Mur­murs of dis­sent among its con­stituents roil the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance. A di­min­ished coali­tion in 2019 will bode ill for the BJP

India Today - - INSIDE - By Kaushik Deka

Rum­blings from the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance’s ju­nior part­ners could spell trou­ble for the BJP in the 2019 elec­tions

ON JAN­U­ARY 12, ANDHRA Pradesh chief min­is­ter N. Chan­drababu Naidu had an ap­point­ment with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi in Delhi. Noth­ing unusual about the meet­ing as chief min­is­ters call on the prime min­is­ter reg­u­larly. Be­sides, Naidu is the head of the Tel­ugu De­sam Party (TDP), which is an in­te­gral part of the BJP-led Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance. The Andhra Pradesh-based party is a ma­jor­ity part­ner in the state and a mi­nor­ity part­ner

in the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Yet Naidu had to wait for over a year to get this ap­point­ment. This is in sharp con­trast to the in­flu­ence he wielded dur­ing the two tenures of the Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee-led NDA gov­ern­ment be­tween 1998 and 2004. Though the TDP then of­fered only out­side sup­port, the PMO had a hot­line with the Andhra Pradesh chief min­is­ter and Naidu could get an au­di­ence with Va­j­payee with just one phone call to the then Union min­is­ter Pramod Ma­ha­jan, whose pri­mary role was to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open with al­lies and trou­bleshoot when­ever there was fric­tion in the al­liance. Not just Naidu, other al­lies too, such as Shi­ro­mani Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal, kept Ma­ha­jan on speed dial. Nor was Ma­ha­jan the only point of con­tact in the BJP for the al­lies, there were oth­ers too, in­clud­ing Jaswant Singh, who held the fi­nance, de­fence and ex­ter­nal af­fairs port­fo­lios at dif­fer­ent points in time in the NDA gov­ern­ment.

It is the ab­sence of such in­ter­locu­tors to­day that has per­haps re­sulted in se­ri­ous fis­sures within the NDA fam­ily. In the last one month, two ma­jor con­stituents—the Shiv Sena and the TDP—have made pub­lic their dis­plea­sure with the BJP, while re­sent­ment is brew­ing in an­other ma­jor ally, the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). On Jan­u­ary 23, the Shiv Sena, the largest ally, with 18 MPs, an­nounced that it would con­test the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions and assem­bly elec­tions on its own, though it would re­main a part of the cen­tral and Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ments till then. The very next day, Naidu said that the TDP, which is the sec­ond largest ally, with 16 mem­bers, would walk out of the NDA if the BJP did not want the al­liance.

Naidu is peeved by the fact that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment did not grant his state spe­cial cat­e­gory sta­tus which guar­an­tees ex­tra­or­di­nary fi­nan­cial grants from the Cen­tre. Naidu has been de­mand­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of the prom­ises made when Te­lan­gana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, which in­cludes the re­im­burse­ment of Rs 3,451 crore spent on the Polavaram project, fi­nan­cial sup­port for build­ing the new cap­i­tal at Amar­a­vati and a rail­way zone at Visakha­p­at­nam. On Fe­bru­ary 1, he pub­licly ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure over the Union bud­get, which “hardly made any al­lo­ca­tions for Andhra Pradesh”.

Be­sides, the BJP, a mi­nor ally of the TDP in the state, has not dis­suaded its re­gional lead­ers, in­clud­ing D. Pu­ran­deswari, from be­ing sharply crit­i­cal of the Naidu gov­ern­ment. What makes it even more em­bar­rass­ing for the TDP chief is that she is also the el­der sis­ter of his wife Bhu­vaneswari.

Ten­sions are grow­ing be­tween the BJP and the JD (U) on the is­sue of seat shar­ing in Bi­har for 2019. JD(U) leader and Bi­har chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar even snubbed the BJP’s push for si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions by stat­ing that his state would go to polls as sched­uled in 2020. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap came into play again when BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah could not find time to meet Ni­tish in Delhi in Jan­u­ary when the lat­ter wanted to dis­cuss the pre-poll equa­tion of the two par­ties. When Naidu crit­i­cised the

Union bud­get, the BJP leader to reach out to him over the phone was Union home min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh and not fi­nance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley.

