Telugu Desam Party chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu on Tuesday said there is a "real possibility" of the country witnessing a repeat of 1996 in 2019 where regional parties will come together after the Lok Sabha polls to evolve a "Third Front" and form a government.
Mr Naidu also said Congress will remain as an "anchor party" and that the decision on a prime ministerial candidate will be taken depending on the number of seats won by the Front partners.
The assessment by Mr Naidu came notwithstanding the failed efforts by Congress and other opposition parties to form a pre-poll "mahagathbandhan" or a grand alliance to present a united front against the BJP.
HD Deve Gowda, the current JD(S) chief, became the prime minister of a United Front(UF) government heading a group of regional parties backed by the Left and Congress from outside after the 1996 Lok Sabha polls threw a fractured verdict in which the BJP had emerged as the single largest party. Mr Naidu was the convener of the Front then.
"A repeat of 1996 in 2019 is a real possibility and this cannot be ruled out," Mr Naidu told PTI in an interview.
Mr Naidu also said it is unlikely the BJP will cross the 200 mark due to what he called "growing negative wave" against the Modi government.
Mr Naidu, who is seeking a second term as the chief minister of the residual state of Andhra Pradesh, said his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was confident of sweeping both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections and defeat the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). Campaigning for the polls ended Tuesday.
Polling will be held in single phase on April 11 in 175 assembly and 25 Lok Sabha constituencies that has an electorate of 3.93 crore.
"Now every regional party is slowly distancing from the BJP. That itself is a downside for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An year back, can anyone dare to oppose Modi. The Modi wave has come down drastically and the negative wave for him has started," Mr Naidu said.
Asked if the saffron party will be able to cross 200 seats, he said, "It is difficult because there is substantial negativity against the BJP".
On one hand, the BJP has failed to deliver on its promises made in the 2014 poll manifesto, while on the other it has destroyed the democratic fabric of India by threatening the CBI and other independent agencies, he added.
Mr Naidu, who broke away from an alliance with the BJP at the Centre early 2018 over the demand for special status for Andhra Pradesh, said a likely strong performance of regional parties could go against the BJP if the local parties unite together after the polls.
Asked if there could be the repeat of 1996 in 2019, he said, "Everything is possible. We should not speculate things right now. I don't want to vitiate the atmosphere right now. Post elections, we will discuss."
"It will all depend on numbers and post-poll consensus. There is a democratic compulsion and earlier there was a secular and political compulsion. Now, there is political compulsion for all parties to come together against the BJP."
On Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSRCP, both of whom are perceived to be ''B team'' of BJP, going soft on the Congress, Mr Naidu said they are doing "drama" to retain their minority votes.
"Of course, it is all drama. All minorities have decided to vote against BJP. Now, they are in dilemma and therefore talking all these things," he said, adding they are "playing dirty games."
Asked if TRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao might join any Congress-led alliance post poll, Mr Naidu said, "Let them come. On what condition they want to come and under what circumstances they will join I cannot say. Earlier, he said there will be a federal front(of non-Congress, non-BJP parties) and later became a Modi friend. He is a beneficiary from BJP and we are suffering."
On electoral prospects for the TDP in the assembly polls, Mr Naidu said there is a very positive sentiment in favour of his party and there is no problem for winning, but it is a question of winning the constituencies with a big majority.
"We are aiming 150-plus and let us hope for the best," Mr Naidu said, adding that the main fight is against the YSRCP which, he alleged, is being funded by K Chandrashekar Rao, also called KCR.
"YSRCP is contesting alone but has a hidden pact with BJP. Now, KCR is supporting him. Why KCR is funding Jagan's election? Is it to capture Andhra Pradesh? We don't want your (KCR) rule here. Who are you?" he said.
In 2014, the TDP and the BJP had fought together in Andhra Pradesh. This time, the TDP is contesting elections alone to take on the YSRCP. The Congress is on the sidelines while the BJP is fighting a losing battle. Actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party, which has tied up with Left parties and the BSP, is yet to be tested as a formidable challenger.
In 2014, Mr Naidu in alliance with the BJP scraped through with 106 of the 175 Assembly seats. For the 25 Lok Sabha seats, the TDP won 16 and BJP 2. The YSRCP had 68 seats and 7 MPs.