The imperative for BJP chief Amit Shah’s outreach to the NDA constituents could be the party’s bypoll defeats and the prospect of a united Opposition. By all accounts, the BJP’s relations with its allies have been progressively deteriorating since it won office in 2014. The party’s oldest ally, the Shiv Sena, is today its bitter critic while another long-standing partner, the Akali Dal, has repeatedly complained of BJP inattention and neglect. The Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, BJP’s ally in Bihar, is upset and skipped a solidarity dinner meet on Thursday. In March, the Telugu Desam Party accused the BJP leadership of betraying Andhra Pradesh’s interests and quit the NDA and central government. Lacking even a convenor, the NDA resembles a rudderless ship with a disgruntled crew.
The current lack of chemistry between the BJP and its allies may have a lot to do with the post-2014 electoral arithmetic. Unlike in the 1998 and ‘99 elections, the BJP won a majority in 2014, which radically altered the relations within the NDA. The near annihilation of the Congress, unlike in 1998 and ‘99 when it won 141 and 114 seats respectively, meant the BJP could aspire for political hegemony.
In fact, the party has been ruthless in pursuing total domination of the polity across the country — allies like the Sena too have been forced to cede ground as the BJP seeks to expand its footprint. The party’s aggressive expansion agenda has, however, set in motion a process of consolidation among Opposition parties. Realising that their survival is at stake, the Congress and other parties have started to shelve mutual distrust and legacy issues to form tactical, region-specific alliances. The results are visible in UP, where a united Opposition trumped the BJP in bypolls to three Lok Sabha constituencies and an assembly seat.
In a near role reversal, the Congress, once known for being haughty towards allies, has been walking the extra mile to build anti-BJP coalitions. It offered the chief minister’s post in Karnataka to the Janata Dal (Secular), despite winning more than double the number of seats, to keep the BJP out. On Thursday, it risked inner-party rebellion to give a Rajya Sabha seat to the Kerala Congress-Mani to shore up the coalition it leads in Kerala.
With the 2019 general election less than a year away, the BJP seems to realise the need to acknowledge the disquiet among allies and mend ties. But as Shah learnt from his talks with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, it may be a long haul ahead.