Amid all the debate about the formation, health and potential success of a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) against the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP itself has gone about strengthening its owns ties to parties that could be key in securing a return for Narendra Modi in 2019.
The polls of 2019 are not the polls of 2014. If there is at all a pre-poll wave this time, then it is certainly not a Modi wave. With no Ram temple in sight, a fractured consensus on the Goods and Services Tax, a grandstanding on terror that has proven ill-equipped to handle real disasters, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, fewer jobs and angrier farmers, the BJP government has often been criticised in the recent past, both by its allies and its non-allies.
But no one can accuse the BJP brass of being blind to turns of fortune, and one of the reasons why they cannot is the hard work the party has put in (often eating several humble pies in the process) to make sure these crucial alliances do not slip away in the anti-incumbency wave.
In Tamil Nadu, BJP made use of the vacuum created by the 2016 death of J Jayalalithaa and swooped in for a seat-sharing deal that it would probably not have imagined possible even a few years ago.
Jayalalithaa's party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), is no longer the behemoth that had swept the 2014 Lok Sabha election, winning 37 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. Moneycontrol notes that apart from the faction-riddled AIADMK losing the trust of Tamil Nadu voters with its continuous infighting, the state government it has formed has failed to address a sentiment that it has not been able to protect Tamil Nadu’s interests — whether on the NEET entrance exam, the Cauvery water dispute or the Sterlite plant protests.
BJP was wise enough to maximise the possibilities of this juncture for the AIADMK. On Tuesday, it announced a decision to form a pact with AIADMK. Not only did it secure a five-seat agreement — the most it has ever received in a tie-up with a Tamil Nadu party — but it also managed to add the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) into the mix. The PMK not only has a huge support base among the Vanniyars, it is also notoriously anti-Dravidian, making the BJP's orchestrations to sew together two parties on two opposing points of the Dravidian pole, noteworthy.
This union could not have been the result solely of the BJP's natural aura. On 15 February, Union minister and BJP's Tamil Nadu in-charge Piyush Goyal was quite frank about the hard work going to the party's poll preparations.
"I have come here to discuss how we will proceed in the elections and discuss with party leaders and other friends to chart out a path for the future," he had said and then held long meetings with AIADMK leader and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, The News Minute had reported.
On Tuesday, Goyal appeared with both and said that the NDA will fight and "win" in all 40 seats (in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry) in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Announced days before the Tamil Nadu development and invoking far more surprise, even considering that the ally in question is a longtime one, the BJP and the Shiv Sena arrived at a seat-sharing arrangement for the upcoming Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections.
The Sena had been cranking up the criticism against the BJP for a while now and had just days earlier demanded that the BJP share seats with it according to the formula the two parties followed over two decades ago, in 1995. In that year, the Sena had contested 171 seats — 60 percent of the total 288 — while the BJP contested 117 seats. It was a demand both parties knew would not be fulfilled, especially now that the BJP has 122 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly and the support of 16 other MLAs, but it did take rumours of the two going solo to a crescendo.
Uddhav Thackeray's party has also been angling for the chief ministerial chair, which looks unlikely to be fulfilled. The Shiv Sena will now fight on 23 seats, while the BJP will fight on 25 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
Clearly, the BJP and Sena have an understanding of decades. But clearly their constant bickering too is for the long haul. A day after announcing the seat-sharing pact with the BJP, the Shiv Sena asked the NDA government not to leverage the Pulwama attack to influence poll results. Riots and terror attacks should not be used for "political gains", the Sena said in an editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamana.
That the BJP is willing to put up with ritual strikes to its rank and file is also reflective of the importance it attaches to winning in Maharashtra.
When asked by The Print if the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance was an unlikely one at this stage, Sena MP and spokesperson Arvind Sawant said, "If Nitish Kumar's party can form an alliance with the BJP, then ours is the holiest alliance possible."
The comment should give an idea on how hard fought the alliance between Nitish's Janata Dal (United) and BJP probably is. Though neither as rocky as the one with the Sena, nor as sudden as the one with AIADMK, the BJP-JD(U) combine and is resilience is surprising as one half of it is lead by one of the BJP's worst onetime critics.
Yet Nitish is an ally to treasure in a state which can ensure 40 Lok Sabha seats, and so it is no surprise that one of the first seat-sharing announcements the BJP made was that of its agreement in Bihar.
In late December of 2018, after BJP's defeats in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and after some initial hurdles, the BJP announced that Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party had agreed to contesting six of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, with Paswan getting a bonus Rajya Sabha ticket. The BJP and JDU will contest 17 seats each in the state, in accordance with an agreement announced as early as October.
Having set the stage in Bihar, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are keen to use it too, to kick off the National Democratic Alliance's poll campaign from Patna's Gandhi Maidan on 3 March. In a measure that will clearly keep the members of the alliance happy, both Nitish and Paswan will be present too.
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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 15:58:04 IST