Apna Dal's discontent with BJP in UP reveals worrisome trend ahead of 2019: Party must make effort with allies
The BJP's losses in three Hindi heartland states in the Assembly elections came not only as a jolt for the saffron front, but also gave its smaller allies a voice to speak up about their qualms with the party.
Ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) troubles with junior allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seem far from over.
Earlier this week, the BJP just about managed to keep the flock together in Bihar and come to a consensus on a seat-sharing formula for the polls. But in the process, it lost an ally and also a fair share of seats to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United).
Now, trouble seems to be brewing in Uttar Pradesh, where the dissatisfaction of the Apna Dal (S) came to the fore on Tuesday. "The state BJP leadership is not giving us the respect we deserve. They should learn from the recent losses (in the Assembly elections)," Apna Dal chief Ashish Patel told reporters, adding that the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance was a challenge for them.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Patel highlighted that the Uttar Pradesh BJP had disrespected the Apna Dal on multiple occasions by not inviting the party to various events. "In the present situation in UP, workers of all three NDA constituents (BJP, Apna Dal and the Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party) are disappointed. No one is paying heed to voices of alliance partners," he was quoted as saying. "The BJP central leadership should rectify this situation, otherwise the NDA will suffer maximum loss in UP."
With 80 parliamentary seats — the highest among all states of India — Uttar Pradesh is a crucial state for the Lok Sabha elections for all parties, more so for the saffron party. As it is famously said road to Delhi passes through Lucknow.
The BJP currently holds 71 of these 80 seats and the Congress and Apna Dal, two each. The Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) became an NDA ally only before the 2017 Assembly polls.
The BJP's losses in three Hindi heartland states in the Assembly elections last month came not only as a jolt for the saffron front, but also gave its regional partners a voice to speak up about their qualms with the party. Much like the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) in Bihar, which quit the NDA amid disagreements over the number of seats offered, the BJP's smaller allies in Uttar Pradesh are also resorting to arm-twisting in a bid to get their way like Nitish's party — the JD(U) and BJP will both contest from 17 Lok Sabha seats, which is five fewer for the BJP than that the last elections.
"We should get an honourable number of seats. There will be no compromise on fewer than that," Patel told The Indian Express.
SBSP leader Arvind Rajbhar's statement, too, underlined the threat for the BJP in the north Indian state and also highlighted the talks on political realignments that were triggered by the nervousness over the SP-BSP alliance. "I have spoken to BJP state president Mahendra Nath Pandey over the delay in announcement of seat sharing, but there has been no response yet… We are in such a strong position in UP today that if the BJP will not support us, there is the option of the SP-BSP, too. Options are open," he warned.
The BJP has had a shaky year with its allies. Right from the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, its near-30-year-old ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra to their southern ally Telugu Desam Party, the saffron party has lost of the support of a number of regional parties, either over policy differences or political ego clashes.
Trouble began to brew in BJP-Shiv Sena ties days before the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections, when the two right-wing parties could not come to a consensus on a seat sharing numbers, and the BJP eventually decided to ally with smaller regional parties to form the government under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Since then, the Shiv Sena has never held back from voicing its criticism of the BJP and the policies of its government at the Centre, especially demonetisation. Now, it has even gone to the extent of trying to take over the BJP's narrative on the demand for a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, questioning the Centre about a date to begin the construction of the temple.
Furthermore, the Shiv Sena has reiterated a number of times that it will fight the 2019 polls solo and not in alliance with any party. Even then, BJP chief Amit Shah said earlier this month that he was confident the Sena would be with the NDA in 2019, indicating the worry in the BJP about the likelihood of losing another state without a regional power at its side.
Jammu and Kashmir:
That the BJP and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would part ways in Jammu and Kashmir was predicted much before the actual split because of the regional party's dissatisfaction with the BJP-led Centre's refusal to extend the Ramzan ceasefire in the state. Club this with the central government's refusal to hold talks with Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan in an attempt to end the bloodshed in the Valley, and the break-up was inevitable.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had said time and again that dialogue with Pakistan was the only way forward for the bloodshed in the Valley to end, but the Centre refused to budge from its "terror and talks can't go together" stand on the Kashmir dispute with its neighbour.
