Shiv Sena and BJP have apparently repaired their frayed relations and arrived at a pact in Maharashtra for the general and assembly elections. The BJP has pulled off a deal in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry as well, where it will contest in alliance with the AIADMK and PMK. In these states, the BJP appears to have gone out of its way to accommodate the partner’s demands, a pattern that began when it negotiated an arrangement with the JD(U) in Bihar. The BJP leadership seems to have looked at the big picture while conceding ground to the Sena, JD(U), AIADMK and PMK.
The Sena-BJP deal in Maharashtra should help consolidate the Hindutva vote against a potential Congress-NCP alliance. This alliance — first forged in 1989 — had won 42 of 48 parliamentary seats in the state in 2014. However, the two parties moved apart ahead of the assembly elections later that year and contested separately, dividing an overlapping political constituency. The Congress and the NCP fought independently, splitting the anti-BJP vote, and helped the BJP win a simple majority in the state assembly for the first time. Now, the prospect of a Congress-NCP alliance would have prodded the BJP and the Sena to come together. However, the Sena leadership may have some explaining to do since the party has been vicious in its attacks on the BJP. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, for instance, repeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s “chowkidar chor hai” jibe at PM Modi, and pulled up the government on issues ranging from demonetisation to Pakistan policy. Sena, clearly, had no option but to swallow its own words since its plank of nativism has lost its sheen and its Hindu nationalist agenda is subsumed in the BJP’s Hindutva project. Tamil Nadu saw multi-cornered contests in 2014 and the AIADMK, which projected its chief, J Jayalalithaa, as the PM face, swept the polls. Now, a weakened AIADMK will fight the bulk of the seats while projecting the leadership of Modi, unusual for a party that claims the legacy of the Dravidian Movement.
The firming up of the NDA in these states, on terms and conditions apparently set by the allies, also reveals the uncertainty ahead of the election. The BJP seems unwilling to risk its chances in the wake of agrarian unrest, lack of jobs and the prospect of an Opposition getting, at the very least, its arithmetic right.