After successfully decimating the opposition, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is taking aim at its allies, now that it has registered emphatic victories in two consecutive Lok Sabha polls.
Emboldened by the party’s growth trajectory, there is a growing view in the BJP that it should make serious attempts to shed its dependence on allies.
Alternatively, the BJP is willing to accommodate its poll partners, but only on its own terms.
The confidence in the BJP is based on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s undiminished personal charisma, growing acceptance of the party’s Hindutva agenda and its organisational strength which, the party says, helped it score big in elections.
Three members of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance – the Janata Dal (United), the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal – are facing the heat from its senior partner. Their relationship with the
BJP has come under severe strain in view of the saffron party’s expansionist agenda.
The protracted seat-sharing negotiations between the BJP and the Shiv Sena for the forthcoming Maharashtra assembly polls is a pointer to the BJP’s growing assertiveness.
Similarly, a restive BJP is no longer content playing the junior partner to the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) in Bihar.
The Shiromani Akali Dal is also watching nervously as the BJP has stepped up its activities in Punjab through its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Talks between the BJP and the Shiv Sena on seat-sharing are critically poised. The BJP is unwilling to concede more than 110 of the 288 seats in Maharashtra though it could be persuaded to go up to 120, but the Shiv Sena is insisting on an equal division of seats between them.
Having been a senior partner in Maharashtra in the past, the Shiv Sena is finding it difficult to reconcile to the fact that the dynamics of its relationship with the BJP has undergone a change after the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The Shiv Sena’s dependence on the BJP has grown since then while the latter is convinced it is in a position to win a majority on its own. The two parties contested the last two Lok Sabha polls together, but they went their separate ways in the 2014 assembly poll.
The BJP gamble paid off as it won 122 seats while the Shiv Sena had to be content with 63 seats.
Assembly elections in Bihar are due only next year but the fight for leadership has already begun. Tired of playing second fiddle to the JD(U) for two decades, a more confident BJP believes it is time it got its hands on the chief minister’s post.
The BJP tested the waters recently when its party leader Sanjay Paswan publicly declared that Nitish Kumar should concede the chief minister’s post to the BJP. Though the party has officially declared that Nitish Kumar will continue as the chief ministerial face of the NDA, a large section of Bihar’s BJP leaders does not agree with this formulation.
Janata Dal (U) leaders privately admit to the simmering tension between the two parties but said they are compelled to keep the marriage going for the sake of their government’s longevity.
The differences between the partners were evident when the JD (U) did not join the Union Cabinet as Nitish Kumar was miffed at being offered only one Cabinet berth. His party also differed with the BJP on the triple talaq Bill and the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir.
“Yet, we don’t have a choice but to continue our alliance or else we will lose our government. As for the chief minister’s post, we will cross that bridge closer to the election,” remarked a senior JD (U) leader.
Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal, one of BJP’s oldest partners, is getting a distinct impression that the saffron party is preparing to go it alone even though it has no more than a 7-8 per cent vote share in Punjab which remained immune to the Modi magic both in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
The Akalis doubt the BJP’s intentions, pointing to the expanding activities of the RSS, particularly in the rural areas which are an Akali stronghold.
The Sikhs have always been wary of the RSS as they believe it poses a threat to their distinct identity since the centrepiece of the Sangh’s argument is that Sikhism is a sect of Hinduism.
Though the lack of ideological convergence between the two parties has often led to friction, the BJP and the Akalis have stayed together for decades as neither can come to power independently.
The BJP, with its Hindu support base, has a larger presence in the urban areas while the Akalis command the loyalty of the Sikh peasantry in the rural belt. The two parties have always had an unwritten pact: both focused on their respective areas of strength without treading on each other’s toes.
However, the “new BJP”, led by Modi and party president Amit Shah, is in no mood to be generous. The Akalis are not taking any chances either and have started identifying leaders in the urban areas in case they are left on their own. They maintain they have not been getting the right signals from the BJP for some time now.
“They moved Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s seat to the third row in the Lok Sabha. Naresh Gujral, who was earlier heading the Commerce ministry Parliamentary standing committee, has been denied the post,” a senior Akali leader pointed out. This may be minor issues, but the message can hardly be ignored,