The Bharatiya Janata Party and several of its alliance partners are locked in a political stare-down ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. A recent statement given by Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu should raise a red flag for the BJP leadership that all is not well within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
"We are pursuing friendly relations with the BJP due to the coalition dharma but if they don't want an alliance we are ready to chart our own course," Naidu, the ruling Telegu Desam Party's chief said.
Speculations were rife about an evident rift between the BJP and TDP for a long time now. Repeated statements from the BJP camp only fueled such rumours. However, Naidu's statement has finally brought to the fore fissure lines emerging between the two parties.
Naidu miffed over BJP leader's statements
Naidu is unhappy about the statements coming from the state BJP leaders. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister believes that BJP leaders are constantly raising a finger on the state government, in which they are in alliance. He feels that the BJP top brass and central leadership should do more to reign in such blatant criticism.
The alliance forged ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had benefited both parties in equal measure. The TDP is a coalition partner in the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, and the BJP is sharing power with the TDP in the state.
Earlier too, Naidu had supported a BJP-led government at the Centre in 1998, helping Atal Bihari Vajpayee become prime minister. But he walked out of the alliance after NDA lost the General Election in 2004, and the TDP lost Andhra Pradesh. At the time, Naidu had distanced himself from the BJP, blaming its anti-minority image for the loss of the alliance in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
In due course, time took its turn and Naidu capitalised on the in-fighting in Congress after the death of then chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash. Once again, Naidu settled into a compromise alliance with the BJP to take advantage of the Narendra Modi wave in 2014. Today, both parties are in alliance both in Andhra Pradesh and at the Center.
But now, as the alliance partners have completed nearly four years in power, the recent war of words indicates that the honeymoon period of the alliance is certainly over.
Rift a result of BJP cosying up with YS Jagan Mohan Reddy
Indeed, many BJP leaders in Andhra Pradesh have started criticising the Naidu government. Some BJP leaders have also been suggesting the option to work with Jagan Mohan Reddy's party YSR Congress instead of aligning with the TDP once again.
More recently, a similar statement has come from Jagan Mohan, who is an arch rival of Chief Minister Naidu and his party. Jagan Mohan has said, "If Andhra Pradesh is given special status, then we are ready to support BJP."
Even though the Andhra Pradesh Assembly Elections will be close at the heels of the General Elections in 2019, there is still a year before these parties have to face polls. Nonetheless, the recent statement by Naidu would have raised the BJP's discomfort.
Shiv Sena fixes date to end marriage with BJP
Earlier, Shiv Sena had already put BJP in a spot by announcing to go solo in the next Lok Sabha elections. The BJP's long-term ally had finally passed a resolution to end the alliance at its national executive meeting in Mumbai on 23 January.
Shiv Sena's relationship with BJP has worsened since the Lok Sabha elections. But Shiv Sena is in the government alongside BJP, just like TDP, both at Center and in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena is one of BJP's oldest allies. But, now the ego clashes between the friends-turned-foes and the efforts to gain supremacy in the state has soured the relationship enough to bring it to the breaking point.
Bihar could be next
A similar situation may arise in Bihar as well with several splinter groups and clashing parties now part of the same umbrella alliance at the Centre. During the last Lok Sabha election, BJP had whipped up an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party in an effort to get the caste equation right. The party even benefited after allying with them.
But after Nitish Kumar's return to NDA in Bihar, equations may change within the NDA as strains have started to appear. On one hand, reaching an amicable seat-sharing formula will be difficult for the BJP at the time of the Lok Sabha elections, as it will have to leave seats for LJP and RLSP as well as JD(U).
Similarly, it also has new splinter groups arising from its alliance partners to deal with. After the split in RLSP — with the second faction led by Jehanabad MP Arun Kumar — and the former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's party Hindustani Awam Morcha, a splinter group of the JD(U), the agreement of seats will not be so easy.
With JD(U)'s return to the NDA camp, other small regional parties fear that they might have to compromise on their seat share. There are doubts about the next step of Kushwaha and Manjhi, and their recent statements have only fueled these speculations further.
Thus, in Bihar, the possibility of smaller NDA allies switching over to the Congress-RJD camp cannot be ruled out. Meanwhile, Haryana Janhit Congress in Haryana too has already merged with Congress. This was the first blow to BJP. But now, the attitude of Shiv Sena and TDP has forced the BJP to rethink.
The BJP, in its attempt to increase its footprint from the south to the North East, is trying to compensate for the potential losses from anti-incumbency. But, in doing so, the saffron party runs the risk of ignoring its old allies. Its party may be up for a rude shock in the upcoming elections due to its separation with its old allies.
This article was originally published in Firstpost Hindi
Updated Date: Jan 30, 2018 21:01 PM