Images of Amit Shah reaching out to allies should’ve been routine. Instead, they’ve become exceptions, which is why the BJP president’s meetings with alliance partners this week looks like a rearguard action to show the National Democratic Alliance as one composite entity.
Indeed, this is a case of the BJP chief seeking to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. The Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu has quit the alliance. Others including the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and a few caste-based outfits in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are in deep sulk. The Janata Dal (United) has also moved early to seek primacy in seat sharing in the general elections. These are unwanted, eminently avoidable fissures in the ruling conglomerate.
Elections are a year away. The BJP’s outreach is expedient and is based on the oft-used “better late than never” premise. Alliances being live-in arrangements buoyed by popular approval, it is hard to predict the extent to which Shah can undo the damage. The form in which the NDA will enter the poll arena a year down the road will be shaped by the ruling alliance’s traction on the ground.
What should worry the leadership more is the unintended fallout from the intra-NDA rapprochement.
It represents, in perceptional terms, a veritable deconstruction (or rollback) of the BJP’s slogan of “Modi versus the Opposition” gang-up for 2019. The potent line could resonate less in the backdrop of Shah smoking the peace-pipe with estranged alliance partners.
The Prime Minister’s adversaries can now posit the contest as one between them and an alliance that’s unhappy and
disunited in his stewardship.
Experience tells us that such dissent is par for the course in coalitions built around parties with substantial numbers or majorities of their own. Consider the CPM’s West Bengal model that lasted over two decades under Jyoti Basu. The Marxist party with majorities of its own shared power in successive governments with other Left front constituents.
Even then the smallest of Left parties – such as the Forward Bloc – consistently pitched for larger space in the power edifice, taking for granted the CPM largesse that fetched it governance stakes in the first place. There were intermittent rumblings. Yet the Marxist bandwagon rolled uninterrupted for another decade under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
The UPA experience that lasted two terms wasn’t any different. The Congress’s ‘big brother’ approach was as much resented by other stakeholders – such as the Nationalist Congress Party – as BJP’s is by the Shiv Sena or the Akalis.
Appointments to gubernatorial positions were a major sore point in the UPA phase. But portfolio distribution among allies was fairer than it is under the BJP. The majority the saffron party has, only ended up making it less accommodating than the Congress that lacked numbers.
One can argue that regional players tend to be overly ambitions.
The Shiv Sena’s turf war with the BJP for the common Hindutva base is complex. Raised on Bal Thackeray’s hyperbole, the Sena is used to deferential treatment it has not received from the Modi-Shah dispensation.
One remembers how in the NDA’s first avatar, Thackeray had Suresh Prabhu sacked as energy minister against the wishes of the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A minister then in the Sena’s quota, Prabhu joined the BJP after 2014.
The portfolios of railways and commerce he has since held must be a cause for envy for his erstwhile party. Its ministers in the current regime run lightweight, unimportant ministries.