Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu believes that the present central government does not like regional leaders. “They (BJP leaders) have not been able to digest the federal leaders or regional leaders. They want to have their own party everywhere,” Naidu, who is also the chief of Telugu Desam Party (TDP), said in an interview to this newspaper. Naidu’s comments deserve close attention for two reasons. One, the TDP chief has been the convenor of the NDA until recently and hence is perfectly placed to speak about inter-party relations within the alliance. Two, Naidu has pointed at a deeper tension that has defined relations between national and regional parties even when they are partners in governments. Naidu’s remarks have added significance since the general election is just a year away and reports suggest that major allies of the BJP — the Shiv Sena, PDP, Akali Dal and JD(U), for instance — are turning restive.
Nearly four dozen parties have been aligned to the NDA since 2014. These allies, most of them regional groups, helped the NDA win 300 plus seats in the last general election. The broad spectrum of the alliance has also helped the BJP, the leader of the coalition, to shape the political agenda and narrative — the NDA has governments in 20 of the 29 states in the country. However, the Narendra Modi-led NDA II is different from the NDA I of Atal Bihari Vajpayee or even the Congress-led UPA I and UPA II since the BJP has a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. This, clearly, has allowed the BJP to dominate the alliance and the government and ignore the regional aspirations of its partners. In his interview, Naidu makes a contrast between NDA I and NDA II: Under Vajpayee, allies were consulted in policy-making — Naidu claims he had proposed many of the standout projects of the Vajpayee government including the golden quadrilateral and open sky policy — whereas there has hardly been any serious interaction between the BJP and its allies on matters of governance in the current government. Allies are also wary of the BJP’s ambitious plans to expand its organisational and electoral influence in their turf. Such tensions were a feature of the UPA and even the regional fronts in Bihar, UP, Maharashtra, Kerala and so on.
It takes seasoned leaders, who can negotiate with parties, agendas and egos, to keep contradictions among parties in check and prevent a coalition from unravelling. Ironically, the BJP, which assiduously nurtured alliances with regional parties in the Northeast, has been less accommodative of its partners elsewhere. This can have consequences in an election year.