Some days ago, the news that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had hammered out an alliance with a slew of small parties of Eastern Uttar Pradesh was tom-tommed as yet another victory of the ‘masterful’ strategy they have for building alliances. Lost in the hype was the outright misuse of power and patronage to bribe – there’s no other word for it – the leaders of these parties accept to remain in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Here’s the back story.
UP: Plum Posts for Alliance
The Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), led by OP Rajbhar, a minister in UP’s BJP government, had been stridently and publicly criticising the BJP for the past one year. He complained of the Rajbhar community being neglected, and criticised the Modi government as well as the Yogi Adityanath government on various issues. It looked as if he was going to split from the BJP. But then suddenly, he was back with the NDA, awaiting only allocation of a seat or two in the upcoming polls.
After a meeting with BJP president Amit Shah, a deal was struck and OP Rajbhar’s son, Arvind, was made Chairperson of UP Small Industries Corporation, while SBSP general secretary, Rana Ajit Pratap Singh, was made chairperson of UP Beej Vikas Nigam. Six other office-bearers of SBSP were given posts in diverse boards and corporations. All this, ordered by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Another small party of Eastern UP, Apna Dal, had earlier split, with Anupriya Patel siding with the BJP while her mother, Krishna Patel, distancing herself. Although Anupriya Patel was made a minister in the Modi government, her faction too needed some sweetener to continue with BJP. So, nine office bearers of Apna Dal were given various posts in UP’s labyrinthine power structure. The publication of the report on Other Backward Classes (OBC) sub- categorisation being done by a committee headed by ex-Justice G.Rohini was shelved since Apna Dal opposed it.
So, this is how the ‘art of the deal’ works. With Modi in power, and several state governments, too, being run by BJP, it is easy to offer posts with a bouquet of perks (cars with red light, official accommodation, free travel, hold over appointments and contracts) to miffed allies. Who can resist this? As Anupriya Patel was reported to have rather candidly said, “There is a wave of happiness in our party’s cadre after this,”!
North-East: Optics or Alliance?
In the North-East, it is not known what blandishments Ram Madhav, the RSS man on deputation to BJP and North-East in-charge and Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s political fixer-in-chief for the region, offered to various state-level parties who had opposed the BJP-sponsored Citizenship Amendment Bill very recently and come out on the streets. But Madhav announced that the North-East Development Alliance was alive and kicking and that it would get 22 of 25 seats in the region.
However, this looks more like subterfuge than reality. Days after this grand announcement, the National People’s Party, led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, announced that they would be fielding candidates in all 25 seats of the region. The Sikkim Democratic Front, another NDA member, led by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, too, has decided to put up a candidate for the lone Sikkim seat, as has the Mizo National Front in Mizoram.
In Tripura, both, BJP and its ally the IPFT (Indigenous People's Front of Tripura), have decided on contesting against each other in the two seats of the state. Even in BJP-ruled Manipur, allies are putting up candidates against BJP. In Assam, ally Asom Gana Parishad broke with BJP on the Citizenship Bill but has been wooed back, causing much discontent among AGP ranks and resignations of some local leaders. While the splintering alliance in North-East may not look good for BJP but history shows that many of the local parties in the region tend to side with the government after elections. There is also a view that the anti-BJP vote will get split between Congress and these local parties, helping the BJP.
Bihar: NDA’s Sinking Ship
The clearest indication that BJP is uncertain of its performance due to mass discontent against its policies comes from Bihar where it contested 31 seats on its own in 2014 and won 22 of them. This time, it has quietly agreed to fight on 17 seats only, giving up five of its sitting seats. This is unheard of in Indian electoral politics and a sure indicator of BJP’s desperation to keep the alliance with Janata Dal (United) alive. Remember that just one year after the sweep in 2014, BJP was roundly trounced by the Rashtriya Janata Dal-JD (U) alliance in 2015 Assembly elections. But Nitish Kumar betrayed the mandate and broke with RJD to form a coalition with BJP. In this background, both Nitish and BJP are on the defensive. Even Ram Vilas Paswan, the acrobatic ally who has switched to winning sides for years, has decided not to contest, hoping only for a Rajya Sabha berth later. The BJP’s dire situation is also created because three of its allies from 2014-15 are now with the opposition – Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni’s Vikasheel Insan Party. So much for BJP’s expertise of maintaining alliances.
Maharashtra: With Friends Like these ….
After having criticised its long-time ally, the BJP, on almost everything for the last five years, including personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shiv Sena agreed to contest the election along with it again. The BJP will contest from 25 seats (it won 23 in 2014) and the Shiv Sena will fight from 23 seats (it won 18 last time), according to a deal. Clearly, Shiv Sena has an upper hand, more so because it was reported that Amit Shah also assured them that they would get more seats in the Assembly elections, which is what Shiv Sena is really after. In the 2014 Assembly polls held months after the Lok Sabha polls, the allies had fought independently and have been ruling the state as a post-election coalition. Again, BJP has had to concede ground to Sena because in no other way could it have held up in the forthcoming polls. Sena, of course, is thinking it will get the best of both worlds, garnering anti-BJP votes too because of its stinging criticism over the years.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala: As Marginal As Before
In Tamil Nadu, BJP has hitched its small presence on to the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which also has allied with smaller parties like Pattali Makkal Katchi, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. In five years, BJP has made no headway in this big state with 39 seats, despite actively using its political power to interfere in the factional war within AIADMK after party supremo J Jayalalitha’s death. It also used enforcement wings of the government to selectively target politicians in this war.
In Kerala, the BJP continues to remain on the sidelines despite an aggressive stance against the Supreme Court’s decision to allow entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine. It has allied with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a party based on Ezhava and Pulaya communities, and the PC Thomas-led Kerala Congress splinter. The BDJS has been with BJP since 2015 but failed to make any dent in the 2016 Assembly elections.
In other states, BJP is either continuing an uncomfortable relationship out of a mutual need to survive (Punjab) or has broken up in bitterness (J&K). Elsewhere, it is substantially on its own. Its reliance on treating small parties as thekedars (contractors) of various caste communities and aligning with them to stay afloat can work once. But can it work twice?