The rumblings within the NDA have grown louder after the BJP’s losses in the latest round of state elections. Now, junior allies in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh have publicly criticised the party for its attitude to allies. Leaders of Apna Dal and Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) have said the NDA could suffer major losses in a state that gave the alliance a rich haul of 73 MPs in 2014. Ashish Patel, the national working president of Apna Dal (S), has urged the BJP to take cognisance of its setbacks in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and recalibrate its relations with allies. In a closely fought election, every vote counts and in UP, where a consolidation of Opposition parties seems underway, the BJP’s allies seem to be sending out a message that the party ignores at its own peril.
The Apna Dal and SBSP could be taking a cue from neighbouring Bihar, where the BJP has arrived at a seat deal with its allies. To save the alliance, the BJP was forced to accommodate the demands of the Janata Dal (U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party even as it ignored the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), which had won three seats as an NDA constituent in 2014, and which has now walked out of the NDA and joined the Opposition alliance. Though the BJP won a simple majority in 2014 riding a Modi wave, its tally was also boosted by the alliances it forged in Andhra Pradesh (with the Telugu Desam), Maharashtra (RPI and the peasant leader Raju Shetty besides the Shiv Sena), UP, Bihar and so on. Now, with the general election less than six months away, some of these allies have left the NDA and those that remain, the Shiv Sena, for instance, are visibly playing hard ball. In contrast, the Congress, friendless in 2014, has gained allies since — Janata Dal (Secular), NCP, TDP, DMK among others.
The 2014 results and subsequent state elections had influenced the BJP to believe that a presidential style election that pitted Narendra Modi against the rest would be in its interest. Accordingly, the party appeared to tailor its relations with allies around the notion that they stood to benefit from Modi’s popularity more than the BJP gained from tying up with them. If the BJP remains confident of PM Modi’s vote-catching abilities, it could negotiate hard with allies and even risk fighting more seats on its own (and Modi’s) strength. On the other hand, it is possible that the loss of three Hindi heartland states and the restiveness among farmers, Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities may chip away at the party’s confidence that it can single-handedly set the poll narrative. This would mean the BJP sits down with parties like Apna Dal and negotiates a truce ahead of the elections. The path the BJP chooses will set the tone for the face-off in 2019.