As general elections draw closer, the first fissures in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have surfaced, with the Shiv Sena national executive passing a resolution to be announced that it would fight all future elections on its own.
The party had long been suspecting that when elections to the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra assembly are announced, the BJP would pull the rug from under the Shiv Sena’s feet. The latest move is to be one up on the BJP and not look vulnerable like the Sena did when the BJP pulled out of the arrangement with it on the eve of the 2014 elections.
Though the Shiv Sena has not announced that it is pulling out of the NDA, it seems highly probable that it would and that it would withdraw its nominees from the Central and State council of ministers. Whether the Shiv Sena would move closer to any other outfit is still in the realm of speculation.
That Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray would hitch his bandwagon on to the Congress considering that he had praised Rahul Gandhi lavishly when Rahul was anointed Congress president seems far-fetched because in terms of ideology, the two parties are poles apart and they have had a relationship of mutual recrimination for long. Yet, in today’s politics nothing can be ruled out.
To the BJP, the presence of Shiv Sena in the coalition was always no more than a necessary evil. Uddhav Thackeray, in particular, made no bones about his opposition to most BJP policies though both parties swore by Hindutva and the imperative to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Every so often, the Shiv Sena embarrassed the BJP in no small measure, firing salvoes at it for demonetisation, for the way the Goods and Services Tax was implemented and for many other policies. It took on the BJP when that party was rumoured to be in talks with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for replacing the Shiv Sena in the Central and State coalitions. There indeed was not an iota of doubt that the Sena was not following the ‘coalition dharma’ in its relations with the BJP.
The NCP at that point did not respond positively to BJP overtures, but now that Shiv Sena has walked out on its two decades coalition partner, the parleys could well resume and who knows they may lead to a tie-up after a hard bargain being struck by the NCP. With Rahul Gandhi having donned the Congress presidential mantle, all hopes of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar pitching for Congress support to be a future prime minister may have been dashed or diluted.
For the BJP, the challenge of fighting the next Lok Sabha elections all by itself in Maharashtra may be daunting indeed. It did go it alone in 2014 too after it snapped links with Shiv Sena, but that time it did not have the burden of incumbency on it. But the way the Shiv Sena was criticising the BJP at every step, a durable relationship looked increasingly difficult.
The formal break between Shiv Sena and the BJP doubtlessly weakens the NDA, which has only bit players from other parties. The Akali Dal is a poor shadow of its earlier self after the Akali-BJP combine was mauled by the Congress in Punjab. There is indeed little that the BJP is gaining from associating with the Akalis.
The Telugu Desam of Chandrababu Naidu is seemingly on a descent and relations between Naidu and the Central BJP leadership are nowhere near what they were when the two parties entered into an arrangement. Besides, Jaganmohan Reddy is gaining strength in Andhra and as his pound of flesh he is seeking from BJP an assurance that the Centre would grant special status to his state for an economic package in return for his support.
The BJP coalition with Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and Kashmir has for quite some time been under strain. It could snap any time because it is just tottering along. The alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is steeped in uncertainty. Only a potential tie-up with cine idol Rajinikanth can retrieve the situation for the BJP in that state, but there can be no guarantee of that.
All that underlines the need for the BJP to find new allies and for it to strengthen its own position to a new level. That it is organisationally strong and it has in Prime Minister Modi a campaigner of unmatched quality are big positives for it which it would continue to encash.
Another redeeming feature for it is that opposition is intrinsically weak and the Congress party is led by an upstart Rahul Gandhi. The defeat of CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in an internal battle with his predecessor Prakash Karat on forging new relations with the Congress has soured the pitch for the opposition further.
The newly-turned NDA ally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is still waiting for the BJP to give him a respectable entry into the alliance. His hopes of some of his men being inducted into the Central council of ministers has so far been belied.
With anti-incumbency likely to work against the BJP in elections to assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhatisgarh, it is important that the BJP be well-equipped to handle electoral challenges. This is indeed a time to wake up to the new challenges.
The writer is a political cmmentator and columnist. He has authored four books.