In just over two weeks, the first phase of the general election will start but leaders of both the major national parties are unsure about how to gather the seats. Privately they concede that they don't know where they will get the numbers from.
Congress in trouble
While the Congress is in serious trouble because it has to face the anti-incumbency and it failed to form alliances, the bigger problem is that it doesn't seem to be getting seats from anywhere, unless the Indian electorate suddenly gets enamoured of Congress.
If you look at the map showing victories of Congress, BJP and other parties in the last Lok Sabha elections, Congress is just not visible in major states stretching from UP, Rajasthan to MP, Chhattisgarh and even beyond.
Andhra Pradesh crucial
Had it not been the sweep in Andhra Pradesh (AP) in the election in 2004 when the party had won 36 seats along with its allies [Congress 29, TRS 5, Communists 4], it won't have been able to form the government.
This year, it seems difficult for Congress to repeat the magic. TDP is likely to do well. The best Congress can hope is that it doesn't get routed. In Tamil Nadu, the loss of an ally like PMK that has a transferrable 6% vote is going to cost dear.
The party is fighting without any partners in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It can only hope that it will do better in the states where it reached its nadir like Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and do well in Karnataka.
BJP's woes: Saturation in heartland
Ask any BJP leader off the record, he will tell you that the party workers are worried how to get to even 150 when they had just managed to reach 138 in the 2004 Parliamentary polls when Atal Bihari Vajpayee's personality had dominated the party's campaign.
The bulk of seats had come from the states where it has already reached a saturation. BJP had got 25 out of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh. It had won 21 out of 25 seats in Rajasthan and had emerged victorious in 14 seats in Gujarat. "We can't peform better than this", says most of the BJP leaders in private conversation.
BJP hopes to add to its tally from UP
Besides, it can't hope for a better performance than the 18 MPs it had got in Karnataka in the last elections. In Bihar, the alliance of RJD with Ram Vilas Paswan, means that JD (U)-BJP would not have an easy win like in the Assembly elections, as Paswan's Dalit votes are solidly behind him and are as transferable as Mayawati's constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
No wonder the BJP doesn't mind the Varun Gandhi act. Hoping that the communal polarisation and the 'Hindu victimhood' card can fetch it a few seats in the state. The alliane with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) gives it the hope.
That again brings us to the question that which party will emerge as the single biggest group in the Lok Sabha and which alliance will form the government. In all fairness, it is too difficult to predict, the race is narrowing down, and most will depend on the so-called third and fourth front parties.
Though several opinion polls give an edge to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the BJP-led NDA, I don't think it is as simple. No mathematics or the bigger sample sizes can predict the outcome of Indian elections where 700 million would vote, many of them not revealing their cards in pre-election surveys.
We have reached a stage where there will be nothing like a clear mandate for any party or any alliance. It can be just the comfortness level among the regional parties with either the Congress or the BJP, that will determine the winner. And, of course, fortuity.
[Map showing constituencies won by various parties in the last Lok Sabha elections is obtained from the wikipedia page. Link]