When Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accepted Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s hospitality at the Maharashtra strongman’s home in Baramati last Friday, political circles were abuzz with speculation. Given the number of years they have spent together in Parliament, the bonhomie between the veteran politicians was hardly unusual. But Jaitley’s stay at Pawar’s residence sparked a guessing game about changing political equations in Maharashtra, especially against the backdrop of souring ties between the state’s coalition partners, the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
The allies have been sparring since the announcement of the assembly election results. Tensions spiked recently after the Sena forced the cancellation of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai and smeared Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face with black paint for organising former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book launch. It was followed by an attack on the BCCI office in Mumbai to disrupt a meeting between the Indian and Pakistani cricket board chiefs, prompting Jaitley to take a veiled jibe at the Shiv Sena for choosing “vandalism” as a way of protest. The differences only strained already fraught ties after the Shiv Sena decided to field over 100 candidates in the Bihar election even though it is politically insignificant in the state, a move seen as a way of spiting the BJP.
Maharashtra is not the only state where the BJP’s ties with its allies have become increasingly uneasy. While the nation is glued to the Bihar election and the high-octane contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav duo, the BJP is also fighting its increasingly restive allies in Punjab and Kashmir, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Peoples Democratic Party.
Ahead of the Punjab assembly elections due in 2017, the BJP’s relations with the Akali Dal in Punjab are under stress. Days after the prime minister dubbed Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal the “Nelson Mandela of India”, Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral demanded action against “motomouths” in the BJP. He was referring to the Haryana chief minister and other hardliners for their provocative remarks after the killing of a Muslim in Dadri over suspicion of slaughtering a cow. Growing suspicion that both parties are trying to make inroads into each other’s bastions is also souring ties.
The BJP’s alliance with the PDP in Jammu & Kashmir has also been rocky with the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government taking on the NDA regime at the Centre on many occasions. For instance, its decision to release Hurriyat leaders from house arrest ahead of NSA level talks in New Delhi upset the BJP. The PDP MP from Srinagar, Tariq Hameed Karra, recently accused the RSS of trying to gain a foothold through the ruling alliance.
There is talk about simmering tension between the BJP and Chandra Babu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. The BJP is a junior partner in the state and its party men complain Naidu is not giving enough prominence to its ministers and not allowing the party to expand in the state. The TDP accuses the BJP government in Delhi of dragging its feet on issues like granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
In Maharashtra, the BJP and the Shiv Sena may have pulled the alliance back from the brink, but political commentators say it is a temporary truce at best and not a permanent ceasefire. As tensions between the BJP and its allies simmer, all eyes are on the Bihar election. A victory in Bihar may silence the BJP’s allies but a defeat could only embolden them. No wonder, the BJP is pulling out all the stops in Bihar.