A day af­ter Naidu ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure, SAD leader Naresh Gu­jral ex­horted the Modi gov­ern­ment to fol­low the coali­tion dharma of the Va­j­payee years. It’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter that the Modi gov­ern­ment does not need to em­u­late that NDA model. With 275 seats in this Lok Sabha—three more than the sim­ple ma­jor­ity mark of 272—the BJP sta­tis­ti­cally doesn’t need any of the al­lies to run the gov­ern­ment. In 1998, the BJP had only 182 seats in the lower house, forc­ing the Va­j­payee gov­ern­ment to rely heav­ily on the coali­tion part­ners. The 1999 elec­tions gave the BJP ex­actly the same num­ber in the Lok Sabha.

For some time now, there have been mur­murs within sev­eral NDA con­stituents that the Lok Sabha ma­jor­ity and sub­se­quent suc­cesses in the Ut­tar Pradesh and As­sam elec­tions have made the BJP be­have like some­thing of a “big brother”. So if Naidu could dic­tate terms in the Va­j­payee era, he finds him­self help­less un­der Modi, who chose to meet the Andhra Pradesh chief min­is­ter’s pri­mary ri­val in the state, Ja­gan Mohan Reddy, once, and the YSR Con­gress chief’s close aide, Vi­jaya Sai Reddy, twice in the time he kept Naidu at bay.

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, the Shiv Sena, which has ap­pre­hen­sively watched the BJP hi­jack its Hin­dutva agenda, could not con­vince it to play sec­ond fid­dle in the assem­bly elec­tions in 2014 and even­tu­ally had to con­test the polls separately only to be a part­ner in the BJP-led gov­ern­ment later. “The BJP al­lied with the Shiv Sena in the name of Hin­dutva,” says Shiv Sena Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber San­jay Raut. “We kept pa­tient only for Hin­dutva. How­ever, the BJP has, in the last three years, been de­mor­al­is­ing the Shiv Sena.”

Yet, de­spite oc­ca­sional rum­blings, th­ese al­lies had so far re­frained from mak­ing their griev­ances pub­lic. When

the Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP crit­i­cised the Naidu gov­ern­ment on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, the chief min­is­ter re­strained his par­ty­men from coun­ter­at­tack­ing the saf­fron party to avoid strain­ing his equa­tion with Modi. But the chang­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in the sec­ond half of 2017 has en­cour­aged the al­lies to strike back. While the two bold but highly con­tentious eco­nomic de­ci­sions of the Modi gov­ern­ment—de­mon­eti­sa­tion and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Goods and Ser­vices Tax—slowed down the econ­omy, ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment and in­fla­tion fu­elled by in­creas­ing fuel prices sig­nalled the first sig­nif­i­cant dent in pub­lic mood for the Modi gov­ern­ment. When the Con­gress re­stricted the BJP to dou­ble-digit num­bers in the De­cem­ber 2017 assem­bly polls in Gu­jarat—home ground for Modi and Shah—the al­lies sniffed the first op­por­tu­nity to corner the “in­vin­ci­ble” duo.

The first in­di­ca­tion of this as­sault came when the Shiv Sena, in its mouth­piece Saamna, pub­lished a cou­ple of ar­ti­cles prais­ing newly elected Con­gress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi. With the Lok Sabha elec­tions just a year away, other al­liance part­ners are also test­ing the wa­ters to con­sol­i­date their po­si­tion in the NDA.

The BJP’s re­la­tions with the Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kash­mir faced a ma­jor cri­sis last month over the FIR against an army ma­jor for the killing of two men in Shopian. State pub­lic works min­is­ter Naeem Akhtar, how­ever, sought to play down the tus­sle. “Ev­ery­one—the state gov­ern­ment, min­istry of home af­fairs and the army is hap­pily on the same page now,” he says.

In Bi­har, the JD(U), which now has only two MPs, wants to field 15 can­di­dates in the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state, but the BJP is will­ing to yield only nine. In the rul­ing al­liance in the state, the JD(U) is the se­nior part­ner with 71 seats in the 243-mem­ber assem­bly while the BJP has 52 seats. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elec­tions, the JD(U) had fielded 25 can­di­dates against the BJP’s 15.

Such elec­toral cal­cu­la­tions, says po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Man­isha Priyam, are be­hind the pub­lic pos­tur­ing of the al­lies. “The dis­sent­ing voices against the BJP from NDA con­stituents have more to do with the re­gional par­ties’ lo­cal com­pul­sions than the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion on BJP’s part,” she says. “Re­gional par­ties have to as­sert them­selves and cre­ate grounds for sur­vival, par­tic­u­larly when elec­tions are near. And their only strat­egy for this is to project in­jus­tice from the Cen­tre. So what if they are part­ners with the rul­ing party?”

