Now that the tide is turning, allies are wary of the dominant BJP

In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had emerged as a magnet attracting allies in all parts of the country. As prime minister Narendra Modi gears up to seek a fresh mandate for the second term in 2019, several NDA partners are exhibiting the traits of similar magnetic poles — in the sense that they are repelling the BJP.

After long-time partner Shiv Sena decided to part ways with the BJP, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) voiced its discomfort with the alliance. Even smaller ingredients of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) — have threatened to chart their own course.

TDP with 16 MPs is the third biggest party in the NDA. The Shiv Sena has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Both the parties have started feeling insecure in the company of an assertive BJP, which wants to play a dominant rather than submissive role in the alliance. From playing a lead role in the partnership in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has been consistently ceding ground to the BJP. The Hindutva plank was the common factor that had brought the two parties together to keep the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) at bay.

In all the elections between 1990 and 2004, the Shiv Sena had won more assembly segments in Maharashtra than the BJP. But, in 2009 the tables turned on Matoshree, the fabled home of the Thackerays, when the BJP got one more seat than the Shiv Sena. In 2014, the BJP left Shiv Sena far behind.

The BJP has negligible presence in the Andhra Pradesh assembly where the TDP is a dominant power. But the BJP’s parleys with the opposition YSR Congress have annoyed the TDP. The BJP’s dismal show in Gujarat where it returned to power with a substantially reduced margin and setbacks in Rajasthan bypolls have given ammunition to the allies. With 275 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, the BJP does not need partners. Going by the law of averages, repeating the 2014 feat would be difficult. Even as it looks to expand its base in new areas, it cannot afford to lose partners. What is clear from the developments on the alliance front is that a new political realignment is taking shape.

In November, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s meeting with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, raised eyebrows. Now, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu has spoken to Thackeray against the background of the uneasy alliance with the BJP. The cracks in the NDA are likely to grow only wider if the BJP continues with its ambition of expanding its footprint. The BJP did exceedingly well in the Hindi heartland states that propelled it to power in 2014. The Gujarat assembly elections and the Rajasthan bypolls have given indications that the party might not enjoy the same popularity as it did four years ago. Chinks in the NDA armour will give room to the opposition as it will look to take advantage of the situation.

It would be important to note that Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are not the only states where alliance partners are causing a headache for the BJP. Similar churnings are being reported from Bihar where RLSP, with three MPs, is looking for a tie-up with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. HAM leader Manjhi wants to contest 50 seats in the 243-seat Bihar assembly. These are certainly not good signs for the BJP, even though it does not necessarily see the matter that way.