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NDA allies pounce on weakened Modi: A blow-by-blow account
Even before the dust settled after BJP’s humiliating losses in recent bypolls, its allies began threatening the stability of the NDA. A state-by-state look at the mood among NDA allies
A report on this website on March 14, the day of the bypoll results in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in which the Bharatiya Janata Party suffered humiliating losses, had said “Expect restive NDA allies to get more assertive.” The unhappy, disgruntled allies have wasted no time in going for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah’s jugular.
The National Democratic Alliance has seen two parties quit since the bypoll results, among them the Telugu Desam Party with 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Worse, Narendra Modi is now faced with his first ever no-confidence motion at the hands of his former ally, TDP. With the BJP having 275 MPs in the lower house and enjoying support of another 40 among its remaining allies (see graphic below), the no-confidence motion is certain to be defeated but has the potential to embarrass the saffron party.
The NDA has grown since 2014, when it was a 29-party alliance with 336 seats in the Lok Sabha. Today, NDA comprises 47 parties, but this largely reflects its alliances with several small parties in the North East, which bring very few Lok Sabha seats and ally with whichever party is in power in Delhi, mostly regardless of ideology. The NDA’s Lok Sabha tally has resultantly dropped to 315 after the exit of TDP and a few other small allies.
With one NDA ally after another from Ram Vilas Paswan to Om Prakash Rajbhar issuing statements that would make BJP leadership uncomfortable, we took a state-by-state look at the mood among key NDA allies.
On March 16, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu pulled his Telugu Desam Party out of the NDA after the Centre made it clear that it cannot grant special status to Andhra Pradesh. Not just that, Naidu’s TDP also moved the first no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government. BJP’s options for adding on other allies in AP seem limited, with TDP’s rival YSR Congress moving its own no-confidence motion and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena not yet a big player.
All NDA allies in Bihar are grumbling and unhappy. One reason is that the NDA has ‘House Full’-like situation in terms of division of seats, as in 2014 NDA won 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. With Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) joining the alliance, existing allies are worried about getting fewer seats to contest in the next general election. They are also worried by the humiliating losses suffered by BJP in bypolls in prestigious seats in neighbouring Purvanchal. Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi took his Hindustani Awam Morcha out of the NDA on February 28, and promptly tied up with the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress alliance in Bihar.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has cut a sorry figure ever since he broke the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan and allied with the BJP to form the state government in 2017. Despite having more seats than BJP, Nitish has appeared the junior partner in the government. The man who ditched Lalu Prasad Yadav supposedly due to alleged corruption by RJD leaders, has been silent all through a series of allegations of corruption against BJP leaders. He was silent while his BJP colleagues issued the worst kind of communal rhetoric both before and after the campaign for the recent bypolls. However on March 19, anguished by a spate of communal incidents, including one where BJP union minister Giriraj Singh was caught on camera allegedly inciting a mob to shout slogans against a senior police officer in Darbhanga, Nitish finally broke his silence. He said “Neither did I compromise with corruption, nor I will compromise with those trying to divide the society. I'm for complete communal and social peace.” He went on to support Ram Vilas Paswan’s comments (see below) saying "I know Paswan very well and without applying his mind he won't speak on these issues."
Nitish also embarassed the BJP by making it clear that it was not JD(U)’s wish to field a candidate in the Jahanabad bypoll, but did so only because of intense pressure from BJP knowing that the outcome was a foregone conclusion, only to avoid being blamed once the results were out. He implied that the BJP did not want to fight a losing electoral battle and forced JD(U) into the field.
Then on March 17 came an even more worrying development for the BJP, as its ally and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan—who has famously been with all governments since 1996, and whose statements are taken seriously as an indication of the political weather—suddenly started praising the Congress. “NDA needs to take along all sections of the society. Congress also ruled the country for several decades by building an inclusive society,” said Paswan. On Sunday, March 18, Paswan added “They (BJP) need to change mass perception in terms of minorities, Dalits. Aren't there secular leaders in BJP?”
The same day, sources in Bihar told National Herald that though Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP remained with NDA for now, there is unhappiness across rank and file of the party and RLSP may be the next to quit NDA. These sources said Kushwaha has been unhappy since the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, as the rise of the BJP has reportedly halted his ambitions of expansion in UP. Kushwaha, a Koeri leader, is also unhappy with rival Nitish Kumar’s home-coming to NDA. On March 19, RLSP spokesperson Fazal Imam Mallick told NH that “Since it is an alliance of many parties, there are and would be disagreements but it does not mean that we would quit the alliance.” However, Mallick refused to confirm whether RLSP would fight the next general elections along with BJP, saying “At this juncture, we should not say anything about it.”
