Has BJP shot itself in the foot?

BJP legislators have begun to voice their concerns at having to face the combined firepower of the three MVA partners in future elections

cartoon by: Clyde Crasto
cartoon by: Clyde Crasto

Sujata Anandan

Has the BJP been too clever by half ? Has the party actually shot itself in the foot? Weeks after the Bharatiya Janata Party triumphantly hijacked a section of Shiv Sena and stormed back to power in Maharashtra, there is disquiet within the party’s state unit and a slew of worrying questions are increasingly being voiced by the party faithful.

The party, this section feels, should have let the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to continue. The pandemic had already affected the functioning of the MVA government and the next two years could have made it unpopular among the people. But having hijacked the government, it will now be the BJP that will face the heat and anti-incumbency in the next election, this section believes.

The defection engineered in Maharashtra, they have argued, alerted Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the possibility of a similar ‘operation lotus’ there. He lost no time in getting back together with the RJD, Congress and the Left with whom he had fought a bitter election in 2020.

In Maharashtra similarly, defections from the Shiv Sena seem to have brought the MVA partners together. The sight of Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena and Nana Patole of the Congress standing together and speaking in one voice was not something BJP may have bargained for. It had expected the Shiv Sena to collapse and the NCP and Congress to go their own ways. But the resolution of the MVA to stand together and contest the assembly and the Lok Sabha elections together has unnerved many in the saffron camp.

The BJP needs to do well in the Lok Sabha polls in both Maharashtra and Bihar, besides Karnataka and Gujarat, if it hopes to retain the Delhi throne in 2024. The BJP looked strong in all these states till two months ago. But the situation has changed dramatically and the BJP appears to be more vulnerable than ever before. If the MVA in Maharashtra and the mahagathbandhan in Bihar stick together till 2024, BJP stands to lose heavily in both the states.

Has BJP done a favour to the Opposition by forcing Nitish Kumar to embrace Tejashwi Yadav and helping MVA partners to rally?

What is also not working to the BJP’s script is the unexpected groundswell of support that Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray are receiving from the common Shiv Sainiks and the people. It has given the parent faction of the Sena a bounce that was not expected so soon. Even the arrest of party MP and Uddhav Thackeray’s close confidante Sanjay Raut has not dented Shiv Sainiks’ confidence in the parent party.

The MVA partners closing ranks and deciding to contest elections together cannot be music to BJP’s ears. The first of these will be elections for a dozen civic bodies including the Mumbai and Thane municipal corporations which are crucial to both the Thackerays and Eknath Shinde.

Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister in 2017 had tried his best to dislodge the Shiv Sena from the BMC but failed. Five years later, with both the NCP and the Congress supporting Uddhav Thackeray, the contest for local bodies is expected to be tougher for the BJP. It is true that neither NCP nor Congress has much stake in the municipal polls—and it is still not certain if they would actually be contesting the local body polls together—but there are strong possibilities of the MVA forging a joint strategy, which is not good news for BJP or Devendra Fadnavis.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar went ballistic against BJP on the same day that Uddhav Thackeray came out of his shell and state Congress president Nana Patole, the biggest advocate of going solo in 2024, chose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Uddhav Thackeray.

Moreover, voter sentiment in Maharashtra is still more socialist than saffron (as also in Bihar), which is why Uddhav has done better after diluting his father’s rabble-rousing communal agenda. Significantly, BJP was unable to gain an absolute majority in the assembly even in 2014 when Narendra Modi was at the peak of his popularity. Uddhav Thackeray’s short stint as chief minister earned him accolades from even those who didn’t support the Shiv Sena.

All the three MVA partners realise that their survival depends on sticking together and it is unlikely they would allow minor differences to spoil the party.

All the three parties are strong in different parts of the state. The Shiv Sena is strong in Mumbai and surrounding regions among the Marathi manoos, the NCP in Western Maharashtra and in Marathwada among Marathas and farmers while the Congress is strong in Vidarbha among Dalits, tribals, minorities and the Hindi-speakers. They would be keen to ensure that anti-BJP votes don’t get split three ways again.

BJP legislators have begun to voice their concerns at having to face the combined firepower of the three political parties. They are also disgruntled at having to share seats and the spoils in equal measure with the Shinde group. The absence of popular support for Shinde so far has also alarmed them.

It came therefore as no surprise when Devendra Fadnavis indicated that BJP may contest the civic polls on its own, leaving the Shinde group more vulnerable.

It might be too early to say that winds of change are sweeping over India but the weather forecast clearly points to turbulence ahead for the BJP

(Views are personal)

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