The BJP, the ruling party at the Centre and in most of the states, is having an unusual kind of experience. It is losing allies, even those who share its Hindutva ideology, in state after state owing to its leaders' failure to read the writing on the wall. This is mainly because of its new-found arrogance after the party got the voters' massive mandate in 2014 and again in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The saffron party needs to have a critical look at its behaviour after having lost its long-time and trusted ally, the Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra.
That the BJP has succeeded in forming its government in Maharashtra with the help of a breakaway group of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs under the leadership of NCP chief Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar following Saturday early morning's political coup is a different story. The BJP has not crowned itself with glory by entering into a deal surreptitiously with the Ajit Pawar-led NCP group to retain power in Maharashtra quickly after the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress announced to have reached an understanding to form their government with Sena chief Udhav Thackeray as Chief Minister. However, with the BJP having turned the tables on its former ally, Devendra Fadnavis has taken over again as Chief Minister with Ajit Pawar as his deputy.
In poll-bound Jharkhand, too, the saffron party has been snubbed by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the All-Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), its two major allies, which have decided to go it alone in the upcoming Jharkhand assembly elections. The BJP is losing its support base in Assam and other north-eastern states also owing to the arrogance of its leaders. Yet they remain inflexible in their stand and programmes, little bothering about its cost to their own party as well as to the nation!
In their arrogance, they could not realise that the Shiv Sena, a political force to be reckoned with in Maharashtra, will have no dearth of allies under the circumstances if it started looking for. Though it won 56 seats against the BJP's 105 seats, Sena leaders knew that with a little more bargaining, they could get more than what they were offered of the political pie by the BJP, their traditional ally.
The Sena has suffered the loss of a few seats in the just concluded Maharashtra assembly elections, but it is not feeling down. After all, the seat tally of its bigger ally too has gone down from 122 in 2014 to 105 this time. Therefore, the Sena leadership told the BJP clearly that they would agree to continue their political alliance only if the Chief Minister's post was made rotational. Its argument was that under the changed circumstances if the BJP and the Shiv Sena together formed a government in Maharashtra, there would be a Sena Chief Minister after the first half of the five-year-term was over.
This was in accordance with the prevailing ground reality. The Sena, like the BJP, was not an untouchable political force under the circumstances. Sena chief Udhav Thackeray was receiving feelers from the NCP and the Congress that it would get what it was aspiring for if it left the BJP bandwagon and kept itself free to run the Maharashtra government by forging a new alliance with these parties.
But the BJP in its arrogance refused to accept the new ground reality even when it got not only its seats reduced from 122 to 105 but also its votes – from 47 lakhs to 41 lakhs. The BJP wanted to maintain the position that existed before the elections when the state's Chief Minister was from the saffron party and the Sena had to contend with the post of Deputy Chief Minister.
The BJP and the Sena held negotiations for many days, but the situation remained almost unchanged. The Centre, in the meantime, imposed the President's rule too to force the Sena to agree to form a government with the formula which gave the Chief Minister's post to the BJP. This tactic also proved meaningless.
Ultimately, the Sena went ahead with its plan for separation from the BJP even if it had to sit along with the opposition parties in the assembly. However, once the Sena leadership announced its divorce from the BJP, the Congress and the NCP became proactive to entice the Sena to their side. The Sena's negotiations with these parties led to it getting what it wished for. Unfortunately, this could not be implemented because the three parties took too long to come to a power-sharing formula.
Yet one finds that the saffron party has learnt no lessons from its bitter experience in Maharashtra. It has been behaving in the same manner while dealing with its allies in the election-bound Jharkhand. The BJP's big brotherly attitude has led to the parting of ways by its two major allies in Jharkhand – the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the All-Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) – which have decided to go it alone in the coming assembly polls.
However, all this pales into insignificance when one looks at the behaviour of BJP chief and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament's winter session. Ignoring the massive protests in Assam and the rest of the Northeast against the Citizenship Amendment Bill-2019 (CAB) and a fresh resort to the dangerous exercise called the National Register of Citizens in Assam, Shah has announced that the NRC process will be launched again after the controversial CAB is adopted by Parliament. The meaningless idea is not to remain limited to Assam. The NRC exercise will be undertaken at the country level if he has his way.
Going by the experience in Assam, it can easily be imagined that an NRC process at the national level will cause massive destabilisation, not experienced even when India was partitioned in 1947. That is why most right-thinking persons, including human rights experts, have advised the Central government through newspaper columns and other platforms to abandon this dangerous idea in search of illusive "ghuspaithiye" (undocumented foreign nationals). The remedy he has been offering is worse than the disease. Those protesting in the Northeast have expressed their worry that his assurance to safeguard the citizenship rights of all except the Muslims will drastically transform the demographic character of the region comprising the seven sisters.
The protests in the Northeast are being held under the umbrella of the Northeast Students Association, the All-Assam Students Union, farmers' associations and others. They do not want Assam and the other Northeast states to be used as the dumping ground for Bangladeshis belonging to any religious denomination.
But this is not the Union Home Minister's worry. His only worry, as it appears, is how to ensure that his party's perceived enemies are punished by getting them disenfranchised and, in the process, the BJP's following goes up.
There are, however, chances that the ill-conceived plan to go ahead with the CAB and the NRC may boomerang. The BJP's new support base may get eroded considerably and people in the rest of the country may begin to think seriously of a change of government at the Centre because of the untold economic suffering they are likely to undergo as a result of his fancy idea. This time the BJP's arrogance may prove to be too costly not only for the saffron party but also for the nation as a whole.
(The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator)
(Published on 25th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 48)