By winning back the AGP into the NDA fold, party shows it is realistic about allies giving it winnable numbers
Even last month, the BJP wasn’t too keen to work with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had walked out of the alliance government in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill. But now it has not only promised a re-look of the Bill, factoring in regional concerns, fears and aspirations, it has also got back the AGP on the table for the Lok Sabha elections, hoping that commitment would cascade in assuaging its other allies in the Northeast and arrest a drift. It is a masterstroke of negotiation, which was led by BJP general secretary and Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav, that the party was able to break the AGP top leadership, even offer gubernatorial sops to founder-leader and the still adamant Prafulla Mahanta and get the Bodoland People’s Front on board. The BJP, which has been assiduously building a constituency in the Northeast by fast-tracking development as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Look-east policy, is seeking an electoral insurance from the region lest there be some slippage in the heartland, battling as it is popular discontent on livelihood issues. But the Bill, proposing to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees from across the border, has undone all that as any migrant influx is detrimental to Ahom identity and the socio-economic rights of indigenous people over their land. Meghalaya and Mizoram have been up in flames, too, over the Bill and the BJP has realised that it cannot alienate the region it has so carefully stitched up with its priorities. Besides, it has also understood that its “national security” narrative after the Balakot strikes, while working in North India, would not cut much ice in the Northeast, which would rather negotiate local gains for a mandate. So it took the central party several rounds of persuasion, with talks led by State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, to revive a flagging friendship and go in for seat-sharing.
However, the larger question is whether this is one of easy convenience or uneasy co-existence? One part of the AGP, especially the three Ministers who resigned from the BJP government, could have used their letters of withdrawal as a pre-poll pressure tactic for they were never processed. The AGP itself is still a divided house about this new arrangement with the dissidents claiming that it could signal the end of regionalism before an imposed centrist discourse and, more importantly, erode the relevance of local parties. So the BJP, while keeping to its stand on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, would review aspects uncomfortable to its partner and devise workarounds. With this turnaround, the BJP has once again demonstrated that regardless of a tide or ebb of opinions in its favour, it is frenetically trying to keep its allies happy in the interest of a larger NDA front scoring at the hustings. In the process, it doesn’t mind yielding dominant space to them in key states, so long as it can spearhead them to power as the single largest party. If winnability requires taking help, the BJP has certainly got down to it better and stronger than the Opposition mahagathbandhan or the Congress, which is finding it difficult to even communicate with regional leaders. With the latest additions, the NDA had a record 36 allies in its fold. This is progress from the Vajpayee-Advani years, when BJP became the rallying point of anti-Congressism with 24 partners. The BJP is moving in fast simply because it is at times bending backwards to accommodate new allies, even when they are not like-minded. For example, it offered the sitting Giridih seat in Jharkhand to All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), from where its president Sudesh Mahto is poised to contest as NDA candidate. In Tamil Nadu, after AIADMK, it won over DMDK to its side. Modi has been personally in touch with Akali Dal leader Prakash Singh Badal while his party has yielded more seats to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in Bihar and equal share to its pesky partner Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. If emotions fail, it will have arithmetic on its side.