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Bihar break-up underlines a new predicament for BJP – as party surges, the alliance it leads is dwindling

Increasingly, regional outfits seem wary of the BJP’s aggressive and ambitious expansion plans and fear that the latter could ignore the coalition dharma and even break or swallow smaller groups to further its political goals.

For now, the BJP can shrug off such criticism because the party has the numbers in Lok Sabha. But politics in India is a tricky and unpredictable terrain and the utility of coalitions to spread into newer territories cannot be discounted.

As Nitish Kumar took oath as Bihar Chief Minister for the eighth time on Wednesday, the RJD by its side again, it is a moment for the BJP to ask itself some searching questions. The party’s coalition (mis)management has drawn unflattering attention lately. In Bihar, it is being speculated that Nitish Kumar decided to quit the NDA and resurrect the Mahagathbandhan because of apprehensions that the BJP might replicate the “Eknath Shinde model” that it used to topple the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra in Bihar — that is, lure a section of JD(U) MLAs to its side by offering office and then form a government with the rebels. Nitish’s Mahagathbandhan ally and new Deputy CM of Bihar, RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav, put it bluntly: “In the entire Hindi heartland, the BJP has no ally now. It is all because the BJP tries to finish its ally.”

For now, the BJP can shrug off such criticism because the party has the numbers in Lok Sabha. But politics in India is a tricky and unpredictable terrain and the utility of coalitions to spread into newer territories cannot be discounted. In fact, in the past, the BJP had cast away the tag of “political untouchable” in the 1990s by reaching out to regional parties and accommodating their interests in alliances — Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign as prime minister in 1996 after he failed to win allies during his 13 days in office and the BJP learnt its lesson from that setback. The Congress, too, took the cue from the BJP-led NDA and formed the UPA in 2004, which stayed in office for a decade. Since 2014, the BJP under Narendra Modi has won simple majorities and consolidated its gains. But its rise has also been facilitated by long-standing allies such as the Akali Dal in Punjab and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which opened up areas that had limited BJP presence. The NDA, with a large number of influential regional outfits such as Trinamool Congress, Dravidian parties, JD(U) and LJP, helped bolster the BJP’s pitch as it presented itself as the national alternative to a declining Congress. Now, after the realignment in Bihar, the BJP has no major regional party as an ally. The NDA has essentially been reduced to the BJP and a handful of parties in the Northeast — the split in Shiv Sena awaits closure in the Supreme Court and the AIADMK, a pale shadow of the party under J Jayalalithaa, leads the alliance in Tamil Nadu which allows the BJP to contest a few seats during elections.

Increasingly, regional outfits seem wary of the BJP’s aggressive and ambitious expansion plans and fear that the latter could ignore the coalition dharma and even break or swallow smaller groups to further its political goals. In the long run, this perception can hurt the BJP. Also, in the foreseeable future, the party will need allies to grow in southern and eastern India, where regional parties still hold sway.

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First published on: 10-08-2022 at 09:04:32 pm
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