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Why the BJP badly needs allies

If Modi is to save the day, the BJP needs a new narrative besides new allies.

Kalyani Shankar | New Delhi |

Is the BJP searching for new allies ahead of the 2019 polls? Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent remarks in Chennai to his party workers give an indication that the saffron party is serious about alliances. The ruling party, which looked invincible until a few months ago, seems to be attempting to keep its political alliances intact ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. While a few months ago, Modi’s re-election was certain, now it is no more a cakewalk. If Modi is to save the day, the BJP needs a new narrative besides new allies. But there are not many on the horizon.

The Prime Minister said, “We cherish our old friends and our doors are always open for parties.” He also recalled the successful coalition politics ushered in by Vajpayee in the 1990s. Vajpayee’s government had alliance first with the AIADMK and then the DMK. Interestingly, the BJP had fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu leading a six party alliance comprising smaller parties, including the DMDK, the PMK and Vaiko-led MDMK, and won two of the 39 seats – one each by the saffron party and PMK. However, all five parties snapped ties with the BJP later.

The coalition with which the BJP came to power in 2014 seems to be cracking ahead of the 2019 general elections. While some allies have already left others are making their concerns public. That is why the need for new allies. So, any successful new coalition would require a powerful narrative, and sharper strategising than that of the Congress-anchored coalition.

Secondly, the BJP had 40 odd partners till recently but some of them have quit. Just months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has lost three key allies – Telugu Desam in March and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Assam Gana Parisahd this month. The first two have shifted loyalties to the proposed Mahagadhbandan.

The NDA allies have been deeply concerned about protecting their turfs in their respective states. The party has four major allies – the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, JD (U) and Lok Jan Shakti party. Of these, the JD (U) has firmed up the alliance through a seat sharing arrangement. Shiv Sena is on the warpath and threatens to quit the NDA. While the Akalis have not crossed swords with the BJP, the party has decided to contest all the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in Haryana. This could have a negative impact, even though the Akalis are claiming it is an anti-Chautala move. Paswan, who is known as the weathercock, has bargained for his Rajya Sabha berth and also firmed up seat sharing with the BJP. Even minor partners like Apna Dal (S) and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) are also increasing. In June, the BJP walked out of an alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. Most northeastern regional parties including the allies of BJP are opposed to the recently passed controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

The BJP has about 20 odd allies. In Bihar it is in alliance with the JD (U) and Lok Jan Shakti party and in UP the party has two minor partners, Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj party. In Maharashtra, the BJP is continuing with Shiv Sena, Republican Party of India (Athawale), Swabhiman Paksha, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, and Shiv Sangram. In Jharkhand, the All Jharkhand Students Union, and JVM (P) are allies of the BJP. In the North-east the party is in alliance with regional partners. The BJP is eyeing Gorkha League in West Bengal. In Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP has no allies.

Thirdly, in 2014 BJP came with 31 per cent of the vote share and formed the government. In 2019, the situation has changed. Then the regional block won about fifty per cent of votes and the regional satraps are not ready to align with the BJP. There are many parties like the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and Punjab which are not ready for a BJP alliance. Post poll is another story.

Fourthly, the Congress has tied up with more allies in most of the States including Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, and is hoping for an alliance with the SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh.

The states which could determine the majority of a party in the Lok Sabha are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. So the BJP could also look at state-specific alliances as the Congress has done. For this it has to negotiate with individual parties in different states.

The BJP has traditionally allied with parties that bring in voters from social groups that do not support it. Whoever ties up with a significant share of parties that are expected to do well in their states in 2019 – Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu or the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal could hope to form the government. After all arithmetic in elections is more important than chemistry.