BJP’s efforts to mollify allies
In a swift move, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reached out to its asserting allies with party President Amit Shah assuring them that the party was keen to follow the coalition dharma. This damage-control exercise this week, ahead of the crucial budget session of Parliament, had somewhat mollified allies who were irked with the BJP’s “arrogant behavior”.
Although the party is not new to the coalition, the NDA of 2014 is different from the NDA of 1998. For the first time, the BJP has come to power at the Centre on its own strength but held on to its allies, some of them quite small parties. It is nothing unusual for the alliance partners to feel neglected at times. This has happened with the NDA earlier. Even at the state level collation, allies like Shiv Sena feel sidelined. The UPA too had this problem with its junior partners.
The BJP has four major partners to contend with in the present dispensation. They are the Akali Dal (Punjab), Shiv Sena (Maharashtra), People’s Democratic Party (Jammu and Kashmir), and Telugu Desam (Andhra Pradesh). The BJP is the junior partner in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab governments while it had overtaken the Sena in Maharashtra. The PDP has been keeping BJP waiting for the formation of the government after Mufti’s death. All four feel neglected and sidelined.
What is making them feel alienated? The pre-budget session meeting of the NDA partners called by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, which was attended by Amit Shah on Monday, gave a clear indication in this regard. While the PDP skipped the meeting other leaders including the TDP Chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu and Akali Dal leader and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal attended it. The meeting was primarily for better floor coordination to face the opposition onslaught during the ensuing budget session. The inclusion of the NDA allies at the parliamentary strategy meet shows that the government needs their cooperation for showing a united face. In the earlier sessions since Modi took over, the NDA allies had struck some discordant notes on some issues like the Land Acquisition bill.
Why are the partners asserting themselves? There is a context to this. After the Bihar defeat, the allies have become emboldened to speak out. While the BJP may not need their support in the Lok Sabha, it needs them in the Rajya Sabha. Also, the major allies are directly trying to expand their own base while the BJP too has its own expansion plan, which can only be at the cost of the allies. The younger leaders have emerged in all these parties and there is no Vajpayee or Advani to deal with them. Above all, the BJP has not opened individual channels with these allies, which could have helped.
In the NDA strategy meeting, at least, three important allies – the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, and Telugu Desam Party had suggested that they are taken on board on important issues. Their major complaint was a lack of communication and the BJP not following coalition dharma.
The Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal bluntly conveyed to the BJP leadership that the BJP could no longer take the allies for granted. The Akali – BJP relationship has been on the slide. The Punjab elections are scheduled for next year and a section in the BJP wants to go at it alone, fearing anti-incumbency. While the Akali Dal gets the Sikh votes and holds sway in the rural areas the BJP gets the Hindu and Bania votes mostly in the urban areas. Punjab has been asking for a special package to overcome the financial crisis but the Centre has not accepted this demand. However, Amit Shah has given assurance to Sukhbir in his bilateral meeting that the alliance will continue.
The Shiv Sena, touted as the natural partner and a long-time ally not only fully endorsed Sukhbir Badal but also added to the list of woes pointing out that the BJP’s approach for the past 20 months had been to undermine the allies. Sanjay Raut, Parliamentary Party leader of the Shiv Sena, is reported to have remarked,“Sometimes, we have difficulty understanding whether or not this is our government.” The Sena - BJP relationship has soured not only at the national level but also at the state level. The two are trying to edge out each other in the state, and often indulge in a public spat.
The TDP chief N. Chandra babu Naidu also had similar complaints but he talked about bigger issues like the BJP strengthening its allies. Too much is at stake for Babu as he needs a huge financial package for building his new capital in Amravati. Perhaps startled by the outbursts of the allies, Amit Shah has swung into action immediately to mollify them. In his meetings with these leaders, Shah managed to do quick damage control and assured better coordination. The result is that the BJP has decided to create some mechanism and that the allies will be given detailed notes on policy initiatives. The partners were also assured that NDA meetings would be held at regular intervals.
All these, if implemented. might remove some of the grievances of the allies. For the BJP, quick fix solutions are not enough. It has to have a long- term strategy to keep the allies on its side and for this opening a channel with each one of them would help.
(The author is a senior commentator on politics. Views expressed are strictly personal)