The BJP must woo its allies and redesign its strategy to win over the masses next year; the defeat in Karnataka Assembly elections was a wakeup call
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP are reassessing their 2024 Lok Sabha poll strategy to perform a hat trick. As the Opposition parties try to build a united platform against the BJP, it has become necessary to begin negotiations with its erstwhile allies and find new partners.
The NDA had 19 allies in 2019. After the loss in Karnataka last month, the BJP is in power in ten states and shares power in four states. But the situation in 2024 looks different. Apart from the Shiv Sena (Shinde faction), Rashtriya Lok Jan Shakti Party (Pashupati Paras faction), Apna Dal (Soney Lal faction) and AIADMK, no major party is part of the NDA that completed 25 years of its existence on 15 May.
The BJP leadership has already resumed alliance talks with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. It has also reaffirmed its ties with the ruling Shiv Sena faction in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
The BJP has to put its house in order and contain factionalism and indiscipline before this year's three Assembly polls. What better way than to assuage the departed allies' feelings and lure them back? BJP had four important partners since 2014. AkaliDal, Shiv Sena, and Telugu Desan might return except JD(U).
Significantly the Party has weakened in Bihar (40 parliamentary seats) after breaking up with Janata Dal (United) and in Maharashtra (48 seats) after splitting
Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena. With these losses and a united Opposition, the BJP has a potential fight at hand. Hence the need for an alliance.
Firstly, the Party must recover from losing Karnataka in recent Assembly polls. The BJP thought a hung Assembly would emerge, but the Congress won a landslide victory. Therefore, strengthening the Karnataka unit is crucial. Secondly, the impact of these results has energised Congress and the Opposition. The BJP would naturally prefer a weak Congress and divided Opposition.
Thirdly, the BJP has reached the maximum it can win on its own in the 2019 elections. It scored 100 per cent of seats in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP and UP. The Party could lose some seats in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh. BJP must increase the seats in the South to cover the likely losses. But penetrating the South has been challenging due to different ideologies and the emergence of solid regional satraps.
Telugu Desam chief Chandra Babu Naidu recently met top BJP leaders Amit Shah and J.P.Nadda and held talks for re-entry. He was encouraged when Modi paid homage to TDP founder N T Rama Rao on his 100th birth centenary in his Mann ki Baat address last month. TDP left NDA in 2018. If things work out, the two may become partners in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The BJP will have a tough choice, as the current chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy also had good relations with the BJP.
As for Akali Dal, the oldest ally of the BJP, the Prime Minister recently went to Chandigarh to pay homage to the departed Akali Dal patriarch Badal, who passed away at 95. The two parties parted ways in 2021 when SAD opposed the three farming laws which it considered anti-farmer. Although the laws were withdrawn, the SAD and BJP fought the elections separately.
Nitish Kumar broke the alliance in Bihar last year. He became the chief minister again with the help of RJD. Bihar is a critical state. The BJP has some small partners and is hoping for defections from JD(U). Nitish has been busy mobilising the Opposition with a Prime Ministerial ambition. But the JD(S) may return after its miserable performance in the recent elections winning just 19 seats. Its founder and former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, is ready for a short-term alliance in Karnataka. The BJP rides piggyback on the AIADMK after the death of its leader J.Jayalalishtaa in December 2016. Strains developed after the state BJP chief Annamalai recently made unsavoury remarks about the former AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa. The enraged AIADMK threatens to leave the coalition.
The BJP must hold on to its allies in Maharashtra, Haryana, Bihar, the northeastern states and the South to do well in the polls. It must also keep channels open with parties equidistant from BJP and the Congress, such as the Biju Janata Dal. The BJP's target is to get 350 seats. While Modi's magic might still work, it needs a Modi plus. The Party, which is actively involved in expanding NDA, understands this aspect.
It is a question of whether the BJP needs allies or the allies need the BJP. It might work if the BJP manages to keep a divided Opposition, an expanded NDA, and a new narrative. After all, 2024 may not be the same as 2014 or 2019.
(The writer is a senior journalist)