to the breakaway party, the challenge for the UDF is to prevent it from emerging as a rallying point for all dissidents in the Congress and the disgruntled partners. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh, where the next general election is due only four years from now, in Kerala the civic polls would serve as a rehearsal for the Assembly election due next year.

See online : The Hindu

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