Allies' win at bypolls and looming Bihar polls threaten Modi's solo run
The results of the recent bypolls in Punjab and Maharashtra, and the arithmetic-based 'unity' of the Janata parivar will make anti-BJP politics the mainstay in the immediate future. This means PM Narendra Modi will have to share more power to move his agenda forward.
The results of the recent bypolls in Punjab and Maharashtra, and the arithmetic-based "unity" of the Janata parivar (the LMN - Lemon - alliance of Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Nitish Kumar, with assorted hangers on like INLD and JDS) will make anti-BJP politics the mainstay in the immediate future. This means PM Narendra Modi will have to share more power to move his agenda forward.
While too much should not be read into stray bypoll trends, the Akali Dal's victory in Dhuri and the Shiv Sena's in Bandra (East) will strengthen Modi's allies in government.
The Akali Dal's win takes its seat-count to well past the halfway mark (59 in a 117-seat assembly), which means the party does not need the BJP's support to stay in power. The BJP too does not need the Dal's MPs to stay in power in Delhi, but the skew in power equations between the Akalis and BJP has now been corrected. The BJP will have to make compromises with the Dal on key policy issues, especially if it wants the Akalis' support on crucial legislation like the Land Acquisition Bill, which is due to come up in the second half of the budget session.
The Shiv Sena win in Bandra (East). - by a heftier margin that last October - will embolden it to keep cocking a snook at the BJP in order to stay relevant in Maharashtra. The Sena sees an existential threat to itself from the rise of Modi's party in Maharashtra, which is why it wants to oppose the BJP any which way it can, including by embarrassing it (as it did when Sanjay Raut called for the disenfranchisement of Muslims).
The BJP needs the Sena's 18 MPs at the centre and is crucially dependent on it to stay on in power in Maharashtra. The Bandra win will force the BJP to accommodate the Sena on crucial issues, especially since the Mumbai Municipal Corporations polls are due in 2017..
The Bandra result, which saw the defeat of Congress' Narayan Rane - his second defeat in assembly elections in six months - oddly strengthens the Congress. With Rane now becoming irrelevant to Congress, the party can consolidate under Ashok Chavan, especially since it more than doubled its vote share to over 33,000 between October 2014 and now. The Congress will now flex its muscles more, both in Maharashtra and in Delhi, especially with the Land Bill coming up for a vote.
An equally significant fallout of the Bandra result is the diminution of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which managed to do well in the last assembly elections. This time its candidate lost votes, which indicates that the minority vote bank may be moving back to traditional "secular" parties like Congress.
The gradual return of Muslims to the old politics of protection-based secularism is the result of the Sangh parivar's aggressive statement-mongering, which has damaged Narendra Modi's efforts to position his government as only development-focused. The Sangh should introspect and ask whether driving the minorities into the arms of its old rivals is in its interest, however much it may want to diminish Modi's clout.
It is in this context that the coming together of the Janata parivar is important. The Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad marriage of convenience has already allowed the minority vote to consolidate against the BJP, as was evident in the Bihar bypolls held immediately after the Lok Sabha elections. The drop in vote shares for parties like AIMiM will ensure that future minority consolidations will be anti-BJP. Bihar will show which way the cookie crumbles.
For Narendra Modi, this means he has to now change his gameplan. The solo run is coming to an end as both allies and opposition flex their muscles. Now, more than ever, he needs to adopt the 4C's approach - charm-consultation--compromise and coercion - to carry his agenda through. He has to become more personally involved in wooing allies and non-enemies (and not leave it to Amit Shah or Venkaiah Naidu), he has to seek formal consultations with all, offer political compromises that will enable detractors to save face and even claim a win, and use the power of his office to make allies and rivals fall in line. The Congress was a master of this game, and this was how it kept the likes of Mulayam Singh and Mayawati in line.
Modi will find that there is no alternative to time-tested carrot-and-stick formula.
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