Opposition's continuing handicap - no leader
With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ram Madhav now saying that his party will get a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha and not fall short of the requisite number as he had said earlier, the opposition will probably have to redouble its unity efforts.
Madhav's earlier comment had apparently galvanized the opposition parties to try yet again to come together. First off the block was Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who spoke to his counterparts in Kerala and Karnataka, Pinarayi Vijayan and H.D. Kumaraswamy to sound them on his ideas of forming a non-BJP, non-Congress front.
However, he now seems to have become softer towards the Congress, presumably because both Kumaraswamy and Stalin have told him that they have earlier supported Rahul Gandhi's claim to be the prime minister.
In any event, Rao himself may have realized that since he raised the issue of a forming a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front with Mamata Banerjee a few months ago, it is not possible to keep the Congress out of the equation, especially if it gets 100-odd seats, more than any other non-BJP party.
After Rao's endeavours, Andhra Pradesh's N. Chandrababu Naidu has entered the fray with praise for Mamata Banerjee as a Bengal tigress.
What is obvious from these smoke signals is the realization that the non-BJP parties have a chance if they can get their act together because the BJP, in their view, is faltering.
However, they are also scared that if they do not move quickly, then the BJP may use its status as the largest party in the House - which is a certainty - to form a government by wooing allies from outside the National Democratic Front (NDA).
The ever-active grapevine of Lutyens Delhi has it that Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik tops the list of such potential allies followed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh, who is on record for saying that he will support the BJP in a "hung" Parliament if it promises granting special status to his state - the issue on which Naidu quit the NDA.
Ironically, Rao's name was also mentioned in this context some time ago when it was felt that he was moving close to the BJP. But that phase is apparently over.
However, it is the belief among the opposition parties that the BJP may get the first chance to form a government, which has persuaded them to consider writing to the President, Ramnath Kovind, that they are ready to give letters of support for an alternative government.
But such an assertion cannot be made in general terms, for who will the President call to form a government in case he decides to give the largest alliance rather than the largest party the first opportunity?
Ay, there's the rub, as Hamlet said. It is the opposition's failure to decide on a leader which has been its biggest handicap and Narendra Modi's biggest advantage.
Nor is there any possibility of the opposition being able to come to a decision before May 23, the day of reckoning. As is known, there are far too many contenders for the top post.
While the Telangana chief minister wants someone from the south to be the PM - is Rao thinking of himself - Naidu seemingly has a preference for Mamata Banerjee although he has been equally friendly with Rahul Gandhi.
The West Bengal chief minister herself is believed to nurture such ambitions if only at the behest of her party men who want a Bengali prime minister.
However, her major difficulty at the moment is the challenge which she faces from the BJP in West Bengal which appears to have replaced the Left and the Congress as the Trinamool Congress's main adversary in the state.
It is not known how formidable the challenge is. The BJP is unlikely to get 20-odd seats out of 42 as party president Amit Shah has predicted. But even if it gets seven or eight, it will be a sign that it has been able to exploit the chinks in the Trinamool Congress's armour.
Neither such a setback, nor the violence which has made West Bengal look like what Bihar was 15 years ago, as a polling officer has said, will bolster "didi's" prime ministerial ambitions.
Mayawati has also thrown her hat in the ring by saying that if she gets a chance to be the prime minister, she will stand for the parliamentary elections which she is not contesting at present.
Her political "bhatija" (brother's son), the Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav, has backed her ally in the UP mahagathbandhan (grand alliance), for he wants a prime minister from UP.
The khichdi image, therefore, remains valid about the opposition, confirming Arun Jaitley's fear of "chaos" overtaking the country if the opposition comes to power.
In 1977, the Janata Party could initially dispel such apprehensions with the help of stalwarts like Jayaprakash Narayan and J.B. Kripalani. The present shaky gathbandhan has no one of such stature.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)