NDA: The BJP’s New Disposable Allies 

While Modi tried to look cheerful, Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda, meanwhile, made up for their cold indifference and past disdain of allies with the ‘warmth of a toaster’ felt from a distance

PM Modi at the NDA meet in New Delhi, 18 July 2023
PM Modi at the NDA meet in New Delhi, 18 July 2023

AJ Prabal

What’s in a name? A lot, it would seem, judging by the violent reaction to 26 Opposition parties naming their alliance INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance).

The acronym riled Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma so much that he hurriedly removed “India” from his Twitter bio on Tuesday and replaced it with “Bharat”. Sarma then solemnly tweeted, “The British named our country as India. We must strive to free ourselves from colonial legacies. Our forefathers fought for Bharat, and we will continue to work for Bharat. BJP for Bharat.”

Ironically, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s official Twitter handle continued to proudly project itself as “BJP4India”. Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate was quick to point out several flagship programmes appropriated by the Modi government: ‘Make in India’, ‘Khelo India’, ‘Digital India’... The acronym coined by the Opposition had TV anchors in a tailspin too, discussing whether a political alliance can legitimately be named ‘India’.

The ‘acronam’ (‘acronym’ portmanteaued with akraman, ‘attack’), punned a wit on social media, had stolen the thunder from the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)—the 38 political parties, addressed by the prime minister the same day in New Delhi.

While the PM went ahead with a new jumla, that NDA stood for ‘New India, Developed Nation and Aspiration for People and Region’, critics wondered about the collective’s ‘democratic’ credentials, suggesting the National Undemocratic Alliance was more apt. Still, the BJP mocked the Opposition parties.

Smriti Irani sneered that “wolves hunt in packs”, Amit Shah dismissed the Opposition meeting in Patna last month as a ‘photo op’ and BJP trolls smugly declared that in the “jungle” (sic), the lion is king and roars alone. However, the optics of the NDA meeting— convened for the first time since 2019— showed the alliance in a poor light.

The ‘highlight’ was an address by the prime minister, who was greeted, feted and garlanded. None of the 37 allies of the BJP apparently were to speak. “As many as 24 parties in the NDA have 0 [zero] Lok Sabha MPs, 07 have one Lok Sabha MPs each and 02 have two Lok Sabha MPs,” tweeted Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Shiv Sena (UBT), “Just saying. Since someone had recently found it amusing that there were ‘parties with not even a single LS MP’ attending the Patna meet of Opposition leaders.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge meanwhile wondered where the NDA was during the past four years. Didn’t Prime Minister Modi say in Parliament that he could take on the Opposition alone? “The PM had said ‘Main akela kaafi hoon saare Opposition ke liye’,” Kharge reminded everyone.

“Then why is he bringing together 30 (38 by July 17 evening) parties? Which are these parties, what are their names, are they all registered with the Election Commission?” The incoherent NDA meeting, hurriedly convened and without the BJP’s usual meticulous homework, was called the same day the 26 Opposition parties met in Bengaluru.

If the purpose was to hijack attention, it failed. But a more important question is why the BJP, which projects 2024 as a done deal, suddenly woke up to the existence of the NDA. Far less convene any NDA sessions, Modi had not even consulted the allies before Parliament sessions in the last four years.

At that meeting too, there were no discussions on national issues—the economy, Manipur, Kashmir... It was apparently only called together to label the Opposition meet a ‘conclave of the corrupt’. Earlier that morning, while virtually inaugurating a terminal at the Port Blair airport, the prime minister took time at the official function to deliver an attack on the Opposition.

It was in poor taste, for sure, diverting attention from the airport for political posturing. Could he not have reserved it for the NDA meeting later that day? Or did it betray a certain nervousness that no amount of rhetoric could gloss over?

Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda, meanwhile, made up for their cold indifference and past disdain of allies with the ‘warmth of a toaster’ felt from a distance. The prime minister, who refused to meet delegations from Manipur for the past two months, had all the time on Tuesday (July 18) for his discredited allies.

In a sign of bonhomie, he placed his arms around Praful Patel and Ajit Pawar of the NCP, who he had attacked for corruption days ago. Now that they had crossed over to the BJP, all was well. Forgotten were memories of a Chirag Paswan in tears after being evicted from 12 Janpath last year. Forgiven were the barbs of Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, who had vowed to send Modi and Shah packing, back to Gujarat.

This week, the BJP released photographs of a beaming Shah welcoming both back to the NDA. It betrayed panic. The imperious Modi– Shah duo had been rudely brought down to earth. It was a pathetic display of a ‘coalition of convenience’.

Two plausible explanations emerge for the hurried revival of a comatose NDA. The first is the need to shield Modi from the sole burden of ensuring victory in the general election. The BJP appears to have abandoned the trope of ‘Modi vs All’.

While Modi will undoubtedly campaign as relentlessly as ever, should any reverses transpire, they may now be attributed to flawed allies. The second explanation is that the BJP has realised at the eleventh hour that it will be a Herculean task to repeat its performance of 2014 and 2019, when it had won 282 and 303 Lok Sabha seats respectively on its own.

Should it fall short of the majority by 75–80 seats this time, it will need allies. Remarkably, several regional parties like the BJD, BRS, YSRC, BSP and SAD (Badal) kept away from the NDA meeting. Three of these are in power in various states. Also significant was the absence of the Janata Dal (Secular), which was reportedly keen to join. H.D. Kumaraswamy, who was apparently waiting for the invitation, sulked openly.

 A ‘ruthless’ BJP has acquired a certain notoriety for not sparing friends any more than foes when it suits. It is widely perceived to have used central agencies like the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), income tax department and the ED (Enforcement Directorate) to threaten and intimidate rival leaders. It has not thought twice before poaching key players or engineering defections.

As for the allies, they may have arrived out of a sense of resignation to the apparent inevitability of a BJP victory in 2024, or fear of harassment over alleged scams 10–15 years old or having simply run out of options—but how many will back the BJP in a hung verdict? While there are indeed no permanent friends or foes in politics, the BJP’s ambition of being the only ruling party casts a shadow on an alliance like the NDA. Chances are that when it comes to the crunch, BJP may well find itself alone—just as it likes to portray.

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