The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), formed in 1998 with a motley crowd of regional parties coming to together to share power, appears to be losing appeal in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Most alliance partners are not happy with the way they have been treated after the outcome of the 2014 polls, which changed the style of functioning of the BJP leadership owing to the massive mandate it got from the electorate. The allies feel the time has come for them to express their viewpoint as forcefully as possible even if this results in leaving the NDA bandwagon.
The ruling alliance suffered a major jolt when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), having 16 Lok Sabha members and headed by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, decided to part ways with it last month.
Though the TDP was the second party to snap its links with the NDA after former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) taking such a decision to join a grand alliance cobbled together by RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav (now in jail), Naidu’s move highlighted the ruling alliance’s failure of not following the coalition ‘dharma’ – taking care of interests of all partners.
The TDP, one of the oldest NDA partners, decided to leave its bandwagon because of the denial of the promised ‘special category status’ to Andhra Pradesh. Announcing the party’s decision to call it quits, Naidu stated on Twitter, the “Telugu Desam Party has decided to officially exit the National Democratic Alliance due to failure in fulfilling the promises made in the State Reorganisation Act. This decision was taken unanimously in a teleconference with Politburo members.”
The TDP made its displeasure known to the BJP leadership by first asking its two Central ministers -- Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Y.S. Chowdhary – to submit their resignations from the Union Cabinet on March 8. The TDP’s withdrawal from the NDA meant that the BJP was nowhere to be seen as a part of the ruling dispensation in South India.
In the words of Naidu, “We joined the NDA in the first place only to protect our state’s interests in the aftermath of bifurcation. We waited for four years with the hope that the Centre will honour all the promises (made), but it only meted out injustice to us.”
A feeling is gaining ground that contesting the coming elections in the BJP’s company as alliance partners, may not help in garnering votes owing to certain negative factors. This seems to have made two other allies – the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – too, to provide enough hints that they may say goodbye to the ruling alliance any time now. The SAD appears to have done its calculations to convince its cadres that they would be better placed to contest the coming parliamentary elections without being an ally of the BJP. In that situation there would be no anti-incumbency factor working against them. Thus, one should not be surprised if the SAD deserts the NDA soon with a view to improving its electoral prospects.
The Shiv Sena has already made its intentions known that it will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the Maharashtra assembly polls on its own. The Sena was about to ask its minister Anant Geete to resign from the Narendra Modi Cabinet, but it appears to have temporarily changed its mind. The Sena has been openly criticising the BJP leadership for some time for ignoring the interests of Maharashtra farmers. It has accused the BJP of breaking a state-level alliance of smaller parties, but Sena leader Udhav Thackeray is yet to take a final decision on his party’s association with the NDA. The clash of political interests between the BJP and the Sena, despite their ideological nearness, may become more pronounced in the days to come.
The NDA is on the verge of suffering major reverses from Bihar too. After the desertion of the alliance by Jitan Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha there are rumblings from the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan and the Janata Dal (United) faction led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (not a member but an NDA sympathizer) over the issue of demonetisation and the style of functioning of BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There has been talk of arrogance in their behaviour after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which gave the BJP an absolute majority in Parliament. The noises of discontent, which were earlier muted, have become audible in the wake of the setback suffered by the BJP in the Lok Sabha by-elections first from Rajasthan and then from UP (Gorakhpur and Phulpur) and Bihar (Araria and Jahanabad). The message from the recent assembly elections in Gujarat was also quite disturbing for the BJP and its allies. Though the saffron party succeeded in recapturing power, it could secure only marginal victory. The Congress under Rahul Gandhi gave a good fight to the BJP, shaking its confidence considerably.
These results appear to have made the NDA partners doubt the capability of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah to ensure them victory in 2019. Voters are giving enough hints to get ready for a change at the Centre after the coming polls.
Most BJP allies now see an uncertain future for them owing to the hardships caused to the people by the Centre’s miscalculated policy decisions like demonetisation which were taken without consulting them. They are upset more because of the BJP’s attitude not to bother about the compulsions of coalition politics. For them the NDA today is like a sinking ship which, they feel, must be abandoned in the allies’ interest.
As Ramvilas Paswan’s son Chirag, a member of the Lok Sabha, has stated, “Allies are getting upset. If the BJP does not take its allies into confidence, 2019 could be a tricky road for the saffron party.”
Once Paswan leaves the NDA, it will be difficult for the remaining allies to gather courage to stay put. He is an expert practitioner of coalition politics. He is the only politician who has been consistently enjoying power since 1996 by remaining associated with one alliance or another after the era of a single-party government came to an end.
The NDA’s emergence as a successful coalition was possible mainly because of the obvious lust for power and a strong anti-Congress sentiment visible in most parts of the country. Except for the Shiv Sena, none of the NDA members had any ideological commonness to transform it into a powerful political force. Now that the NDA’s ability to retain power has become doubtful, the chances of its survival appear to be bleak. It will, therefore, be interesting to watch the course of political goings-on in the coming few weeks.
(The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.)(Published on 26th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 13)