As the adage goes, ‘when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.’ This fits the BJP to a ‘t’ in today’s political context in India. The allies of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are increasingly demanding their pound of flesh, seeing its vulnerability in the wake of the party’s string of defeats in by-elections in the country’s northern belt. After barraging the BJP for purported omissions and commissions, the Shiv Sena was the first to flex its muscles when it passed a resolution on January 23 last declaring that it will not partner the BJP either in the Lok Sabha polls or in the Assembly elections in the state, also due in 2019.
The intensity of Sena’s attacks on the BJP has perceptibly decreased but it is continuing to hit below the belt, albeit less frequently. At one time it seemed as though the BJP was cosying up to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But for sometime now, the early signs of bonhomie have evaporated and instead, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is seeing visions of leading the Opposition against the ruling party at the Centre and in Maharashtra. Pawar, a wily operator as he is, is closely weighing his options with the single-minded pursuit of prime ministership for himself.
The latest to jump on to the anti-BJP bandwagon is the Telugu Desam Party whose kingpin, Chandrababu Naidu, is firing salvoes at the BJP and distancing his party from the NDA. Naidu has realised that he is getting nowhere with his lacklustre governance and corrupt ways and that the way to resurrect himself and the party is to take an adversarial position against the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Since the BJP has virtually no independent base in Andhra, the TDP has hardly anything to lose. Typically, Naidu is pinning all blame on the Centre for the State’s lack of development by alleging that Andhra is not being adequately compensated for the bifurcation of the state and the creation of Telangana state and that the special status promised to Andhra Pradesh has been unfairly denied to the state. There is no indication that Naidu is cutting much ice with the people by crying ‘wolf’ but he is relentless in taking this stand to retrieve his declining clout. While the Congress stands decimated in Andhra, the same cannot be said of the YSR Congress of Jagan Mohan Reddy which has been gaining traction. Jagan Mohan, at one stage, held out an olive branch to the BJP but the BJP bigwigs failed to grab it due to fear of annoying Naidu. Now the erstwhile Congressman is acting hard to get and has mounted a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha against the Modi government which TDP is professing to support.
The stance taken by the Shiv Sena and TDP may have presented the Janata Dal (United) with an opportunity to take advantage by exerting pressure on the BJP. The party led by Nitish Kumar had ended a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP in 2013, over the latter’s choice of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. But in July 2017, Nitish walked out of an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress to tie up with the BJP once again. Now, JD (U) is flexing its muscles while demanding a “respectable share” of seats commensurate to its status in the impending Lok Sabha polls. Reports indicate that the BJP is not willing to offer it more than nine of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies, which could lead to problems between the alliance partners. In the ruling alliance in the state, the JD (U) is the senior partner with 71 seats in the 243-member Assembly while the BJP has 52 seats. In the 2014 general elections, the JD (U) had put up candidates in 38 constituencies but won only two. The BJP and its allies – the Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party – had grabbed 31 seats. Seven seats had gone to Lalu Yadav’s RJD-Congress-NCP combine.
Another long-time ally of the BJP — the Akali Dal in Punjab — has of late been making no bones of the resentment it is harbouring against the BJP for its big brotherly attitude. Considering that it was a virtual wave that had catapulted the BJP to power at the Centre in 2014, it is on the cards that the party may fall short of a majority in the Lok Sabha polls by at least 30 to 40 seats. With that eventuality in mind, the BJP needs to attract fresh allies and to retain some of its old allies. That does not seem to be happening. If Modi is to save the day, the BJP’s star campaigner needs a new strategy to woo voters besides a measure of flexibility in attracting new allies. The only consolation for the BJP is that the Opposition will be a house divided if it comes to choosing a challenger to Modi.