The wheels have come off the Bharatiya Janata Party's 2014 campaign before Narendra Modi has had time to even take charge.
It is difficult to overemphasise how big a disaster last week's Janata Dal-BJP split in Bihar is.
Bihar gave the alliance 32 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, the most from any state and a sixth of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance total. Modi should wave goodbye to that. His other headache will be Karnataka, which suprisingly sent most BJP MPs, 19, to Delhi. There also, the recent assembly election defeat portends a washout in the Lok Sabha. At this point, even holding on to the NDA's existing tally of 181 doesn't look easy, despite the excitement over Modi’s elevation.
In Bihar, the post-split model will resemble Orissa, where under an identical alliance with a Janata Dal faction, BJP got 7 Lok Sabha and 32 Assembly seats in 2004. The party had 17 percent of the vote. Their partner, the Biju Janata Dal got 27 percent of the vote and won 11 seats.
After the alliance was unilaterally and treacherously broken by the Janata Dal (in much the same way as in Bihar), the BJP got zero Lok Sabha seats in 2009, with 15 percent of the vote, while the Janata Dal won 14 seats.
The same condition for the BJP will obtain in Bihar.
Why is this? The BJP upper caste vote is spread out and small. It has needed the middle and lower caste votes of the Janata Dal to stay relevant.
Another example of where this sort of alliance succeeds for the BJP is Punjab. Going through the list of BJP legislators in Punjab, the names are revealing. I’m going to list all 12 of them so that it is obvious: Dinesh Singh, Seema Kumari, AK Sharma, Anil Joshi, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, Som Parkash, Chuni Lal Bhagat, Manoranjan Kalia, KD Bhandari, Amarjit Singh, Madan Mohan Mittal, Surjit Kumar,
Other than Sidhu (wife of cricketer Navjot Singh) and Amarjit Singh, the other 10 are all Hindus in what is a Sikh majority state. The other striking thing is the domination of upper castes. Sharma, Joshi, Bhagat are Brahmin names. Mittal is a Baniya. The BJP’s alliance is with the Akali Dal, whose legislators are almost all of them Sikhs.
This is why the BJP-SAD alliance makes such great sense. If the alliance did not exist, the BJP would be poorer for it, because the castes it brings to the table are small.
The other thing is that voters move away from parties with no chance of winning. This is why a BJP in an alliance is a better prospect for its upper caste votaries than a BJP that stands alone.
I wrote in an earlier column that I did not think it likely that the Janata Dal would break with the BJP, because the alliance together commanded just under 40 percent of the vote in Bihar. This is the reason it dominates.
Nitish Kumar sees it differently but I think he will pay heavily for breaking up with the BJP, no matter what the compulsion. For him, the Orissa model will not apply.
In Bihar, unlike Orissa, there exists a party similar to Nitish Kumar’s, which is inclusive, focused on the backward castes and will benefit when the Janata Dal’s vote share diminishes. This is Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The difference between these two parties on seats contested is only 4 percent of the votes cast. This thin margin is as good as eroded now that the BJP is gone. In the next election, Nitish will miss the BJP’s support no matter what he feels now.
The BJP had only three allies in 1996, when they bid for power — Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and the Samata Party.
It is back to that exactly that place today, except that the Samata (the old name for the Janata Dal) is gone.
On Karan Thapar’s show on CNN-IBN a few months ago, I was asked what Modi needed to do to keep Nitish with the BJP. I said that the riots were in the past, but for Modi’s image to change, he would have to do three things. Publicly disown a minister convicted for rioting (on whom he has made no statement so far), announce an end to the persecution of police officers like Rahul Sharma who acted vigorously and bravely against the rioters, and third, to officially keep away Amit Shah, another minister charged with conspiracy in a case where a man was killed in a false encounter and his wife was later murdered.
The BJP’s Chandan Mitra replied that this was liberal daydreaming, the actions were not needed and that Nitish would approach politics more practically. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and Modi’s stubbornness has led to the BJP disaster in Bihar.