And that is ex­actly what Naidu is bring­ing up in his state where he is on a sticky wicket as he strug­gles to keep prom­ises, faces a restive elec­torate and cope with a dearth of funds. The TDP man­ages by put­ting the blame on BJP though it is not will­ing to burn bridges yet.

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, the Shiv Sena sees space for the party in the back­drop of grow­ing dis­sent against the BJP, es­pe­cially af­ter Ma­ha­rash­tra chief min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis’s bungling of loan waivers to farm­ers and han­dling the anger among the Dal­its. “Sena chief Ud­dhav Thack­eray does not want to carry the badge of Fad­navis’s fail­ure on his shoul­der,” says a Shiv Sena leader. An­other small ally from the state, the Swab­hi­mani Shetkari Sang­hatana, has also left the NDA on the is­sue of the BJP’s in­dif­fer­ence towards farm­ers. In Goa, the Ma­ha­rash­trawadi Go­man­tak Party and


Goa For­ward Party have threat­ened to walk out of the coali­tion if their de­mands are not heard.

There is clear un­easi­ness among the smaller NDA al­lies in Bi­har. Upen­dra Kush­waha’s Rashtriya Lok Sa­mata Party, Ji­tan Ram Man­jhi’s Hin­dus­tani Awam Mor­cha (Sec­u­lar) and Ram Vi­las Paswan’s Lok Jan­shakti Party are ap­pre­hen­sive that af­ter Ni­tish’s reen­try into the NDA, the JD(U) will be ac­com­mo­dated in the seat dis­tri­bu­tion ex­er­cise for the Lok Sabha at their cost.

In Na­ga­land, the BJP’s 15-year-long al­liance with Naga Peo­ple’s Front snapped, with both par­ties fail­ing to agree on seat dis­tri­bu­tion. In Chris­tian-ma­jor­ity Megha­laya, the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Party, which is part of the NDA gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre and in Ma­nipur, de­clined to en­ter into a pre-poll al­liance with the BJP, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a neg­a­tive pub­lic mood. The BJP’s stand on ban­ning cow slaugh­ter had led to huge pub­lic out­rage in the North­east­ern state where eat­ing beef is in­trin­sic to the re­gion’s food habits.

In fact, the ag­gres­sive Hin­dutva pol­i­tics of the saf­fron party has made sev­eral al­lies such as the Asom Gana Par­ishad (AGP) see red. The As­sam party has now de­cided to con­test the pan­chayat elec­tions sched­uled this year on its own. “The BJP had promised it would ful­fil the pro­vi­sions of the As­sam Ac­cord which seeks to throw away all il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the state,” says AGP leader and former As­sam chief min­is­ter Pra­fulla Ku­mar Ma­hanta. “Now by amend­ing the Cit­i­zen­ship Act, the BJP is try­ing to pro­vide cit­i­zen­ship to il­le­gal Hindu im­mi­grants. Such reli­gious bias has no place in our sec­u­lar coun­try.”

Though it has no real point of con­fronta­tion with the BJP, reli­gious con­flicts worry SAD too. The ally from Pun­jab is upset at the ris­ing in­ci­dence of at­tacks on mi­nori­ties, par­tic­u­larly Mus­lims. “I am dis­ap­pointed in the gov­ern­ment for not act­ing more firmly,” says party MP Naresh Gu­jral. “We are wor­ried be­cause we rep­re­sent a mi­nor­ity—Sikhs. Mi­nori­ties must feel safe and se­cure in the coun­try.” Sound­ing a warn­ing, he adds: “The days of sin­gleparty dom­i­nance are over. The BJP, on its own, won’t get a ma­jor­ity in 2019.”

His words may well prove to be sig­nif­i­cant as po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments since the Gu­jarat assem­bly elec­tions, re­in­forced by the by­elec­tion re­sults in Ra­jasthan, show that the BJP may not en­joy the sweep­ing pub­lic sen­ti­ment it did in 2014. Ad­verse re­sults in the assem­bly polls in Kar­nataka in March and in three other states—Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan and Ch­hat­tis­garh—later this year, could trig­ger a re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of the coali­tion and open up the na­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape to greater ne­go­ti­a­tion.


FAD­ING CAMARADERIE? Naidu and Ud­dhav Thack­eray with the BJP’s high com­mand


ALL IN THE FAM­ILY Ni­tish (left) and SAD lead­ers Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir


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