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Allies Give BJP a Hard Time

By Venkatesh Kesari & Seema Mustafa

All is not well with the National Democratic Alliance, with the Bharatiya Janata Party finding itself increasingly isolated within. The arrests and raids on activists in different cities have been met with silence, and not a word of approval from key allies like the Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, and Janata Dal (United). Instead the uncertain political climate is being used by the allies to ratchet up pressure on the ruling party and extract more seats in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The Shiv Sena which fires a hard hitting salvo at the BJP almost every day has interestingly not moved out of the alliance. This has led to a humiliating situation for Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP at the centre as well, as it is being compelled to accept the Shiv Sena attack, without daring even a mild counter. In fact BJP president Amit Shah rushed to meet Sena leader Uddav Thackeray to soothe matters but clearly did not meet with great success. The Sena attack on the BJP continues on all fronts, with the smaller party now climbing a monumental high horse so far as seat-sharing talks for the general elections are concerned.
Batting as it does from the same side of the ideological fence as the BJP, the Shiv Sena’s barbs have hurt it. For example, the latest on the Sanatan Sanstha where the Sena stated, “The government has decided that all these people are Hindu terrorists and they will be finished… It is surprising that Hindus have to become terrorists in Hindustan, especially under Modi-Fadnavis rule.”
The BJP will need to decide whether it can run for the election on its own, and given the current disaffection in Maharashtra where every vote will count, it is unlikely to part ways with the Shiv Sena voluntarily. More so in the face of the NCP-Congress alliance, the farmers’ unrest, the Maratha stir, and the Dalit alienation, not to mention the silent but palpable Muslim resentment. The Sena has a good hold on the backward votes in pockets, and has been fuming at the entry made by the BJP at its expense in what it regards as its citadel, Mumbai. Sources said the Sena is not in a mood to cooperate, and will drive a hard bargain despite Shah’s initial efforts to bring the smaller party around.
The JD(U) in Bihar is not being friendly either, with seat-sharing talks already running into trouble. The BJP is not finding Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as docile as it had hoped, with the party claiming the lion’s share of Lok Sabha seats in the state. Kumar, who dashed his own prime ministerial ambitions with the ill-considered move to move to the BJP, betraying the people’s mandate for his initial coalition with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, has been having second thoughts for a while now. However, given the cold reception from the RJD camp he has had little option but to continue with the BJP, although he seems now to have steeled himself against exploitation. JD(U) sources have told trusted reporters – perhaps to increase the stakes and build pressure – that the party is willing to part ways with the BJP but will not give it more seats.
Interestingly, here too the reports are varied. A section of the media insists a seat sharing plan has been finalised for Bihar which will leave 12 seats for the JD(U), 20 for the BJP, six or seven for Ramvilas Paswan’s Lokjanshakti Party and a couple of seats for Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. Reports quoting the JD(U)’s K.C. Tyagi saying that nothing has been finalised, and that anyway these numbers are “totally unacceptable”, have also been carried in the media. Kushwaha has also added his voice to the mix, extolling the virtues of the Yadav-Kushwaha combine as one of milk and ghee making a delicious kheer. All this after Shah visited Bihar, met Kumar and tried to prepare the ground for smooth sailing to the general elections.
The Akali Dal is the one mainline ally of the BJP that has given it the least trouble. Shah had a long meeting with Akali leaders earlier, and according to SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema has agreed to its idea of seat swapping. For instance the Akalis have staked claim to the prestigious Amritsar seat on the grounds that the BJP has been losing it steadily. In the last election Arun Jaitley lost Amritsar to now Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh by over one lakh votes. Cheema told the media that Shah was positive to the idea, although officially the BJP has not said a word.
While the Akalis have not crossed swords with the BJP either in Punjab or on issues in Parliament, the party has decided to contest all the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in Haryana. This will cut into what the BJP had hoped would be a consolidated vote, and could have a negative impact, even though the Akalis are projecting the decision as an anti-Chautala move.
The allies that had all rushed to join the BJP in the NDA in 2014, are now successfully playing the reluctant maiden card. They have all increased their demands dramatically from the political realisation that this time around, in 2019, the BJP will perhaps need them more. As a Congress leader remarked, “The attitude of the NDA allies is a clear testimony to the fact that the ground is slipping for the BJP, and it is fairly desperate now.” Meanwhile the party continues to keep the lid on differences with its allies, with not a single word of criticism in evidence, not even to counter the no-holds-barred attack from the Shiv Sena.