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Can BJP afford to ignore NDA allies’ claims

Saturday, September 09, 2017
By Prakash Bal Joshi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his surprise elements in his political moves, did not fail this time as he went in for a union cabinet reshuffle and induction of new faces. What surprised many was the non-inclusion of NDA allies during the exercise making it “only-BJP” affair.

No wonder, the NDA allies are rattled wondering whether this is going to be last cabinet reshuffle before they approach voters again in general elections scheduled in 2019. The question, being discussed is whether the BJP which has absolute majority in the Parliament on its own afford to ignore claims of power share by NDA allies eagerly waiting for the cabinet expansion.

The impact of the cabinet reshuffle is yet to settle down with several surprises moves like elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman as the defence minister ignoring several other stalwarts. Inclusion of recently elected career bureaucrats with ample administrative experience in the cabinet ignoring others who were political heavy weights is another issue being discussed. The party is at liberty to pick and choose from its own group of MPs but will it be wise enough to ignore claims of other political allies in view of coming general elections. Media speculation about induction of few MPs from JD (U), AIADMK, Shiv Sena and others proved to be off the mark. Ultimately, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had to say that neither his party had asked for a position nor it was approached with any such move.

Giving reason to Sena to grumble The JD(U) which has formed a coalition government with the BJP in Bihar was expected to be part of the NDA government in Delhi. This has given a handle to Nitish Kumar detractors to brow beat him over the non-inclusion. The exercise also left another ally, the Shiv Sena grumbling over non-inclusion saying that it had not asked for it. Sena   already have lots of issues with the BJP led government in Maharashtra forcing its commentator and party MP Sanjay Raut to say that “NDA is almost dead”. Raut is editor of the party’s mouth piece Samna which keep on attacking Modi and his policies for not adopting more aggressive Hindutva policies.

Hawks within the BJP feel that most of the NDA allies have now no alternative but to go with the BJP in coming general elections. Their calculation is that Nitish Kumar cannot now go back to his old socialist friends like Lalu Prasad Yadav. Sena has been protesting against many BJP policies in the state as well as in Delhi, but the party has not deserted the NDA despite such strained relations.

However, such strained relations with its own allies is not going to help the BJP to achieve its goal of winning minimum 350 seats in the coming general election for the Parliament. During elections, what is important is political climate and general mood of the voters which can be vitiated by estranged partners resulting into difficult situation. The BJP can ill afford to ignore or humiliates its own political allies whose support in the battle 2019 will be as important as it was during its battle against the Congress led UPA in 2014. It is not possible for the BJP even though it is on winning spree in different states to win next general elections on its own strength. The BJP will have to play politics of addition and not isolation if it wants to retain power which it got in 2014. This is possible only if the party is able to keep its allies in good terms and seek over all support. The BJP can do very little in Tamil Nadu, but if it wants to keep the Congress and the DMK away from dominating the scene in Tamil Nadu, it will need support and tie up with the AIADMK. The party will need to enhance its cooperation with the AIADMK if it wants to keep the DMK-Congress away from power in the state.

Despite its troubled relationship with the Shiv Sena, the BJP cannot push Sena into such a position where there will be more fronts benefiting the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra. With the kind of language being used by leaders of both the parties it is not imaginable that both will fight the next elections together. The Sena may walk out on its own and fight   election on its own symbol giving a challenge to the BJP as well as the Congress.

Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party which was part of the UPA government during last decade also faced lot of questioning about its position. Since the party is maintaining an equidistant, observers were keen to know whether, the NCP will be going further closer to the BJP and also take part in governance. The trust deficit of the NCP is so much that at one point the party general secretary Praful Patel had to clarify that the party has no plans to join hands with the BJP during cabinet expansion. The NCP’s role became more obvious with the Sena giving threats of pulling out of government in Maharashtra over contentious issues. The NCP seems to be waiting in the wings in case Sena decides to pull out much before the next assembly elections. Though Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule also clarified on the issue, the party workers appear to be confused about the future plan of the party in coming elections. Pawar is silently revamping the party to make it more relevant and fighting fit for next general election. Ever since the party gave unconditional support to the BJP while results were being announced during 2014 assembly elections held for Maharashtra, the party workers are confused about party’s political line.  The recent decision of the party to remain away from the opposition meet in Delhi also sent wrong message.  Confusion prevailed whether the NCP MLAs voted for the Congress during the    Rajya Sabha election held in Gujarat. Congress candidate Ahmed Patel somehow got through after much technical wrangling.  

Sena have to wait for another berth
The Sena, which has only one berth in the union government has been expecting at least one more seat in the cabinet. The Sena will have to wait more since this time Modi decided to go in for only-BJP exercise and kept the allies waiting. Sena is also upset over the talk of former Sena chief minister Narayan Rane who is now in the Congress being admitted in the BJP fold. However, those who are close to BJP floor managers say that BJP president Amit Shah is not taking any serious note of the Sena opposition to Rane saying that it is internal matter of the BJP and its allies had nothing to do with it.

Farmers’ leader Swabhimani Paksha president Raju Shetty has left the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the BJP did not support him during his internal fight with Sadabhau Khot. Khot is minister in Devendra Phadnavis government. Shetty   has been lambasting the Union government over agriculture policies and lack of support to the farmers committing suicides. Though he does not have much presence in Maharashtra, his decision to leave the NDA will cause some concern to the BJP in Western Maharashtra.

It is obvious that the BJP is not going to leave its political allies in the lurch as it has to retain power in 2019. Public mood can shift any time unless the BJP will ]continue its politics of addition by seeking support from these regional allies, if it wants to reach its target in the 2019 battle.

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