Regional constituents of the NDA, present and prospective, need to be engaged by the BJP
As the brouhaha over Budget 2018-19 dies down and political parties across spectrum begin what is likely to be a long drawn out process of preparing for the Assembly elections this year and the Lok Sabha election scheduled for 2019, developments within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance have become the subject of discussion for Narendra Modi baiters apart from causing unmitigated glee in the Opposition camp. But those infused deeply with an anti-BJP sentiment seem to be reading too much into the rumblings within the NDA caused by two major regional constituents the Shiv Sena and Telegu Desam Party (TDP), too soon. Let us examine the facts. The Shiv Sena announced recently that it would not be partnering with the BJP for the coming Lok Sabha poll.
Yet, it continues to be a part of the BJP-led Maharashtra State Government which it joined after fighting the Assembly poll separately and rules the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation despite being in a minority without the BJP, which is a close second in terms of BMC numbers, doing anything overt to upset the applecart. At the Centre, too, the Shiv Sena Minister in the Union council of ministers has stayed put. The main grouse of the Shiv Sena is that the BJP has strengthened itself at the cost of the party in Maharashtra. But one’s suspicion is even it realizes the solution to this competitive scenario is definitely not to force both parties’ overlapping vote-bank to choose between the two in a Lok Sabha poll where the BJP as a national party with a popular sitting Prime Minister is very likely to have the edge.
Then, there are periodic barbs at the Modi regime for not being tough’ enough on Pakistan, as evidenced over the past couple of days with the party questioning the stand of the Government over recent cross-LOC shelling by Pakistan, asking if India’s missiles are just for “exhibiting and gathering applause at Rajpath”. Again, the Sena knows its voter base would hardly expect a Congress or NCP, its talked of possible allies for 2019, to do anything that a BJP-led Govemment has not. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the questions that will be asked of the Congress which has in the past termed the Sena a party of hooligans, communal and fascist will be very interesting. Uttar Pradesh, where a so-called grand opposition alliance of the SP, BSP and Congress is being talked about it still a BJP stronghold and either of the first two mentioned parties not beyond the pale for the NDA. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)is very much with the BJP and likely to remain so for 2019.
Similarly, the TDP has upped the ante but has withheld any departure-from-NDA announcement which would lead it to eat crow at a later stage after a phone call between Chandrababu Naidu and Rajnath Singh in which the latter reportedly advised the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister not to do anything precipitate. Naidu, on his part, apparently unhappy with the State being ‘ignored’ in the Budget and his pending demand for a Central package for the State after Telangana was carved out also in limbo has asked his MPs too keep the pressure on the BJP in Parliament. Again, the main opposition in Andhra Pradesh for both BJP and TDP is the Congress and the regional party came into existence and has attained electoral success on the basis of its vehemently anti- Congress stand. For good measure, the YSR Congress chief has also said he is open to joining the NDA.
The Tamil Nadu situation is in a flux, but the BJP will definitely woo a major player in the State into the NDA and in Nagaland the NDA has already replaced its longstanding regional party ally with a new one. The Akalis are going nowhere, in Telangana the ruling TRS is likely to stay neutral or opt for the NDA given the Congress will its main opposition and in the North-East the NDA is stronger than it ever was. All of this, not factoring in the internecine squabbles for leadership within the Opposition and assuming the Prime Minister’s popularity will not prove decisive. The BJP has to focus on delivery in this last year of its current term, work on damage control its north and west India strongholds where it is likely to lose seats, not be driven by fringe concerns and reach out to engage with present and prospective NDA constituents.