Lok Sabha polls 2019: After Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, BJP now eyes poll alliances in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh
The Bihar deal is the oldest, and was struck in December 2018. The BJP’s deals with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu were finalised earlier this week. The BJP has now turned its attention to other states.
Internal assessments that predicted a tough contest in the Hindi heartland, which it swept in 2014; a desire to retain the party’s base in the west; and the compulsion to make inroads into new territories have prompted the Bharatiya Janata Party to seal pre-poll alliances with existing and new partners, senior leaders of the party said on condition of anonymity.
The BJP’s focus will now shift to working out the fine-print of agreements in Bihar, Maharashtra and Tami Nadu; ironing out differences in the Northeast; and prospecting for possible pre-and post-poll alliances in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the BJP leaders added.
“Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have become a tight contest against a united opposition. We needed to firm up alliances,” one of the BJP leaders said. “We ceded space to allies such as the Janata Dal (United), buried differences with the Shiv Sena, and kept our ambitions under check in Tamil Nadu to forge alliances that can help us return to power.”
The Bihar deal is the oldest, and was struck in December 2018. The BJP’s deals with the Sena in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu were finalised earlier this week.
The BJP has now turned its attention to other states.
“Our alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab remains intact and there is no major issue over number of seats we will contest,” the BJP leader added. Of the 13 Lok Sabha seats of Punjab, the Akalis got 10 to contest in the last election and the BJP 3. “The numbers will remain the same,” a second BJP leader said. The party may also cede a seat or two to alliance partners in Jharkhand, where all opposition parties have joined hands, the second leader added.
The BJP’s Kerala unit is in talks with the Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena, an outfit with following among the OBC Ezhava community. “They want about half a dozen seats and discussions are on,” a third BJP? leader said. “The BJP may also support a couple of independent candidates in the state.” Kerala has 20 Lok Sabha seats and despite fielding candidates in 18 in the last parliamentary election, the party could not win even a single seat .
The BJP continues to flirt with actor-politician Pawan Kalyan (of the Jana Sena) in Andhra Pradesh, but he continues to remain non-commital.
The party has, meanwhile, suffered a setback in the North-east with the Asom Gana Parishad walking out of the National Democratic Alliance over the citizenship amendment bill, which intends to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The BJP was relieved after the Bodo People’s Front, another ally from Assam, decided to remain with the NDA, but 11 other regional parties gave it the jitters by openly opposing the proposed law.
“We did not press for the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha and we hope this will help assuage the feeling of other allies. They are certainly not supporting the Congress. We are hopeful they will stay with us and help win 20 out of 25 seats of the North-east,” a fourth BJP leader said. The BJP won 8 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seat in eight states in the region in 2014 and was looking to offset some of the losses it will suffer in the Hindi heartland here. BJP won 71 out of 80 in UP, 22 out of 40 in Bihar, 27 out of 29 in Bihar, 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh, 12 out of 14 in Jharkhand and all 25 in Rajasthan.
“The citizenship bill has brought parties in the region together and has given them more bargaining power with the BJP . Whether these parties will continue their alliance with it depends a lot on how Narendra Modi and Amit Shah work in coming days” said H Srikanth, head of political science department in North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
A senior cabinet minister said the BJP also expects gains in Odisha, Telangana and West Bengal –three states where it is pitted against regional players and has worked tirelessly to expand its presence in the last five years.
The first BJP leader said there’s also the issue of fine-tuning the seat sharing arrangement in Bihar. The BJP and the JD(U) have decided to contest 17 seats each, leaving 6 for the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan. “Since JD(U) contested separately in the last election, there is some overlapping of seats both of us want to contest,” he said. “There are 4-5 seats which are yet to be sorted out.”
DM Diwakar, a social scientist at AN Sinha Institute of Social Sciences, said, “It (the seat-sharing deal) is victory of JD(U), and also indicates that BJP is getting weak. The BJP was desperate not to lose the JD (U).”
Analysts say the AIADMK and BJP alliance in Tamil Nadu is a marriage of convenience and makes overt what was till now a covert relationship. The induction of a powerful regional ally like AIADMK though signals that NDA continues to be an attractive front , they add.With the absence of a charismatic leader, AIADMK is rudderless but retains a very large vote base nurtured over decades and BJP will be hoping to cash in on that.
This is specially so as BJP has had very little success in the Dravidan bastion.
According to G Palanithurai, Professor, Gandhigram Rural University, there are some question marks over the alliance. “Can the AIADMK retain its own vote base and transfer it to its partners BJP and PMK where required? Can the partners smoothly sort out issues like identifying constituencies?”
C Lakshmanan, Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) says this alliance will consolidate OBC votes but lose scheduled caste and minority ones.
The alliance in Maharashtra also comes at a political cost for the BJP as it had to concede almost equal status to the Shiv Sena in the assembly even after it won 122 seats in 2014 as compared to Sena’s 63.
The tie up also includes a power sharing agreement wherein the partners will share equally posts and responsibilities, if they win power in the state. The Sena says this refers to the chief minister’s post, while the BJP denies it.
The turn around or the “fresh start” as Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray called it, reflects changing ground realities for both the parties.
“The BJP is aware that the Modi wave has receded and in the face of a united opposition, it will need the Sena ,” said Prakash Bal, political analyst.