First a Shiv Sena and now Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have parted ways with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). There have been over two dozen alliance partners in first the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA and now under Mr Narendra Modi’s strong leadership. But Shiv Sena and SAD were the most natural allies of the BJP since all three have faith in religion based politics. It is another matter that another old and trust ally of the BJP, the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) had parted ways ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as its chief Mr M Chandrababu Naidu, who enjoyed unbridled power and importance during the Vajpayee regime and was even chairperson of the NDA, felt slighted and ignored.
A natural question that arises is whether the NDA is cracking as the two natural allies parting ways has definitely created panic among other allies too. But an interesting point behind the Sena and SAD parting ways is that the current BJP under the Modi- Amit Shah duo dealt with their allies from a position of strength which some might like to describe as arrogance. This is contrary to Vajpayee style of managing or dealing with coalition partners which was more pragmatic and on grounds of equality in line with the democratic values.
It is another matter that post-2019 Lok Sabha election the BJP securing a thumping majority on its own has changed the permutations and combinations within the NDA more so because Mr Modi, from the very beginning, was looking at a coalition from a different prism and the underlying principle was ” ekla chalo” ( march alone). With BJP getting winning record number of seats on its own must have strengthened his view of coalition politics and his continuous quest for taking the party into up till now politically forbidden territories such as Punjab. Even in Maharashtra the parting of ways could be more due to this desire of growing on its own. Certainly the outcome of the 2019 elections must have strengthened his belief that it was the coalition partners who needed him more rather than BJP needing them. So, the context of the coalition dharma has taken a significant turn.
After old, trusted and natural allies quitting the NDA, the Bihar Assembly elections have become more interesting as this is another forbidden territory where BJP has not been able to form the Government on its own. It is a different matter that it has tasted stupendous success in the last two Lok Sabha elections. How would an important ally such as Janata Dal (u) led by Mr Nitish Kumar be viewing the scenario in the backdrop of these developments within the NDA?
The BJP-JD (u) alliance is already in the midst of elections as Election Commission of India has announced the poll schedule. So, the two alliance partners along with others such Mr Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party have no option but to fall in line notwithstanding the fact that Mr Paswan and some smaller allies have been expressing their concerns on big-brotherly attitude of the BJP for quite some time now. But for them all other options seemed to shut as of now as all efforts of Mr Paswan to go back to the Congress camp failed due to trust deficit on account of his past deeds.
Everyone had known that all was not well between BJP and Shiv Sena and BJP and SAD. The first alliance in Maharashtra was rocked over the issue of chief ministership with the Sena refusing to play a second fiddle anymore and a BJP on the ascendancy under Mr Modi not prepared to let the leadership in the financial capital of the country and one of the bigger states to go to the Sena. This model of conflict, which in a different manner had come into play in Andhra Pradesh earlier, has some interesting contours. It is a fight between a strong national party, which firmly believes in the ideology of unitary system rather than the federal one, versus the regional outfits who have considerable influence in their respective states and address the regional aspirations according to local ethos. Somewhere in his mind Mr Modi must be seeking a change in this syndrome with an eye on forbidden territories such as Tamil Nadu and West Bengal where assembly elections would due next year.
The one way to look at a trusted ally like SAD leaving NDA or earlier not conceding to the demand of Sena on chief minister’s issue is that the Modi-led BJP is not versed with the nitty-gritty of running a coalition and is loath to accommodating the regional aspirations. This could be true to some extent but not entirely as the current BJP is not ready to compromise on its own expansion plans and outlook of “ek Rahstra”. More clearly speaking it is a strong reflection of the majoritarian style of politics which the BJP believes in. And why not, despite strong disagreements on this, as this has given ample electoral successes to the party as immediate gains.
For Akalis the three farm Bills hurriedly passed in the just concluded monsoon session of Parliament proved to be the proverbial nail in the coffin. It had become untenable for the SAD leadership to back these Bills which they felt was against the interest of the farmers and given the fact that the party has a strong backing of the peasantry in Punjab. So, the parting of ways!
Another factor that might have made Akalis jittry is that the Panthic Sikhs, a majority of whom have traditionally supported Akalis, have not taken kindly to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) definition of Sikhism. The RSS view has been that Sikhism was merely a sect within Hinduism. This had led to widening of chasm between the support banks of BJP and SAD in Punjab which was also evident in the last elections and as a result the RSS-BJP support base of primarily Hindus voted for the Congress with the sole aim of defeating the Akalis.
To concur that parting of ways by the Sena and SAD is the beginning of the cracking of NDA is too premature and being politically naive at this juncture. It will all depend on how the BJP deals with its other allies or vice versa in the coming times. Perhaps outcome of the Bihar assembly elections will also have a lot to do with the NDA’s future. Even if the NDA wins the next crucial question would be of chief minister clearly on the lines of Maharashtra though BJP leadership has publically declared Mr Nitish Kumar as the chief minister face. Will BJP stake strong claim for the top post in the state or allow Mr Kumar to continue for yet another turn? Bihar being a politically significant state the answers to these questions would have direct bearing on the NDA.
In any case it is also a known fact for quite some time that the NDA allies have been feeling left out during the last six years though they are part of the Modi dispensation. A strong indication to this effect, as pointed out by SAD President, Sukhbir Badal after parting of ways with NDA, that not a single meeting of the alliance has been held during the last over six years of Modi Government’s rule. Although the SAD patriarch, Prakash Singh Badal, who is the senior most political leader in the country is now inactive due to age-health reasons, he has been complaining in private circles that he gets no respect in Delhi as was the case during Mr Vajpayee’s time while responding to questions that why had he stopped going to the capital to interact with BJP leaders.
The one strong factor in Mr Modi’s favour is that he still has unflinching public support no matter how successful his Government’s policies have been on ground. The China incursions, the serious COVID-19 pandemic effect, the mindless privatisation of Government undertakings and lately the issues of farm bills and labour law changes, have so far not shown any desired impact on public mind. A directionless opposition give him further age.