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BJP President Amit Shah in damage control mode

Saturday, June 09, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi

With the fractured mandate in Karnataka leading to a Janata Dal (S) -Congress combine coalition government and few setbacks in just held by-elections due to teaming up of regional parties have forced the Bharatiya Janata Party to  take a hard look at the changing political reality in the country.

BJP President Amit Shah credited with fine tuning parties poll strategy for the 2014 as well as other state assembly elections that followed, is a realist and does not believe in taking things for granted. He has launched a massive campaign to regain lost support base as well as straightening ruffled feathers of BJP’s partners who have been poll allies of the NDA. He is aware of poll arithmetic and real trouble if all anti-BJP forces forms a grant alliance on the eve of coming general elections for the Lok Sabha scheduled for year 2019.

His campaign ‘Sampark for Samarthan’ (reach-out for seeking support) is aimed at pacifying the NDA allies and also reach out to prominent personalities from various fields by informing them about performance of the Narendra Modi government during last four years to seek support for 2019 battle of ballots. The second part might sound like a public relations activity but the first part of approaching and talking to the poll allies in more political, requiring lots of political positioning and interaction on various thorny issues.

Shah calls on Ram Vilas Paswan
Shah has already called on Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who is one of the prominent poll allies. He has recently raised the issue of special status to Bihar for speedy economic growth. Shah held detailed meeting with him explaining the situation where NDA poll allies should stick together in view of regrouping of the opposition front.

In Maharashtra the regional Shiv Sena has been the long standing political ally of the BJP. However, both had contested the last assembly elections separately and later came together to form the coalition state government. The party is already part of the NDA government but not happy with the kind of representation they got in the cabinet. Their equations have been very much strained where Sena chief Uddhav Thackery has given ample hints that the party will contest the coming Lok Sabha as well as the state legislative assembly elections separately.

Shah began his damage control exercise from Mumbai by calling on Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray since the relations between the Sena and the BJP had suffered a lot during recently held by-election to the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency where the BJP won pushing Sena to second and the Congress to further down position. This was the first meeting at Matoshri, after Shah visited it last year to seek Sena support for presidential nominee. Sena continued to attack the BJP over many other issues but ultimately supported the NDA's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind. Sena is not only unhappy over power sharing in Delhi as well as Mumbai but is very apprehensive of BJP moves to consolidate its position in Mumbai city as well as other parts of the state. The BJP will grow at the cost of the Sena which the party does not want to happen at any cost.

Shah walked into Uddhav Thackeray's Matoshri residence with this background of strained relation. Though nothing has come out as to what transpired during the one-hour- long one-to-one meeting between Uddhav Thackeray and Amit Shah, the Sena has put forward its views on many issues which forced it to announce that the party will contest separately in coming Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Now it will wait to see what happens in coming days and then decide what stand to be taken for the coming elections. The Samna, mouth piece newspaper of the Shiv Sena reported the meeting in detail but remain silent as to what is the Sena reaction to the interaction between two leaders. Shah on his part must have tried to persuade the Sena to desist from taking any drastic step with assurance to look into problems faced by the party in running the coalition government in Mumbai. Thackery’s main grouse was the fact that though it was a coalition government there was no co-ordination and no meetings of the allies were held by the NDA. He points to many co-ordination meetings held during Atal Bihari Vajpayee government when Andhra Pradesh leader Chandrababu Naidu used to be its co-ordination. Chandrababu Naidu who was one of prominent poll ally of the BJP from South, has already walked out of the NDA due to tussle over giving special status to Andhra Pradesh. He was also forceful in pointing out that while running Maharashtra, the Sena ministers were not kept in the loop and many decisions were taken without holding any consultations. Shah has also assured to look into their grievances over farmers issue and opposition to some of the prominent projects like oil refineries in Konkan and speed trains.  Shah explained with facts and figures that if Sena and BJP fight separately, the saffron votes will get divided and help the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party in 2019.The BJP state leaders are happy over the meeting which they claim was cordial in outcome. However, they are aware that there is no assurance given by the Sena about its stand on 2019 elections. The BJP also does not expect such quick response but hopes that over next year, with little flexibility, the allies will on board before the party faces 2019 elections. Much will depend on how thing shape in coming months, especially how the BJP perform in the three major states from central India, – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh all ruled by the BJP.

Congress is all eyes on BJP, Sena
The Congress is watching developments between the BJP and the Sena since it is going to affect its chances to staging a come back and its tie up with the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Congress feels that the Sena was merely trying to bargain better deal with the BJP President Shah. Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan observed, “The meeting between the two leaders is aimed at cutting a political deal, nothing else. The Shiv Sena is not going to snap ties with the BJP."

Shah also called on film star Madhuri, industrialist Ratan Tata, and talked to Lata Mangeshkar since she was not well to familiarise them with what the Modi government had achieved in last four years and its future programme.

In his damage control mode, Shah is also meeting Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal and son Sukhbir. Badal is positive about strengthening NDA by sorting out internal differences. He says, "It is a war like situation...the general elections are due next year and we need to strengthen the NDA to emerge victorious.”

Much will happen before the general elections are announced and the political parties begin the process of sharing of seats. We have seen how some of weak alliances break on the issue of seat sharing as all of them wants more favourable seats and avoid opposition strong holds. Ultimately what counts is the perception by general voters, especially floating voters who are not attached to any political parties or ideologies and ultimately, they tilt the scales in one way or the other. The major political parties will have to create positive atmosphere and present workable manifestoes to win over these large sections of voters.

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