After suffering an electoral thrashing at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party in 2014, India's small regional and caste-based parties are back in the reckoning months ahead of the next general election.
Losses for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced in three key states on Tuesday - blamed mainly on rural anger at weak farm prices and sluggish job creation - have opened the door for new and old alliances between the main opposition Congress and smaller parties bitterly opposed to Modi.
Most political strategists still expect the BJP to cling on to national power, albeit with a smaller majority, in an election due by May next year. But they also acknowledge this week's results in three big heartland states have opened up the outside possibility that Congress could stitch together enough support from smaller parties to form the next government.
"At the central level, Prime Minister Modi maintains overwhelming popularity over his competitors, and anecdotal evidence suggests BJP has more boots on the ground than other parties to mobilise during its re-election campaign," Nomura said in a research note. "However, we do expect talks of a grand (opposition) coalition to raise political uncertainty into the 2019 general elections."
A Congress-led coalition involving multiple smaller parties could find it difficult to govern, and make economic reforms particularly contentious. That is because almost all of the smaller parties have their own local or community-based agendas that may not fit with many national policies.
One of the smaller parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) said on Wednesday it would support Congress in forming governments in the big states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it fell just short of a majority.
"We fought these state elections mainly to dethrone the BJP. Unfortunately we were not able to do that on our own," BSP President Mayawati, who goes by only one name, told reporters.
On Monday, a day before the state election results were announced, Congress led a meeting of nearly two dozen opposition parties who pledged to oust the BJP government and "confront and defeat the forces that are subverting our constitution and making a mockery of our democracy".
One of the leaders who attended was Mamata Banerjee, the left-of-centre firebrand who is head of the All India Trinamool Congress party based in the big eastern state of West Bengal.
"The mahagathbandhan (grand-coalition) is a work in progress, it is going to be a reality," Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said.