The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have a problem holding on to its electoral partners. While Vajpayee by instinct was a consensus-builder, trying to take as many allies along as possible, Modi gives the impression of a solitary player who seems to care little for others to join the game with him. Maybe the fact that under Modi BJP can get a full majority on its own without the need for allies has further obviated the need for him to accommodate allies under the ruling party tent. Otherwise, we do not see how the BJP could have allowed its inexperienced but always irksome Tamil Nadu chief Annamalai to rile the AIADMK to such an extent that the latter felt obliged to snap links with the NDA. Annamalai, a former IPS officer, may have given the state BJP a high profile but he has also been tactless in some of his comments. After all, he could not have expected that his criticism of the late J Jayalalithaa, the iconic leader of the AIADMK, would go unchallenged. Even his remarks against C N Annadurai, the Dravida icon, were uncalled for. As a leader of the saffron party which is struggling to find its feet in a hostile terrain dominated by the two rival Dravida parties, Annamalai ought to have been far more conciliatory rather than openly critical. Instead of making a big issue of the trenchant attack on Sanatan Dharma by Udhayanidhi Stalin, Chief Minister M K Stalin’s son and a minister in his government, Annamalai diverted attention to a peripheral issue. It does seem that the central BJP leadership has given him a long rope which allows him to often wade into highly avoidable controversies.
Meanwhile, given that the Parliamentary poll is still a few months away, the return of the AIADMK to the NDA fold cannot be completely ruled out, especially when the ruling DMK is part of the rival I.N.D.I.A grouping. The AIADMK divorce from the NDA ought to make the BJP leadership more solicitous of the need to keep its current and potential allies in good humour. Nothing hurts the ego of regional leaders more than the display of arrogance and neglect towards allies. It is good that the party leadership feels confident of a good performance in the coming Assembly and parliamentary polls but winning over more and more allies can only strengthen the party’s position. As it is, the saffron party is facing internal problems in its Karnataka unit which the central leadership thus far has failed to resolve. The failure to elect a leader of the Opposition in Karnataka underlines the internal struggle between various factions. The recent alliance with the JD(S) can bolster the saffron cause ahead of the Lok Sabha poll only if the party is able to put its own house in order. Also, after the defeat in Karnataka the BJP has suddenly lost steam in the neighbouring Telangana where a resurgent Congress Party has emerged as the main challenger to the ruling Bharat Rashtriya Samiti of Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. In Kerala too, BJP has a thin presence, the main play divided between the Marxists- and Congress-led alliances.
In other words, the BJP cannot afford to be arrogant or nonchalant about its current and potential allies in the south. It may have pockets of influence in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana but to make something of them it needs the regional allies. In a vast and diverse country, building bridges of understanding and cooperation would always pay dividends. Modi’s popularity would not be diminished, but in fact enhanced if he were to woo back to the NDA fold all the allies who at one or other point of time had left the big tent and are now looking forlorn and friendless. Look at the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. After it ditched the BJP on the question of the chief ministership, it has had to sup with the Congress and the NCP, the two parties it had lost no opportunity to criticise in the strongest possible terms when its alliance with the BJP was going strong. At one level, both the BJP and the Shiv Sena have suffered in Maharashtra after the two went their own separate ways. They were natural allies. And even now if there is an iota of a chance men and women of goodwill in both estranged parties ought to locate a way out to end the separation and be friends again. It is in their mutual interest. Just as it is in BJP’s own interest to persuade the AIADMK to return to the NDA fold.