What NDA’s sudden ‘revival’ means for BJP in 2024
The Opposition’s metaphor of the BJP being a huge washing machine was perfectly illustrated by the Maharashtra episode.
J P Nadda’s raison d’etre for absorbing the legislators and a Rajya Sabha MP from Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) into the BJP just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly accused the party of commissioning a “₹70,000 crore” scam was not even specious by political standards. The BJP president’s exposition was a pathetic bluster as he resolutely stood his ground at a press conference addressed earlier this week. Nadda conflated corruption with ideology and stated that while the law would take its course in dealing with malfeasance, there was “nothing wrong” if somebody (read corrupt) wanted to champion the BJP’s ideology. Pawar senior’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, who spearheaded the NCP rebellion, three other legislators and Rajya Sabha MP Praful Patel, have serious graft and misappropriation charges against them that are being investigated by state and Central agencies.
The Opposition’s metaphor of the BJP being a humongous washing machine with enough capacity to remove all stains was never more appropriately illustrated than by the Maharashtra episode. But one recent example showed that such exchanges in the marketplace do not fool voters all the time even if ideology is invoked. Think Karnataka and how a minority mandate was converted into a majority vote simply because the BJP opened its doors to renegades from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) carrying unwholesome baggage. This cynicism might be one of the reasons for the BJP’s Karnataka loss.
The BJP’s ideological underpinning is eventually the only attribute going for the party after nine years of Central rule. That’s indisputable for three reasons: in the Opposition spectrum, no other party, including the Congress and the Left forces (which have suffered the opprobrium of being minority-appeasers), can challenge Hindutva, which is at the core of the BJP’s belief. The Left’s ideology might have worked once upon a time but that has passed after its own workers gravitated towards the BJP in West Bengal in the past few elections while in Kerala, the communal threat hangs low.
Second, Hindutva’s mainstreaming has made the Opposition reactive and defensive, except for parties like the AIMIM and Assam’s All India Democratic Front which never pretended to be secular in their pursuit of a pro-minority agenda.
Finally, nothing stokes the BJP’s cadre more than the mention of the Ram temple or a ban on meat consumption and of late, the bulldozer which personified a muscular genre of bigotry. Essentially, “Hindu asmita” (pride) is a notion which absolves the BJP of courting and embracing the corrupt and the crime-prone.
Cadre support is at the core of the BJP’s success, enhanced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s endorsement of the Central government’s policies and programmes in the domestic spheres. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s missteps—manifest in the former PM’s equivocation on Modi and his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, and generally on the secular-communal polemics because he wished to please the Broad Church more than the parivar’s fanatics—resulted in him losing the cadre’s confidence in the 2004 election.
Through his nine years in Delhi, Modi sedulously carried out the RSS’ wish list in its favourite areas such as education, home, tribal affairs and culture, keeping his hands untied while carrying out economic reforms and disinvestments and befriending the world’s Islamic bloc. Vajpayee had to look over his shoulders when inviting investors and trying to make peace with Pakistan.
Now that the virtually defunct National Democratic Alliance (NDA), housing as many as 38 parties in its large tent, has been revived, will Modi have to revise his ideological stance? For the NDA constituents, extant and past, ideology was flexible. They never thought of ideological adherence as a matter of principle but a reason to be expedient as long as it brought them power, positions and privileges. In the past, the BJP bountifully showered these on its allies. Many of the parties invited to the NDA jamboree on Monday do not have legislators or MPs though they have contested elections. From Maharashtra alone, three such entities—the Prahar Janshakti Party, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha and Jan Surajya Shakti Party—were present, raising a crucial question. The BJP is ensconced in the state government: it shored up its numbers by splitting the Shiv Sena and taking away a bulk of Balasaheb Thackeray’s party, leaving his political legatee Uddhav Thackeray high and dry. Next it preyed upon the NCP. What value do the smaller parties bring to the table, especially when they have no proven legislative strength except for the BJP to make a grandstand play against the Opposition and say if you have 26, we have 38? If the BJP is looking at a long-term alliance with the breakaway Sena and NCP groupings, it will have to contend with the mutual contradictions existing on the ground. The NCP draws its sustenance from the Maratha votes while the BJP has amassed the backward caste votes—the twain rarely coexist.
If Maharashtra was used as a basis to make national projections for 2024, what is the first message emanating from the NDA meeting? Is the BJP less confident of riding to a third-term victory on Modi’s persona and politics? There was no such indication because the PM was there, front and centre, at the gathering, as sure of himself as in the past.
However, there was an epic picture that could be a pointer. Modi posed with Ajit Pawar, unmindful of the slew of cases against the latter. The PM as well as his party chief hammered away incessantly on the Opposition’s “corruption” and dynasts, suggesting that these features co-existed in INDIA, the new formation. Can the BJP speak with a straight face on either of the two after the Maharashtra episode?
Another picture that told a story was of Modi hugging Chirag Paswan, the son of the late Ram Vilas Paswan, who founded the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The party broke after Paswan’s death, with Chirag’s uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras forming the Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP). The BJP walked away with most of the MPs and MLAs from the Paras faction. Having sensed that the party’s Dalit voters remained with Chirag, the BJP wooed him back, disregarding the intra-family tensions.
Of course, the BJP must contend with the reality that major regional forces such as the YSRCP, BRS, TDP, BJD and BSP are yet non-committal and outside the ambit of its umbrella as well as the Opposition’s. Can the BJP lure at least a couple of these parties before 2024?
Columnist and political commentator