In the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the PDP was the single largest party with 28 MLAs. This was followed by 25 of the BJP, 15 of the National Conference and 12 of the Congress, along with three Independents, two MLAs of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference (JKPC), and one each of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Even when it was in alliance with the PDP, there were rumours in political circles that the BJP was in talks with the Sajad Lone-led JKPC. This was confirmed when Lone approached the governor to form the government in the state in alliance with the BJP and Independents, the same day Mehbooba tried to contact the governor to stake claim to form the government with the Congress and National Conference. Neither side won, with the governor dissolving the Assembly altogether.
Punjab and Haryana are the only states where the BJP appears to be in a good place with its ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal. The BJP-Akali alliance was in power in Punjab before the Congress dethroned the two in the 2017 Assembly elections.
So far, the tie-up with the Shiromani Akali Dal has been the only one with a bump-free journey, with both parties affirming that their commitment to staying allies was "rock solid".
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar's prolonged illness — he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February — and continued absence has taken a toll on the Goa administration. Apart from waning public confidence in the state government, one of its regional coalition partners, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) has been demanding that a leader of the party be made the chief minister in Parrikar's place to get the state machinery working again.
The BJP-led ruling coalition in Goa includes the MGP, Goa Forward Party (GFP) and three Independents, but it's the MGP with which it's now on thin ice. The party has threatened to contest the Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections in Goa solo against BJP candidates if its leader Sudin Dhavalikar was not appointed the chief minister in view of Parrikar's health. Dhavalikar, a senior MGP legislator, is currently the second most senior minister in the Goa Cabinet after Parrikar, who has been recuperating at his home since 14 October after being discharged from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.
To assuage the public and its allies, the BJP had a frail-looking Parrikar out and about inspecting projects in Goa, despite having a tube running through his nose, indicating that he was in no better health than suspected. The move had evoked sharp criticism and did little damage control.
The political crisis in Goa has reached such a state that the MGP has moved the Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court, accusing the BJP of horse-trading to avoid losing a floor test in the Goa Assembly and seeking to restrict the party's newest members — two defected Congress MLAs Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanad Sopte — from contesting polls for the next six years.
In the north eastern state, where the BJP is part of the ruling coalition with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), rifts appeared in the government two months after coming into power in March 2018. This was over the nomination of chairmen of Block Advisory Committees, posts under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
While this dispute was reportedly resolved, the regional partner had taken note of Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb's warning. "My people are my first priority," he had said after IPFT workers staged protests over this tussle. "Such agitation or violence by the IPFT that hamper people's daily lives are not encouraged. My government will not tolerate if any such incident occurs further from their side."
The divide in the alliance came to even brighter light following reports that the two parties would be contesting against each other in the panchayat bypolls in Tripura, and the IPFT declaring that it would fight it out solo in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Cracks appeared in the BJP's tie-up with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam over the Centre's determination to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. Introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016, the bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant citizenship by naturalisation to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who came to India before 31 December, 2014.
Assam agriculture minister and AGP president Atul Bora has warned that his party will break its alliance with the BJP in Assam if the Centre passes the bill. "The citizenship bill will negate the exercise of the National Register of Citizens," Bora had said. "People oppose the bill as Assam cannot shoulder the burden of foreigners anymore."
While regional parties are getting more and more vocal about their dissatisfaction with the BJP and disbanding from their alliances, Opposition parties are trying to come together to form a united front to take on the saffron brigade in 2019. However, there is neither any clarity, nor any stability to this proposed "grand alliance" yet. This is evident from the lack of consensus among Opposition parties over who should lead the front and be projected as their prime ministerial face (Rahul Gandhi or no Rahul Gandhi).
"A national alliance against the BJP looks nice and promising on paper. But given the diversity of our country and multiplicity of parties, any alliance can only be worked out at the state level," The Economic Times quoted Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, as saying.
This statement holds true not just for the Opposition but for the BJP, as well, and it needs to do much to hold onto to its state-level partners.
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