When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power at the centre, the question on everybody’s lips was: will the Modi wave help the party sweep state assembly elections over the next two years?
Six months later, the party has conquered vast swathes of uncharted territory, rebuffing along the way long-standing allies not ready to recognise the BJP’s aspiration to expand its national footprint.
The first sign of the party’s Ekla Chalo policy came when it decided to snap its 25-year-old alliance with the Shiv Sena and go it alone in the Maharasthra assembly election.
The electoral success it delivered in Haryana and Maharashtra convinced the BJP leadership to set some ambitious targets. It launched a mega membership drive this month – an otherwise routine and dull organisational activity – aiming to become the world’s largest political outfit. With plans to have a cadre base of more than 100 million, the BJP aspires to be a vibrant organisation with a robust foundation.
“We want to have BJP workers on every booth in every state of the country. Our party president had said in BJP’s national council meeting in August that we should expand our base in the eastern coast from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu and also Kerala. We want to grow big,” said BJP’s national secretary Shrikant Sharma.
Should its allies be worried? Sharma replied in the negative. “We accommodated our allies even when we got majority on our own,” he said. “Isn’t it an indication that we are committed to our allies? But any relationship cannot be detrimental to the BJP’s interests.”
Other leaders said there was a subtle yet clear message for allies – the BJP wont’ play second fiddle to anyone without a compelling reason.
The BJP’s go-solo experiment from Maharashtra and Haryana will be tested next in Punjab. The northern state will go to the polls in 2017 and many in the BJP see this as grounds to revisit the alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal. The BJP contested just 23 of the state’s 117 assembly seats in 2012 and leaders feel it’s time to swing the balance in the seat-sharing arrangement.
“Why should not the BJP exploit the goodwill for Narendra Modi and expand its base? If we can win more seats than our ally, why should not we contest more seats?” a party leader said.
The BJP also faces a coalition conundrum in Bihar where it has aligned with the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. Some BJP representatives, however, say the two allies have little room to manoeuvre the seat-sharing plan. Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, the Apna Dal is a bit player, posing little challenge to BJP’s big brother stature.
The BJP continues to be an understudy in Andhra Pradesh where the ruling Telugu Desam Party remains the bigger star. But insiders say the party aspires to become a force to reckon with in the southern state where it shares power.