On March 19, senior cabinet minister in the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh Om Prakash Rajbhar, who is President of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, lashed out at BJP, accusing it of "not respecting its alliance partners". Predicting bad days for the BJP, Rajbhar alleged that the ruling party had "lost its mental balance in the wake of the brute majority handed over to it in the UP Assembly". The remarks came on a day when the Yogi Adityanath government completed one year in office and rolled out grand celebrations on the occasion. Rajbhar also created a flutter in political circles by announcing that his support for the BJP's Rajya Sabha nominees was still uncertain. He said his party could have got at least 30,000 votes for the BJP in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-elections but he was not even asked to campaign.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, another trusted ally of the BJP and part of the NDA government, has also been giving out mixed signals. Talking to NDTV in December 2017, senior SAD leader Naresh Gujral attacked BJP in scathing terms, saying “There is no way BJP can win 272 in the next elections, the writing is on the wall”. He also said that both the PM and Amit Shah are responsible for mishandling the coalition. Earlier in April 2015 too, Gujral had attacked the BJP in similar terms. Though Union Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur said the party would back the government in the no-confidence motions, as "Akali Dal is one of the oldest allies of the BJP [and] we have been together through thick and thin,” another SAD MP Prem Singh Chandumajra, while echoing Kaur’s support, added that “We are in favour of special category status to Andhra Pradesh.”
Jammu and Kashmir
While Mehbooba Mufti’s J&K People’s Democratic Party remains in the NDA, the way Mufti recently removed her finance minister Haseeb Drabu, perceived to be close to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and BJP leader Ram Madhav, from her own government shows that the PDP is also highly suspicious of the BJP’s manoeuvres. The sacking is seen as a sign of the growing gulf between coalition partners PDP and BJP. Ministers from both parties have been openly voicing their differences on several issues. It also comes at a time when Mufti has been urging the Modi government to resume talks with Pakistan to ensure peace in J&K. On March 19, she unfavourably compared PM Modi’s record with that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s, saying that “Steps should be taken to establish peace like Vajpayee Ji did in 2003 and went to Pakistan when ceasefire violations took place. PM Modi also went to Pakistan but Pathankot unfortunately happened after it.”
On January 23, the BJP’s oldest ally Shiv Sena, which has been operating more like an Opposition party than one that is in partnership with the BJP in both state and central governments, announced that it would fight the next general elections alone. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, said to be unhappy with how he has been treated within the NDA, has been taking constant pot-shots at the Modi-Shah duo and could barely hide his glee at the bypoll results. Shortly after the results, the Shiv Sena predicted a tally of less than 200 seats for the BJP in the next general elections. Its MPs have also been equivocal about whether they would support the no-confidence motions, support the NDA government, or abstain.
Another Maharashtra ally, Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana exited the NDA in September 2017 and joined the UPA on March 19, 2018.
After the Bhima-Koregaon riots, Ramdas Athawale, president of Republican Party of India (RPI -A), said he was all for consolidation of Dalit votes through unity of Dalit parties in Maharashtra, including Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip-Bahujan Mahasangh. Athawale, who is a Union Minister, said he was even ready to quit NDA if this front of Dalit parties chose to go with the Congress.
Less than a week after Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, suffering from pancreatic cancer, was rushed to the US for treatment, his BJP-led coalition government appeared be shaky and dissent-ridden. Coalition partners, who fought against BJP in the assembly elections, only to join with it on the condition that then Defence Minister Parrikar would be Chief Minister, are raising question marks over the future of the alliance—especially due to the severe nature of Parrikar's ailment.
Deepak Dhavalikar, president of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, following a meeting of MGP’s central committee, said "Till Parrikar is the Chief Minister, we are there with the government." Vijay Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party also made clear that his party’s support was to Parrikar and not to BJP, pointing to the letters of support given to the Goa governor at the time of government formation.
BJP received a blow from Kerala on the same day that the bypoll results were announced. It’s ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena announced its exit from NDA on March 14 itself, making it clear that it will not support the BJP in the upcoming bypoll to the Chengannur assembly seat.
While the official NDA ally in Tamil Nadu is the one-seat Pattali Makkal Katchi, the ruling AIADMK is widely perceived as an unofficial ally of Narendra Modi, working in tandem with the BJP in Parliament. At present, it has been disrupting the Lok Sabha on the issue of formation of the Cauvery Management Board, which observers say is to enable the speaker to adjourn the house and avoid taking up the no-confidence motions. However, the AIADMK has been angered at a statement by a BJP leader predicting the end of Dravidian politics in TN, and by the desecration of a Periyar statue. Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam issued a rebuff in the TN assembly on March 16, saying “Certain political critics with myopic vision indulge in fallacious propaganda against the Dravidian rule. They are living under an illusion and day dreaming about destroying the Dravidian movement.”
With inputs by NH Political Bureau, IANS and Vishwadeepak.
- Nitish Kumar
- Uttar Pradesh
- Mehbooba Mufti
- Bharatiya Janata Party
- Tamil Nadu
- Sonia Gandhi
- Janata Dal (United)
- Lalu Prasad Yadav
- Andhra Pradesh
- Shiv Sena
- Manohar Parrikar
- Ram Vilas Paswan
- Uddhav Thackeray
- Shiromani Akali Dal
- YSR Congress
- Goa Forward Party
- Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party
- North East
- Jitan Ram Manjhi
- National Democratic Alliance
- Upendra Kushwaha
- Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party
- Chandrababu Naidu
- Giriraj Singh
- Pattali Makkal Katchi
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- BJP President Amit Shah
- Telugu Desam Party
- Raju Shetti
- Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana
- Hindustani Awam Morcha
- Jana Sena
- Om Prakash Rajbhar
- Fazal Imam Mallick
- Lok Sabha bypolls
- no-confidence motion
- NDA allies
- Jahanabad bypoll
- Ramdas Athawale
- Republican Party of India
- Bharath Dharma Jana Sena
- J&K People’s Democratic Party