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Desperately seeking BJP

The BJP’s biggest problem is that it is nowhere in nearly 175 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats. It has negligible presence in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and the Northeast, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2009 00:29 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times

In an election in which alliances are going to play a major role in determining the complexion of the next government, the NDA is showing all the signs of disintegrating. The failed talks with the Biju Janata Dal, an alliance partner of the BJP for over 11 years should be seen as a major cause of concern for the saffron brigade, which needs to do a refresher’s course on how to win and retain friends.

There could be many reasons for things going sour. But what appears to be at the core of the breakdown of talks is the realisation among BJD leaders that the BJP had become a major liability. The Lok Sabha and state assembly polls are being held simultaneously in Orissa. Naveen Patnaik, who has ruled the state all these years, wants to ensure that his secular image does not get further tarnished. The attacks on Christians damaged his image he would not want his party to suffer on account of its association with the Sangh Parivar.

Another reason is that after a change of leadership in the Congress (which dumped veteran leader J.B. Patnaik recently), Naveen may want to take on his opponents without bothering about the BJP. He appears to be more comfortable with having a secret understanding with the Left parties and the TDP to consolidate his own position. Third, Naveen realises that the BJP was fast losing ground elsewhere in the country too and so he should keep himself unaligned in order to forge post electoral tie-ups. A secret understanding with the Left or TDP leaves him free to come to his own decisions after the polls.

The BJP is also worried that its relationship with the Trinamool Congress is over. The pact between Mamata Banerjee and the Congress is a body blow to the NDA. The Congress-Trinamool understanding can pose a big challenge even for the Left parties who have controlled West Bengal politics since 1977. And if this alliance is able to break the Left’s stranglehold, politics in the state may undergo a major change. Even CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu has admitted that the alliance has the potential of hurting the Left parties.

As the elections draw near, it is becoming clear that the NDA in general and the BJP in particular are somehow losing the plot. The NDA, which at one time had on board many more allies than it has now, is not the same NDA, which brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee to power in 1998 and again 1999. Though Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD is back as a partner, it had parted company with the BJP for many years in between.

The Lok Janshakti Party of Ramvilas Paswan had broken off with the BJP following the Gujarat riots in 2002 and Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference also had followed suit.

The AGP had left the alliance though it is back on board once again. The Dravidian parties too had changed partners and the TDP, which was the greatest beneficiary during Vajpayee’s regime, distanced itself from the saffron brigade very fast. The JD (U) also has its reservations about the BJP, but is pulling along with it in the absence of an alternative.

It is slowly dawning on the NDA and the BJP that the projection of L.K. Advani as the NDA’s Prime Ministerial choice was not very smart. In the changing political environment, projecting someone like Nitish Kumar as a possible PM nominee would have attracted more votes for the NDA. He has a secular image, is trying to turn Bihar around and happens to be from a backward class.

The BJP’s biggest problem is that it is nowhere in nearly 175 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats. For instance in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and in the Northeast, the BJP has negligible presence. In these states it does not have any allies. Orissa could add up to these states if the relationship with the BJD falls apart.

Uttar Pradesh after Vajpayee is also a big question mark. But then the BJP’s central leadership seems to be waiting for some miracle to happen. Getting even a younger person from the party in place of Advani is not going to help matters. The situation in these states is not likely to undergo any major change.

Everyone knows that alliances are the key to success in the Parliamentary polls. The BJP as well as the NDA seem to be waking up far too late to this reality. Between us.