Ending Alliance With PDP May Not Help BJP in 2019

Its stand on Kashmir has not always worked for the BJP electorally in other parts of the country.

Political observers believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has withdrawn support from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir keeping in mind the upcoming assembly and parliamentary polls. But Kashmir is an old issue and does not always yield the desired results. BJP’s own past performance is a case in point.

The saffron party ended up winning 182 seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 1998 as well as in 1999 – four months after the famous Kargil victory. Also, the euphoria created after the September 2016 surgical strikes proved somewhat short-lived as the November 8 demonetisation gradually cancelled out its political impact.

In the first instance, though the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) returned to power in 1999, it was the tally of the other NDA constituents across the country that had increased. The result was in some way worrisome for the saffron party, especially in the then undivided Uttar Pradesh. The party could win only 29 seats in 1999 against the 58 (out of 85 then) it had won in the March 1998 parliamentary polls. This was in spite of the fact that the highest number of soldiers who had lost their life hailed from this state – which then included the Uttarakhand region. The contributions of army men from Garhwal and Kumaon in that operation is well known.

The poor performance in UP pulled down the figure for the saffron party in 1999.

This raised a big question – why did the BJP fail in Uttar Pradesh when the Kargil wave was sweeping the country? The Samajwadi Party then won 26 seats and Congress ten, while in the March 1998 election the latter drew a blank. In fact, the BJP’s decline started from that very election in 1999 to the point when it returned in a big way to win 71 seats (plus two by its ally Apna Dal) in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. In 1991 and 1996 elections, BJP won 51 and 52 Lok Sabha seats respectively.

Is it that then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was himself an MP from Lucknow, failed to take full advantage of the Kargil wave though many soldiers from the state received several bravery awards, including the Param Vir Chakra?

The example of UP is very pertinent as the BJP tried to cash in on the Kargil success in the Hindi heartland states. It may again try to encash the Kashmir situation in the coming polls.

But what remains unanswered is how the Congress party’s tally jumped from zero to ten in 1999, and that too when nationally the party was weakened by the split and formation of the Nationalist Congress Party and joining of NDA by Trinamool Congress in this intervening period of 18 months?

The answer to these questions can be found in the political developments that took place in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. The BJP was then in power in the state and incumbency factor played against chief minister Kalyan Singh. The relationship between Vajpayee and the state chief minister wasn’t a cordial one.

Singh – whose first tenure as chief minister in 1992 saw the tearing down of Babri Masjid – had to quit in November 1999, after just two years in office. He left the BJP only to return some time later.

Similarly, the Modi magic did not work in Punjab in the assembly election held only four months after the surgical strikes, even though the party performed well in Uttar Pradesh. But experts attribute the BJP victory in UP in March 2017 largely to the divided opposition and turmoil within the ruling Samajwadi Party and not to the note ban or surgical strike.

Punjab neighbours Jammu and Kashmir and is itself a victim of cross-border terrorism, yet the BJP-Akali Dal alliance failed to win here. The number of soldiers from this state who sacrificed their lives for the country is also quite high.

But the saffron party’s move has certainly landed some of its remaining allies in a fix – for example, the JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The other NDA constituents – except Shiv Sena, which technically is still with it – are too small to make any significant influence at an all-India level.

It is a well-known fact that when the then Samata Party, the earlier version of the JD(U), had joined the NDA in 1996, it made amply clear that it differs with the BJP on the issues of Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, Ram mandir etc. Today, the policy of the Modi government on these issues is quite different.

It remains to be seen how the Bihar chief minister will react, as Mehbooba Mufti was the only Muslim face within the NDA. After all, both JD(U) and LJP want to appease Muslim voters.

Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist.