New Delhi: Even though the battle lines are getting hardened as the general election draws near, with the BJP's presumptive prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi virtually taking on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and challenging him to a public debate on policies and programmes, it is increasingly becoming clear that a major realignment of political forces is in the offing.
But this is more likely after, rather than before, the general elections that have to be held by April-May, political observers say.
The way Gujarat Chief Minister Modi presented himself to the nation as a "shadow PM" - despite the fact that his party is yet to nominate him as the NDA's candidate - the subsequent public spats between the BJP and the Congress over his attacks on Manmohan Singh and the quiet distancing from his positions by people like L.K Advani and even the Shiv Sena point to interesting times ahead as parties, factions and PM wannabes make their calculations for the upcoming electoral battle.
Talks of realignments were also triggered by the way both the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - sworn political enemies in Uttar Pradesh - supported the Congress when the BJP was attacking it in parliament on the alleged illegal land deals of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Both the regional rivals are indicating that they may continue to support the Congress after the 2014 polls - if they get their pound of flesh.
With the two big national parties - the Congress and the BJP - not sure of getting a majority of their own in the next Lok Sabha, the new ruling coalition at the centre would be shaped by the realignment of political forces after the polls. Till then, the political situation is likely to remain fluid.
"The picture would be clearer by February 2014," said a political observer, who did not wish to be named.
The reason: Alliances in five big states - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra - which together send over 200 MPs to the 543-member Lok Sabha, are still not decided.
There is little chance of pre-poll alliances in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
"The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal-United in Bihar may choose to go it alone in the polls and opt for an alliance afterwards," Nisar ul Haq, who teaches political science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, told IANS.
The JD-U recently parting ways with the BJP citing the ascent of Modi as in-charge of the 2014 campaign may be seen in this light, he added.
Though both the UPA and the NDA are likely to keep their present allies, the challenge would be to rope in new ones.
According to Pradip Dutta, who teaches political science at Delhi University, "It is difficult to say whether the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has an edge at this point."
"Though a coherence is needed before the 2014 polls, post-poll changes are more possible," Dutta told IANS.
He, however, said that the emergence of Modi would make it difficult for the BJP to attract new allies in states with a sizable Muslim population.
"Modi at the helm will weaken the BJP's bargaining position until the party gets over 200 seats in the next Lok Sabha. Parties will find it hard to forget the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat when he was chief minister," said Dutta.
"There is some alignment already. How it will evolve in the states remains to be seen," political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao told IANS.
At present, the Congress has the Nationalist Congress Party, the National Conference and the Rashtriya Lok Dal as significant allies, having lost the Trinamool Congress and the DMK last year. It recently forged an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha with an eye to get more seats in Jharkhand.
The BJP is left with only the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena after the JD-U parted ways in June.
Having supported DMK leader Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi in the Rajya Sabha poll, Congress managers are hopeful of an alliance either pre- or post-poll.
In West Bengal, Congress managers hope the Left parties may support it from outside again, as they did in 2004, while not ruling out the re-enrty of Trinamool supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, given the around 30 percent Muslim population which may deter her from siding with Modi.
In Maharashtra, the Congress may choose to continue the alliance with the NCP while it remains to be seen whether Raj Thackeray's MNS joins hands with the Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray following the death of Balasaheb Thackeray last November.