Allies Need BJP and Not the Other Way Round: Why Trusted Friends Have Sought to Chart a New Course Outside NDA
PM Narendra Modi with Harsimrat Badal. (PTI File)
All is not well between the BJP and its allies, most of them regional parties, for the simple reason that they resent the fact that the saffron party is trying to expand its base at their cost. Even as the allies are leaving the NDA on some pretext or the other, the BJP is not worried because it has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and is close to the majority in the House of Elders.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had included the allies in his cabinet, both in 2014 and also in 2019, the murmurs have not died down. PM Modi had said once that he believes that coalitions are necessary for Indian democracy and his government would combine national ambition and regional aspirations.
Pertinently, the BJP leadership did not go out of the way to stop the Telugu Desam Party or Shiv Sena from leaving the NDA last year. The leadership also did not persuade them from leaving. The same attitude was shown this week when the Akali Dal’s lone minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, resigned from the Modi cabinet, protesting against the three farm bills passed by Parliament. It was an attitude of “Go if you want”. In the past six years, many allies have left the coalition but new allies also joined the NDA.
The BJP had five main alliance partners – Telugu Desam, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, PDP, and JD(U). Except for the JD(U), Sena and Telugu Desam left the coalition last year and the Akali Dal is in the process of doing the same. The BJP dumped the PDP. The result is that the NDA has weakened.
So what makes the BJP behave like this? It is not as if the BJP does not need the allies at all as in the Rajya Sabha, it has only 87 seats in the 250-member House though together with the allies it has crossed the 100-mark.
In the 17th Lok Sabha, the NDA has 335 members. The BJP does not need allies in 334 seats and is dependent on allies in 212 seats. When the BJP came to power in 2014, it had only 23 Rajya Sabha seats but today, it has 87. So far, the party has managed to push even controversial bills like the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and CAA by dividing the opposition. The three farm bills were also passed in a similar manner.
Second, most of the allies are regional and small parties who have no influence in other states.
Third, the equation between the BJP leadership and their allies have changed. Vajpayee and Advani dealt with seniors like Bal Thackeray, Parkash Singh Badal and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The second generation has taken over and the BJP too has changed after Modi took over. Also, the ties in the Modi era are not that easy for the allies. That is why Telugu Desam and Shiv Sena left and the Akali Dal is worried.
The BJP has expanded its base in the past six years and has become the richest party. It has a major presence in most big states and is now eyeing the south and the northeast for expansion. It has replaced the Left in Tripura and edged Congress out in West Bengal and Odisha as the main challenger to the ruling party. Modi wants to keep the door open for any ally to come back.
Notwithstanding the concerns of its allies, the BJP is aggressively pursuing its objective of coming to power in states where it is not in the government. PM Modi is in a strong position right now as it is the allies who need the BJP and not the other way round when the BJP needed the allies. The only option for the party is to consolidate Hindu voters even further by eating into the votes of its allies.
There was a time the BJP was untouchable but it is not so anymore. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Punjab have proven to be more resilient to the BJP’s expansion efforts than expected.
The NDA allies have many grievances. They feel that the BJP does not consult them on important matters. The allies often look back to the Vajpayee-era where an ally was chosen for the convener’s post while Vajpayee remained the chairman of the NDA. There are no meetings of the NDA.
The Modi regime wants to have ties in which the BJP stands to gain from whatever losses the other parties suffer. This has mostly worked in the past six years.
The BJP is indeed well within its right to expand its base and in times to come, to go solo. In any case, before the next elections, new alliances might be forged and old allies might come back. Moreover, the BJP is preparing for going solo from now. The BJP leadership believes that as long as the party remains electorally strong and controls the levers of government at the Centre and in states, its allies will stick around. In any case, the next elections are four years away.