As the Lotus blooms
UPA’s strategy of reversing mandates now seems to have been adopted by NDA
How is NDA growing at the cost of UPA? There was a time when BJP as a political party was untouchable, but today it is opposite of what was seen in the early eighties. Political pundits believed that the country was moving towards a two-front politics in a coalition era. But this has changed in 2014 after the BJP emerged as the single largest party with a complete majority ending the 30-years stretch of coalition politics. Since then, UPA has been weakened, though it showed its strength in the recent Presidential and Vice-Presidential polls, where 18 parties jointly put up their common candidate, knowing very well the numbers were with BJP.
The BJP-led NDA now has 33 constituents as the party has grown beyond its own imagination in the past 27-years since its inception. In fact, it has become the largest political party overtaking the Congress and has also achieved a pan-national presence. Earlier, its influence was mostly confined to the Hindi belt as it was seen as a North Indian party consisting of Brahmins and traders. But today it has expanded its base to other castes with an effective social engineering. It has even overtaken the Congress to emerge as the largest party in Rajya Sabha. When the NDA was formed in 1998 it had 24 partners. The BJP had utilised the anti-Congress sentiments to the fullest extent in forging a front, which came to power in 1998. However, within 13 months, the AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa pulled down the Vajpayee government, but he came back in 1999 and ruled till 2004. The NDA lost power deluding itself with its "India Shining" campaign. The UPA built by Congress President Sonia Gandhi came to power in 2004 and ruled for the next ten years keeping the NDA out. It was only in 2014 that the BJP under Narendra Modi came to power with its own majority and forming the current government.
In 2014 the BJP had gone to polls with 26 allies. The NDA included smaller parties like Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Republican Party of India (Athawale), All India NR Congress, Lok Janshakthi Party, Telugu Desam Party, Kerala Congress, Apna Dal, Manipur People's Party, and Naga People's Front. At least six more parties have joined the NDA now, including the PDP from Jammu and Kashmir, Bodoland People's front, Asom Gana Parishad, Bharat Dharma Jana Sena and Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party. The latest big catch was the return of the JD(U); and with the JD(U) allying with the BJP, the NDA's numbers are now very close to a majority in the Rajya Sabha with the support of friendly regional parties, giving a boost to the government's legislative agenda.
Moreover, after Nitish Kumar's re-entry, the number of states where the BJP is in power has gone up to 18 of the 29 states. BJP holds the majority in 11 states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. In Goa and Maharashtra, BJP shares power as senior partner. In five other states – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, and Sikkim, the BJP shares power as a junior partner. The Congress, on the other hand, is currently ruling in Karnataka, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry, and Punjab. However, the BJP is growing at the cost of the allies.
So how has the BJP achieved this? It has followed various methods ruthlessly to expand its base and win power. The first is winning the mandate as it has done in UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Assam, and Jharkhand. Second are the post poll alliances as it has done in Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir. Coming to power as a coalition partner with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir was indeed a bold step. The third is by poaching on the legislators of other parties like it did in Manipur and Goa recently. But the most novel method is by importing Chief Ministers like it has done recently in Bihar and earlier in Arunachal Pradesh. It is waiting to grab Tamil Nadu after the two AIADMK factions unite. BJP is trying to poach on the UPA constituents as it did in Bihar recently.
On the flip side, though, technically, National Democratic Alliance won at the hustings, it is BJP that is calling the shots so much so that key allies — the Shiv Sena, the Telugu Desam Party and the People's Democratic Party — have been openly unhappy with the BJP's governing mechanism. The BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir is a tightrope walk. Even in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal is not too happy with the BJP. The TDP wants a special status for Andhra Pradesh. "Parties like Sena, Akali Dal and TDP are standing strong in their respective states. There should be clarity on whether our friendship is needed (by the BJP)," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna recently. Also, the allies feel that the BJP is growing at the cost of the allies.
The perception presently is that Modi will come back to hold the chair in 2019. The TINA (there is no alternative) factor would be a huge advantage to the BJP led NDA and it is for the UPA to set its house in order. The UPA lacks a powerful leader who can unite the non-BJP parties and manage their inherent contradictions, as the divided opposition is BJP's strength. Whether the UPA can revive before the 2019 polls is yet to be seen.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)