All is not well with the BJP allies, as there are murmurs from the alliance partners more so after the Sena quit the NDA recently. But the BJP is not worried as it has absolute majority in the Lok Sabha though Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to include the representatives of the alliance partners in his cabinet in 2014 and continued the same practice after improving the BJP tally in 2019.Modi is on record when he said that he believes that coalitions are necessary for Indian democracy and his government would combine national ambition and regional aspirations.
Unlike the Vajpayee government, which faced constant troubles from NDA allies, Modi has had smooth sailing for the last five years. The NDA is no longer the same as the position of the allies has weakened. In the past five years, many allies have either quit the alliance or at odds with the Modi government. Even those who have declared to stand with BJP – Akali Dal and JD (U) – are disturbed over the treatment meted out to partners.
The BJP had five major allies. They were Akali Dal, Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena, PDP and JD (U). Of these two parties – the Telugu Desam in 2018 and Shiv Sena recently had parted company with the NDA. The BJP dumped the PDP. The Sena is the BJP’s only ideological ally, while the Akalis, the only ones whose social base couples perfectly with the BJP’s. The NDA Allies have been deeply concerned about protecting their turfs in their respective states.
Does the BJP need allies? Of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP has no need for allies (except smaller partners as in Uttar Pradesh) in 331 seats. Of the 212 seats where the BJP is dependent on allies – Bihar and Maharashtra are the only states where an ally is either the senior or equal partner. The BJP’s decision to hang on to the allies could be because the party is still to attain majority in the Rajya Sabha. When the BJP came to power in 2014, it had 43 Rajya Sabha MPs out of a total strength of 245. Today, that number has almost doubled to 78. Along with its allies, the BJP has 115 M.Ps. It needs the co-operation of a few smaller parties to push its agenda in the House.
The NDA allies are obviously dissatisfied with the present arrangement as they feel unlike the Vajpayee’s time, there is hardly any consultation among the allies now. They want a chairman and convener for the NDA, which used to be there earlier. While the BJP leader was the chairman, the convener was chosen from the allies. The Modi era has seen no such arrangement. This demand has been voiced many times. Even just before the current winter session, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chiraq Paswan pointed out that the appointment of a convener or constitution of a coordination committee would ensure the exchange of ideas and views across alliance partners. Akali Dal leader and Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral also said: “There was a time when no one was in alliance with BJP and at that time too Sena and SAD stood with them. It doesn’t mean that when you get absolute majority you start treating your allies as lesser partners.” The Apna Dal, JD (U) and a few other allies also made similar demands. The NDA has 16 allies of which the BJP is the only national party.
The ties with the allies in the Modi era have not been that easy. This is because of their tussle for votes. The BJP is ambitious and wants to expand while the allies want to protect their turf. This was the reason why Shiv Sena left the alliance last month. Also Modi does not succumb to their pressure. The BJP has a new strategy to build NDA. Mod has said that the doors of the BJP are always open for old and new allies. For instance the TDP is said to be inching closer to the BJP again. Shiv Sena could come back also. The BJP has also got new allies; particularly in the northeast and several more in the anvil like the AIADMK, TRS, YSRCP and other smaller parties. The BJP has expanded its base and has become the richest and biggest party. It has major presence in most big states, and is now eyeing the South and the northeast for expansion. The saffron party has replaced the Left in Tripura and edged Congress out in West Bengal and Odisha as the challenger to the ruling party. Its winning spree continues as it has NDA Governments in 17 states.
Modi is in a strong position right now as it is the allies who need the BJP and not the BJP, which needs the allies as in the past. There was a time the BJP was untouchable but it is not so any more. (IPA)