RIGHT ANGLE – BJP, the Most Loyal Partner
If Sena and the NCP could split, the BJP may not remain immune to this trend in future, too
The standard political reporting in the wake of the split in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest gainer and its coalition government in Maharashtra with Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and now Ajit Pawar-led NCP is much stronger. This arrangement will obviously help the BJP when the country goes for the national elections, scheduled to be held next year, it is said. In fact, critics say that by engineering the splits, first in Shiv Sena and now in the NCP, the BJP is weakening the opposition and strengthening itself.
At first glance, the above theory sounds logical. On a closer scrutiny, however, the reality is that it is the BJP which is the loser in the long run and that BJP’s allies gain the most whenever they form an alliance with the BJP. Moreover, history shows that unlike the BJP, which always stood by the “Coalition Dharma” and sacrificed its own interests, the allies have been the betrayers.
Let us take the case of Maharashtra. Shiva Sena is its oldest ally. In 1995, the two formed a coalition government, but the BJP was always forced to remain a junior partner. The party could not grow. However, when in 2014, it was impossible for it to accept the rigid supremacy of the Shiv Sena, the BJP contested alone and proved that it was the largest political force in the state that sends second largest number of members to the Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh and whose Mumbai happens to be the country’s financial capital.
In the 288 member Assembly, the BJP got 122 seats as against Sena’s 63. And yet, the large-hearted BJP invited the Sena to join the government under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis, though that time Sharad Pawar-led NCP had offered unconditional support to the party to form the government.
In 2019, it was the good work done by Fadnavis as a Chief Minister and the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that were behind Sena bagging 18 Lok Sabha seats and later 56 Assembly seats. In fact, it was said that out of the 56 seats that Sena won, at least 40 were won because of the campaigning by Modi in the constituencies, or the adjoining ones, of its candidates.
And yet, the Sena ditched the BJP soon after the election results were out. It denied its partner, the BJP, which got 105 seats, to form the government. This betrayal by the Sena, which not many political observers remind us of, facilitated the party to lead an alternate, the so-called MVA, government with the Congress and NCP for two years.
In fact, it is said by many political pundits that if the BJP were to have contested on its own in the assembly election in 2019, the party would have won around 120 seats. Then no coalition without BJP could have been formed towards a stable government. Also, had the BJP contested alone, Shiv Sena would not even have crossed 40 seats and have dared to part ways with the BJP. Thus, by aligning with Sena in the 2019 assembly election, the BJP is said to have committed a great blunder.
The MVA government fell because of inner contradictions, most of which was ideological incompatibility, and 40-odd of the Sena members under Shinde left. Similarly, now under Ajit Pawar’s leadership, the bulk of the NCP MLAs (30-odd) have left and further weakened the MVA coalition.
But let us see how the desertions of first Shinde and now Pawar have helped the BJP, the largest political party with 105 MLAs and another 11 Independent MLA supporters. Scinde with 40 MLAs is the Chief Minister and Pawar with 30-odd MLAs the Deputy Chief Minister. In fact, Ajit Pawar has openly declared that it is high time he became the Chief Minister of the State. But Poor Fadnavis, the former Chief Minister for five years and the leader of the largest party, has been downgraded to be a deputy Chief Minister!
Imagine the future limitations of the BJP with these two coalition partners. Let alone its share of ministers in the maharashtra-government, will the party be able to contest even in 100 MLA seats after sharing the seats with its allies in the Assembly elections, due next year? Similarly, how will the party distribute seats for the Lok Sabha seats? Viewed from any angle, it is the BJP which has to sacrifice more and more.
And if that is the case, I will not be surprised if the BJP as a party also witnesses mass exodus of its members and veterans who have toiled so hard for making it the number one party in Maharashtra. If Sena and the NCP could split, the BJP may not remain immune to this trend in future, too.
It is not only in Maharashtra that the BJP has witnessed betrayals despite its sacrifices. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has stabbed the party twice. In 2020, his party Nitish Kumar has ditched the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) again! His JD (U) and the BJP together got a popular mandate for a period of five years. After two years, he left the alliance, the same way he came into it in 2017 after assuming power in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress in 2015.
Contrary to the popular perception that Nitish’s coming in 2017 helped Modi in 2019 general elections, the fact remains that it arrested the onward march of the BJP, thereby impacting its long-term prospects in Bihar.
BJP, or for that matter the NDA, did lose in the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar when Nitish had parted ways. But despite being the loser, the BJP had, as a matter of fact, emerged as the largest political party in the state.
