It is the final countdown for a new government's formation. And sparks are already flying on the ideological divide that will define the competing alliances in the race. Will this be defined by a 'left-right divide' on economic policies and reforms? Will it be scripted by the undercurrent of the 'India-US nuclear deal foreign policy divide' that precipitated the trust vote last year? Or will it centre on the 'secular-non-secular divide'? The highest decibel in the media is being struck on the latter. The prime minister himself has called the 'secular-non-secular divide' the defining factor for the next government's formation. He could well be right. However, a careful study of the history of alliances in Indian politics, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru's very first cabinet after independence, throws up a much more complex picture. Will the post-May 16 scene be based on one or other of the ideological bedrocks or will it be broadly determined the rush to 'get-to-power'? One would logically assume that the CPM could never have formed an alliance with the Jan Sangh, the BJP's precursor. One would assume the BJP would never have an alliance with a firebrand socialist, George Fernandes, who is a Christian married to a Muslim. One would assume that someone whose father became a national hero by airlifting Indonesian Muslims from peril and was himself immersed in the world of art and culture in New York, Naveen Patnaik, would never have chosen to govern with the BJP. One would assume that a product of the JP movement, whose secular credentials are beyond question, Nitish Kumar, would not partner the BJP. One would assume a brave fighter whose party symbol, from its inception, included secularism as one of its three fundamental principles, Mamata Banerjee, would never have allied with the BJP. And finally, one would assume the BJP would never have partnered the National Conference whose fountainhead, Sheikh Abdullah, was held responsible by the Jan Sangh for the death of its founder president, Syama Prasad Mookerjee. And on all these counts, one would have been wrong! The complexity of alliances can be traced back to the dawn of our independence. Nehru submitted 14 names to the British governor-general, including his own, to form the first cabinet of ministers of free India. Interestingly, six of the 14 were not from the Congress and three among them had strongly opposed the party during the independence struggle. The coalition age began at the very inception of our democracy! Even more striking, one name proposed by Nehru was that of Mookerjee, Hindu Mahasabha leader. In other words, the 'secular-non-secular divide' had been breached from day one. However, for a decade or so, the issue of coalition politics and the problem of the 'secular-non-secular divide' remained dormant. The Congress won the first election in 1953 with a thumping majority of 75 per cent votes, both at the Centre and in the states, requiring no coalition. But after the Chinese aggression and our humiliation, the scene began to change rapidly. Ram Manohar Lohia, a vociferous socialist with a PhD from Berlin and Nehru's close friend, called for an all-inclusive seat adjustment against the Congress for the upcoming elections. One forgotten fact is that, in the 1967 elections, the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal captured power in Bihar with a coalition comprising the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), the Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Jan Sangh, Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Jan Kranti Dal. In Punjab, the Popular United Front captured power through a coalition of the two Akali Dals, Jan Sangh, CPM, CPI, SSP and the Republican Party. Today, it seems unimaginable that the CPM and CPI would form a coalition government with the Jan Sangh, the BJP's earlier avatar, and vice versa! Almost a decade ago, Asghar Ali Engineer, head of the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, vent his deep frustration over the demise of the 'secular-non-secular divide' and the proliferation of rank opportunism to get to power. He defined Indira Gandhi as a "soft Hindu communalist" (in contrast to her father). He mocked the BJP, saying that its members actually called themselves 'secular' and had even coined a new term, 'positive secularism'. But his main attack was on the 'new secularist', starting with V P Singh and ending with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Mayawati. These 'neo-champions of secularism', he said, were only interested in leveraging the Muslim vote bank to get to power. In this telling backdrop, the post-May 16 scenario will perhaps be simple. If the Congress gets 20 more seats than the BJP, there will be an exodus in its direction and the focus will shift to bargain-hunting on ministerial portfolios. If the BJP surpasses the Congress by 20 seats, it will be the same process, by and large. Let us get real. India lost its innocence on 'ideological divides' a long time ago. Power now defines and drives Indian politics. The deeper question is, will this power politics detract from or drive the nation's economic development and reform agenda? Interestingly, the past decade has shown both happening! What does the future hold?