New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party is quickly shoring up alliances in various states to take on the opposition.
On February 18, the BJP worked out a coalition arithmetic with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The Uddhav Thackeray-led party, interestingly, was one of the most critical voices in the state until last week.
On Tuesday, the saffron party forged a pre-poll alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu too.
The BJP’s efforts to abandon its political one-upmanship and heed the demands of regional allies indicate that it may be worried by the gradual coming-together of opposition parties across India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often ridiculed opposition alliances, known in popular parlance as Mahagathbandhan, as “Mahamilawat” (an alliance of adulteration). He has also sought to pitch himself against the whole opposition as an election strategy. ‘Modi versus a corrupt alliance’ is the political line the BJP leaders too have repeatedly advanced.
However, the BJP’a efforts to boost the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the general elections signals that the party may not be as confident as its leaders sound in public speeches.
The Maharashtra case
The make-up of the pre-poll alliances the BJP has finalised reflects poorly on the party’s surefootedness.
For the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, the BJP will contest 25 seats, while the Shiv Sena will field 23 candidates. When compared to the seat sharing in 2014, the BJP will field one less candidate, while the Shiv Sena gets three additional seats. The third smaller ally – Rashtriya Swabhimani Paksha – has already left the NDA, protesting the government’s alleged poor handling of farm distress.
Interestingly, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have also agreed upon an alliance for the assembly elections, unlike in 2014. Both parties will contest an equal number of seats, after setting aside some for other allies.
Clearly, the Shiv Sena has bargained a great deal. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the Shiv Sena contested 20 seats and won 18. It secured 20.8% of the total votes. The BJP, in contrast, won 23 of the 24 it contested, with a 27.6% vote share.
The figures from the last assembly elections, in which both parties contested separately, also show that the BJP has, perhaps, given more room to the Shiv Sena than it deserved.
In 2015, the BJP contested 260 of the 295 seats, winning 122 and securing 31.1% of the vote share. In contrast, the Shiv Sena fielded 282 candidates and could win only 63. Its vote share was 19.8%.
Although the BJP remains the senior partner, it has ceded much space to the Shiv Sena. Party sources said the growing popularity of the alliance between the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party forced the saffron party to concede to Uddhav Thackeray’s demands.
Apart from the seat-sharing arrangement, the BJP has also agreed to accept demand made by the Shiv Sena, including the relocation of the Nanar oil refinery in Ratnagiri. Several farmers have been agitating against the controversial project over alleged forcible land acquisitions by the Devendra Fadnavis-led state government.
In Tamil Nadu (39 Lok Sabha constituencies) and Puducherry (one), the BJP will contest only five. The AIADMK is likely to contest 25, while the remaining seats will be left for other NDA allies – Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Anbumani Ramadoss’s Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and smaller parties like the Puthiya Thamizhagam.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is facing an uphill task against the formidable Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance, allies are giving it sleepless nights.
Both the Apna Dal and the Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) or what is popularly known as the Rajbhar party, have been fiercely critical of the Adityanath government and the way the BJP’s state unit has been functioning.
According to the Indian Express, Apna Dal has warned the BJP that it may go alone for the polls if the BJP’s central leadership does not halt the purported high-handedness of the state unit. Similarly, the SBSP, to mark its independence, will hold a “Ati-Pichda, Ati-Dalit Jagrukta Maharally (a rally for the consciousness of the extremely backward, extremely marginalised Dalits) in Varanasi on February 24.
The two parties are crucial to the BJP’s plan to consolidate the substantial non-Yadav and non-Jatav population in UP ahead of the polls. It were these sections of the OBC and Dalit populations who swung the 2017 assembly polls in the BJP’s favour.
Clearly, the BJP’s desperation to forge new alliances and cement past ones shows. To take on a united opposition, the BJP, which sealed the majority on its own in 2014, is now ready to cede political space.
Much of the BJP’s confidence was shaken by the sustained attack the united opposition has led in the past few months over issues like rising unemployment, rural distress and misuse of public institutions. After the opposition has upped its ante on these fronts, the saffron party suffered electoral losses in three north Indian states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP won almost all the constituencies in these states in 2014.
The Sangh parivar‘s efforts to go into an overdrive to whip up mass hysteria in the aftermath of the horrific attack on the CRPF in Pulwama also indicates its desperation, political observers say.
By politicising the Pulwama incident, analysts have pointed out that the BJP has not only tried to deflect attention from alleged intelligence failures of the government, but has also attempted to polarise the electorate ahead of the general elections.
The lines are becoming clearer by the day as elections approach. With the opposition burying their differences, the BJP too will leave no stone unturned, as its efforts to placate its allies indicate.