Let’s go by some hard facts. On a single-party basis, the BJP managed a vote share of nearly 24.8 percent, which was higher than 18.5 vote share of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and 16.7 per cent of the Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) or JD (U). The Election Commission data shows that BJP got over 91.5 lakh votes on a consolidated basis, followed by RJD’s 67.9 lakh votes and about 62 lakh votes for JD-U. The Indian National Congress, which fought elections as part of the grand alliance with Lalu and Nitish, could manage a vote share of just 6.7 percent.
In the 2014 General Elections to Lok Sabha, the NDA had swept the polls in Bihar by securing 38.8 percent votes. It had won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar, the NDA managed just 34 percent votes. Given the well-known fact that there will always be a difference in the voting percentages between general elections and Assembly polls, the NDA’s overall vote-base in Bihar was more or less fine. It lost because Nitish and Lalu, who had fought separately in the general elections, came together along with Congress to fight the Assembly elections. Arithmetically, their alliance was bound to prevail over the NDA. And that was exactly what happened.
However, the point remains that even in victory, Nitish suffered a great defeat. In fact for this writer, Nitish was the biggest loser in the 2105 Assembly election. For the last 11 years, he had been the undisputed numero uno (number one) leader of Bihar, but not after 2015. He might have remained the Chief Minister of Bihar, but he was no longer the number one leader with Lalu Prasad Yadav and RJD emerging as the single largest party in the so-called “Mahagathbandhan”.
Viewed thus, by returning to the NDA-fold (On June 16, 2013, he had ended a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP after Narendra Modi was appointed as the Chairman of BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign committee on the ground of communalism) , Nitish recovered all his losses of 2015.
On the contrary, the BJP had to make compromises and cede space to Nitish and JD (U). Take for instance the fact that in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP got 22 MPs from Bihar. But under the alliance with Nitish, between 2004 and 2014, BJP was allowed to contest only on 15 seats.
Now let us see what happened during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Nitish’s JD (U), which had only two Lok Sabha MPs in 2017 was given 17 seats to contest of which it won 16. On the other hand, the BJP, which had 22 seats in 2014 sacrificed 5 (five) seats to contest in 17 seats (on the basis of parity with JD U that Nitish demanded) and won all of them. Obviously, the BJP was the loser.
It is perhaps underplayed that Nitish has always risen high in the company of BJP and not the other way round. He became the chief minister of Bihar for the first time in 2000, though for exactly a week (3rd March, 2000 to 10th March, 2000) when the BJP-led government at the Centre (under Atal Bihari Vajpayee) released him from the Union cabinet to just have a chance towards an NDA regime in the state. That time, BJP had 39 seats in the Bihar Assembly whereas Nitish’s party had only 18 seats.
In the 1999 General Elections to Lok Sabha, the BJP had 23 Lok Sabha seats from the then undivided Bihar, whereas JD(U) had only eight. In the 1998 General elections, BJP had 19 Lok Sabha MPs, against 10 from Nitish’s then Samata party.
The point that emerges from the above data is that despite the fact that Nitish has been much behind in terms of share of support-base, the BJP leadership has always promoted him. And to such an extent that after he became the chief Minister with a comfortable majority in 2005 in alliance with the BJP, the latter, by and by, ceded space to become a junior partner in every sense of the term. In other words, until 2005, the BJP was the largest NDA constituent in Bihar, but the then Vajpayee-LK Advani leadership promoted Nitish to the extent that the JD (U), the younger brother to the BJP in Bihar, became the elder brother.
As an observer of Indian politics, one has to admit that contrary to the common perceptions, BJP (or its previous incarnation, Jana Sangh) has always been an honest and accommodative partner in the game of alliance politics, but this gesture of the party has rarely been reciprocated. Despite constituting the largest block in the Janata Party after the 1977 elections, it had inadequate representations in Morarji Desai’s cabinet.
It had an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party, once, in Uttar Pradesh. In fact the BSP chief Mayawati became the state’s first Dalit Chief Minister in 1995 with the support of the BJP, but she stabbed the latter in 1997 when she did not keep her commitment of rotation to cede the chief –ministership to the BJP.
In the 1998 General Elections to Lok Sabha, Biju Patnaik was no more in the scene and all over Odisha people were talking of Vajpayee. And yet the BJP willingly became a junior partner to the newly formed Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Naveen Patnaik. Similarly, in Punjab, it is the Akalis who left the BJP under the dubious ground of farm-laws, though the BJP always accommodated the party, including the cabinet posts in the central council of ministers. Same has been the case of BJP’s experience with the Telugu Desam Party led by Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.
To conclude, the BJP has always given great importance to its allies. And more importantly, it has been a very loyal ally. In fact, the BJP has been the most loyal partner in the history of political alliances in independent India.