Congress and the BJP juggernaut

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Certainly, the BJP followed various methods ruthlessly to expand its base and has emerged as the single largest party in the country. A divided Opposition has been its biggest strength. The UPA must set its own house in order to give a tough competition in the 2019 poll

Why is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) growing at the cost of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)? There was a time when the BJP, as a political party, was untouchable but today it is opposite of what was seen in the early 1980s. Political pundits believed that the country was moving towards a two-front politics in a coalition era.

But this changed in 2014 after the BJP emerged as the single largest party with a majority, ending 30 years of coalition politics. Since then the UPA is getting weakened; though it showed its strength in the recent presidential and vice presidential polls where 18 parties jointly put up their common candidate knowing it very well that the numbers were with the BJP.

The BJP-led NDA now has 33 constituents as the party has grown beyond its own imagination in the past 27 years since its inception. In fact, it has become the largest political party overtaking the Congress and has also achieved a pan-national presence. Earlier, its influence was mostly confined to the Hindi belt as it was seen as a north Indian party  consisting of Brahmins and traders. But today it has expanded its base to other castes with its social engineering. It has even overtaken the Congress to emerge as the largest party in the Rajya Sabha.

When the NDA was formed in 1998, it had 24 partners. The BJP utilised anti-Congress sentiment to the fullest extent to forge a front which came to power in 1998. However, within 13 months, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalithaa pulled down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government but Vajpayee came back in 1999 and ruled till 2004. The NDA lost power deluding itself with its ‘India shining’ campaign. The UPA built by the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, came to power in 2004 and ruled the country for the next 10 years, keeping the NDA out. It was only in 2014 that the BJP, under Narendra Modi  came to power with majority and formed the Government.

In 2014, the BJP had gone to polls with 26 allies. The NDA included smaller parties like the Shiv Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the Republican Party of India (Athavale), the All India NR Congress, the Lok Janshakthi Party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Kerala Congress, the Apna Dal, the Manipur Peoples Party, and the Naga People’s Front.

At least six more parties have joined the NDA now, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Bodoland People’s Front, the Asom Gana Parishad, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

The latest big catch was the return of the Janata Dal(United), JD(U). With the JD(U) allying with the BJP, the NDA’s numbers are now very close to a majority in the Rajya Sabha with the support of friendly regional parties. This has given a major boost to the Government’s legislative agenda.

Moreover, after JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s re-entry, the number of States where the BJP is in power has gone up to 18 of the 29 States. The BJP holds majority in 11 States, including in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

In Goa and Maharashtra, the saffron party shares power as senior partner. In five States viz, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland and Sikkim, it shares power as junior partner. The Congress, on the other hand, rules in Karnataka, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry and Punjab. However, the BJP is growing at the cost of the allies.

So how has the BJP achieved this? It has followed various methods ruthlessly to expand its base and win power. The first is winning the mandate as it has done in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Assam and Jharkhand. Second, are the post-poll alliances as it has done in Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir. Coming to power as a coalition partner with the PDP in J&K was indeed a bold step. Third, is by poaching on the Legislators of other parties, like it did in Manipur and Goa recently. But the most novel method is by importing Chief Ministers like it has done recently in Bihar and earlier in Arunachal Pradesh.

It is waiting to grab Tamil Nadu after the two AIADMK factions unite. The BJP is trying to poach on the UPA constituents as it did in Bihar recently.

On the flip side though, technically, NDA won at the hustling’s — it is the BJP that is calling the shots so much so that the key allies — the Shiv Sena, the TDP and the PDP  have been openly unhappy with the BJP’s governing mechanism.

The BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu & Kashmir is a tight-rope to walk. Even in Punjab, the SAD is not too happy with the BJP. The TDP wants a special status for Andhra Pradesh. “Parties like Shiv Sena, SAD and TDP are standing strong in their respective States. There should be clarity on whether our friendship is needed (by the BJP)”, the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana recently.

The perception presently is that  Modi will come back in 2019. The Truth in Negotiations Act factor would be a huge advantage to the NDA and it is for the UPA to set its house in order. The UPA lacks a powerful leader who can unite the non-BJP parties and manage their inherent contradictions, as the divided Opposition is BJP’s strength. Whether the UPA can revive before the 2019 polls is to be seen.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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