Why we must keep an eye on the allies of the NDA
The balance of power before and after the 2019 elections has decisively altered within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the 2014 election on its own and accommodated allies in the government, it gave them little power. But over the past two years, the party became more open, perhaps fearful of what an exodus of allies would do to their prospects as talks of a united opposition grew. It was in this spirit of pragmatism, and even punching below its weight, that the BJP reached out to the Janata Dal (United) and accepted an equal seat sharing deal in Bihar, with both parties getting 17 seats each. It gave six seats to the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan. Even though the Shiv Sena had spent five years criticising the BJP, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the party reached out and did a respectable seat sharing deal in Maharashtra for both the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls. It also was inclusive and gave two seats to Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh, besides other allies.
After the elections, with the BJP winning a majority on its own, it did not need allies. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the parliamentary meeting of the NDA that he believes that coalitions are necessary for Indian democracy and his government would combine national ambition and regional aspirations. This gave hope to the allies. Indeed, at the swearing in, important allies — the Shiv Sena, LJP, Republican Party of India, Akali Dal — got a portfolio each. But there were others who stayed out. The most notable among them was the Janata Dal (United), which wanted two berths at the minimum, but was offered only one. Its reasons for staying out may well be because of internal party dynamics with many claimants, but has a larger message. The Shiv Sena is also reportedly unhappy about the ministerial portfolio it has got.
The question in the future is this: as the BJP’s hegemony gets entrenched, what will be the space of allies in the NDA? This will first get tested in Maharashtra when the Shiv Sena insists on an equal seat sharing arrangement and perhaps even the chief minister’s face. It will play out in Bihar next year. Will the BJP claim its space as a senior partner or will it be willing to accept Nitish Kumar as the face? Even as all the attention is on the dynamics among regional parties in the opposition, which have just lost out, it will be as instructive to keep an eye on the dynamics between the BJP and regional formations in the NDA in the new power matrix.