When Congress president Rahul Gandhi hinted that outcome of 2019 Lok Sabha elections would be that Narendra Modi will not become Prime Minister again ostensibly he had two formulations in mind. Firstly, he did not rule out the possibility of a Congress-led government coming to power and secondly in the event of a BJP-headed formulation retaining power someone other than Modi would be its head.
It is too premature to reach at a conclusion about any of these possibilities. One thing is clear that when Rahul talked about a BJP-led dispensation coming to power without Modi, definitely he has tried to let the proverbial cat into the pigeon holes. The pigeons in this case, for the sake of explanation, are some of the restive NDA allies. A feeling among the top Congressmen that BJP’s tally would come down by a minimum of 70 to 80 seats must have come in the backdrop of some of the front-ranking and, tried and trusted NDA allies feeling suffocated for what an ally leader described as “lack of respect and functional elbow space” vis-a-vis the big brother BJP.
One after the other the NDA allies are now openly giving vent to their ire and complaints which is yet another departure from how former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his comrade-in-arms Lal Krishan Advani managed the coalition with giving ample if not equal space to even smaller partners. That certainly is not the case with Modi-Amit Shah duo run dispensation.
Shah setting a target of winning 350 seats in 2019 and his observation that NDA allies getting space in the combine due to “udharta” (benevolence) of the BJP amply reflect the mindset at work. The obvious reference in the latter case was that BJP accommodated them despite having singlehandedly won 282 seats on its own.
The question arises as to why are the oldest of the NDA allies finding the going tough in NDA-2. Is it due to poor management or is the majority masculinity at play or that a strongly emerged and confident BJP does not need the allies at all?
Some would say that Shiv Sena, an old and trusted natural ally of the BJP, severing its relations with NDA is part of a futuristic strategy worked out by the two parties. But that does not seem to be the case. Shiv Sena was uncomfortable with BJP ever since the NDA-2 strode to power. Used to pampering at the hands of Vajpayee-Advani duo in the past, the current Sena leadership found itself dwarfed in front of Modi. Exasperated at not getting any leeway it has announced to contest 2019 Lok Sabha elections separately but is yet to withdraw either from Union or Maharashtra governments.
Whatever be the reasons a wedge has certainly been created between the two parties who have their base well ingrained in Hindutava. Who could be more natural partners than the two but then unexpected has happened.
Yet another old and trust ally Shiromani Akali Dal has been squirming and protesting, though mildly, in its own way. The gulf in this case is bigger than even with Shiv Sena. SAD supremo and one of the senior-most political leaders of the country Prakash Singh Badal has been left sulking with none from the BJP top approaching him for redressal.
The latest to join the revolting ally brigade has been Telegu Desam Party (TDP). All efforts by its chief and chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu to curry favours with Prime Minister Modi or Shah proved a nought. Once a powerful name in NDA-1, Naidu ostensibly has been rendered politically weaker by the carving out of Telegana state out of Andhra Pradesh which meant lesser number of Lok Sabha seats in Andhra and reduced clout at the Centre.
The TDP was on the verge of walking out of NDA as it felt miffed on near silence of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Andhra Pradesh in his Budget speech particularly on Naidu’s demand for special financial status to his state. It was only after last minute assurances that Naidu decided to stay put but his party MPs have continued protesting in both the Houses of Parliament.
The same story has continued in Orissa where ruling Biju Janata Dal, after remaining an NDA ally for long, is also feeling the heat. In Bihar though chief minister Nitish Kumar has been putting up a brave face but nobody has been lending ears to his demand for special status for the state so his recent opposition to Prime Minister’s proposal for holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. Even a lesser known ally Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of Upendra Kushwaha is sailing in the same boat. Despite being a Minister at the Centre he has off late been staying away to register his protest.
So question arises what ails the NDA-2? At the bottom of this problem laid the current BJP leadership’s ambition to emerge stronger on its own. It is a fact that BJP as of today does not need any ally support to survive at the Centre. But what if it falls short of required numbers after 2019 polls? Their case has been weakened and alarm bells have started ringing after BJP barely scraping through in Gujarat Assembly elections and badly losing all three bi-elections in Rajasthan including two Lok Sabha seats.
The BJP’s invincibility factor is under cloud. It would definitely need the ally backing to ensure retaining power at the Centre in the event of the party emerging as a single largest group. Offending old and trusted allies will harm the basic spirit of alliance politics which was mastered by Vajpayee and subsequently former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi pursued it with aplomb.
Should Modi draw a lesson or two from at least the book of Vajpayee if not Sonia? The basic premise on which the coalition politics works is that treat the partners on equal footing despite their unreasonable demands at times and that no one is untouchable in politics.