Contesting elections for the first time ever in 1983, NT Rama Rao and his Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh wrapped up seat adjustments against the Congress in no time. His formula was simple: a majority for the TDP and required as many seats as could fetch that number, calculating six wins for every ten contested. The rest, he told the other parties, were theirs.
He specified no particular seats, district or region where he had preferences; he actually had none. Nor did it matter to him as to which party held those seats prior to the elections. 'Everywhere I go, there is response, a mood for change. Making that change happen is my task," he had told me then. He could have had his candidates in all AP seats and most could have won but all anti-Congress forces should be together, he felt.
That had political observers, so used to demographics, caste arithmetic, a calculator, regional issues, local factors, et al as their tools of trade, aghast. However, NTR proved a surprise, doing breathtakingly well.
Not all political parties are that lucky. Not even the TDP in its later days after the son-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu wrested it for himself.
The closest to such quick wrapping up of seat sharing exercise has been the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra. Their numbers are frozen and a few swaps, like Guhagar this time, do take place. The overall matrix remains the same. However, between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, it is a cumbersome process. Things take time to be settled and there are many reasons why.
First off, they are partners for a decade but both share the same political and ideological space but compete for growth. That implies one trying to grow at the expense of the other partner. Which, in turn, means identifying seats which can be assuredly won, improving the hit-rate so that when the final tally comes in, claims can be made about the which of the two is leading the other.
The other consideration is that despite the intra-alliance competition for growing, they two parties together should get to the magic number of 145, preferably a bit more to spare.
With just 114 seats for the NCP forcing it has to strive harder than ever but unless a miracle intervened, NCP's numerical strength could not be as high as it is in the outgoing assembly.
The delays in firming up the seat shares had less to do with numbers, because NCP, with its poor performance in the Lok Sabha polls, knew that the dice was loaded against it. The delay, in such cases, take place due to a complex web of considerations in picking the specific seats and the specific candidate to contest from there, and hopefully, win it.
Each of the two parties works its poll algorithm in its own way but the basics are more or less the same. What most voters who just go and cast their vote or do not cast it but curse the state of affairs find it hard to discern the nuances that go in determining the choices. It cannot be that you take the list of seats, arranged alphabetically and then say, 'one for you, one for me; two for you, two for me'.
Often a preference for a candidate forces a party to demand a particular seat for itself. Likewise, the constituency that gets into a party's list forces a party to hunt for a suitable candidate who has, according to the linguistics in political parties these days, 'electoral merit' or 'winning chances'. In some -- not all -- cases that they naturally are available together and make for easy settlement.
What other considerations go in getting the lists ready for being put on the ballot? The permutation and combinations can make anyone's head swim and exhaust the mental resources of the leaders. The leaders have to know the state and the seats like the back of the hand. In addition, someone who knows how the cookie normally crumbles has to take the final decision.
One -- does the person match the demographic profile of a seat, the castes and communities who vote most?
Two does the person have an image enough to get the floating votes and if he does not, have the necessary ability to get them into the box in his favour anyhow? That 'anyhow' includes ability to buy votes, or bully them using every tool. The tools range from favours done which are encashed at poll time, contracts secured.
Three -- does the person have a reach through network of cooperative banks, credit societies, cooperative milk and sugar enterprises etc where a denial of vote could lead to the voter's harassment into perpetuity?
Four -- does the person have enough funds of his own? How was it earned is never a question that troubles any party's or party bosses' conscience. If not enough from his or her own kitty, does he have enough ability to garner them? This ability -- or the need -- is what makes for corruption. Parties often spend on the major aspects of campaigning, which is common to all, but seldom provides all the money required to win. If at all, it is nominal.
Five -- if a candidate is handpicked, would the party's local supporters, especially the top-tiers, go with him in the district and the constituency? Would there be a rebellion? There are occasions when a person is picked to gauge the potential rebellion, then find the best of them if he meets the criteria listed above and then the official candidate is asked to withdraw, the potential rebel replacing him.
Six -- would putting a name on a ballot actually help an independent to win so that his support is useful to prop up a government later? Often quiet, backroom deals lead to this because a party's nominee may not have enough influence to but denying a ticket would have meant serious losses in neighbouring areas. This sounds strange but is indeed a practice. In 1995, Sharad Pawar had counted on some 40 independents being elected to support him for a government. As many were elected but he too was surprised that they were different from what was on his list.
Above all -- what would be the new equations between the winner and the rest of the party's outfits and the aspirants within that, in the seat, the district and the state? How would it impinge on other stakes, including the elected bodies like panchayats, civic bodies, sugar factories? Always, when planning for one election, others to be held in the future are the back of the mind, influencing choices.
All this calls for meticulous attention to detail, intricate interplays of the factors and the ultimate aim of the need to win.
No wonder it took time. It had to.