VENKATESH KESARI | 5 JUNE, 2018

BJP Scrambles to Consolidate NDA, Keep Allies

2019 Polls tougher than anticipated for the BJP


NEW DELHI: Karnataka and the bypolls seem to have cracked the mirror for the BJP with party president Amit Shah now rushing to meet Shiv Sena’s Udhav Thackeray in a bid to placate him, and ensure he does not desert the NDA in the run up to the 2018 Lok Sabha polls. The arrogant silence with which the BJP had decided to face all Shiv Sena barbs seems to have been broken, with Shah himself now moving to woo Thackeray whose Saamna has launched a ceaseless campaign against the BJP describing it as the Sena’s Number One Enemy in a recent issue.

The fast consolidation of the Opposition parties has clearly unnerved the BJP, more in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where united alliances were able to defeat the BJP candidate by convincing margins. Stymied in its effort to enter the South through Karnataka, the BJP now finds that its Bihar and UP bastions too are crumbling with the party losing major bypolls in quick succession. In Maharashtra too the Congress-NCP alliance seems to have strengthened, rather than weakened, with Sharad Pawar now amongst those in the lead to forge opposition unity ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary polls.

The BJP’s first task now is to keep its house together--with the Janata ZDal(U), Akali Dal and Shiv Sena its main allies in the NDA. The last has been straining at the bit for a while now, with Udhav Thackeray clear that he is more than willing to part ways with the BJP for good. The BJP that had been ignoring the Sena, with even Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fandnavis directed to “ignore” the Sena, is now doubling up to woo the party back into the Maharashtra fold. Shah’s meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening thus is significant, and expected to have an impact on the future alliance between the two parties.

Nitish Kumar has nowhere to go after ditching the Rashtriya Janata Dal to join hands with the BJP despite the electoral mandate. He has weakened considerably as demonstrated in the recent bypoll in Jokihat where his efforts failed to win the seat. However, despite this there is no crowing from the BJP ranks with Bihar leader Sushil Modi going out of his way to praise the Chief Minister and insist that Kumar will be the face of the NDA in Bihar, just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi represented the alliance on the national stage.

The BJP has also realised that it will need more regional allies as the 2019 Lok Sabha election is wrapped with uncertainty. The scattered opposition had given the BJP room for comfort, but now the speed with which sworn rivals---even like the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party---are coming together has created a sense of visible unease. The effort will be to dent this unity, by playing on the weak links of which Orissa’s Biju Janata Dal and Telangana’s TRS are seen as possibilities.

Of course, the BJP is well aware that Nitish Kumar nurtures ambitions and would like to follow his old Janata Dal colleague George Fernandes in emerging as the leader of the larger NDA alliance. Kumar knows well that he is no longer acceptable in the opposition ranks and will have to butter his bread with the BJP-NDA knife. This is one of the primary reasons why he had put his entire might, including half the state cabinet into the Jokihat bypolls but was bowled out by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress combine with his candidate being defeated by 410000 votes. This in itself is an indication of the changing winds in Bihar, with the RJD under Tejaswi Yadav gaining popularity.

Amit Shah, starting with the Shiv Sena, will be tackling the regional parties who seem to be coming into their own now. More so after Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu stepped out of the understanding with the BJP in Andhra Pradesh and decided to join forces with the Opposition to save his party from being devoured by the BJP as it were. This seems to be the overriding sentiment that even has Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik taking a second look at his policy of not rocking the boat, and keeping it afloat with BJP help. Whether he will be convinced of the BJPs intent of course remains to be seen.

It is no longer easy going for the BJP as it comes to terms with the facts that one, the next election might not bring in just one party; and two, unlike 2014, the regional parties are on top now insofar as bargaining chips are concerned. Even the Shiv Sena that was defeated by the BJP in the recent bypoll is acting up, and making no move to go back into the BJP embrace. In fact, quite the contrary, with Shah thus being compelled to woo and assuage Udhav Thackeray in preparation for the Lok Sabha elections.
 

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