After Sewing Up Maharashtra, TN Deals, BJP Has No Option But To Focus On UP Again

After Sewing Up Maharashtra, TN Deals, BJP Has No Option But To Focus On UP AgainBJP President Amit Shah with Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray And Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis (@BJP4India/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • The BJP’s counter to the mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh is to create its own mini gathbandhans outside UP. Hence the Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu alliances.

The sealing of two seat-sharing deals – in Maharashtra and in Tamil Nadu – in quick succession signals a new realism on the part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

You can also read this article in Hindi- महाराष्ट्र और तमिल नाडु के बाद उत्तर प्रदेश पर पुनः ध्यान केंद्रित करे भाजपा

In Maharashtra, the BJP yielded a lot of ground to estranged ally Shiv Sena even though it is the stronger party in the state today. It agreed to fight 25 seats to Sena’s 23, and a 50:50 share in the assembly elections that will follow this December. The alliance, if it works well on the ground, will be able to take on the might of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine with ease.

In Tamil Nadu, where All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is the senior partner, it agreed to contest only five seats, yielding seven to the Vanniyar party, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The three-way alliance of AIADMK, PMK and BJP, which may yet include one or two smaller regional allies like the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), is now strong enough to pose a serious challenge to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-Congress combine. Earlier expectations of a 40-0 drubbing in favour of the DMK (including one seat in Pondicherry) now look premature. The AIADMK under Chief Minister E Palaniswami and former chief minister O Panneerselvam should fare well in western Tamil Nadu, and in the Vanniyar belt in northern and north-western areas. The BJP will bring in a thin share of votes in several constituencies to add to the alliance even if it is incapable of winning anywhere on its own.

While the logic of the BJP-Sena alliance is obvious (both are ideologically aligned, and in the face of the Congress-NCP alliance, they can win big only if their votes are not divided), the logic of the Tamil Nadu alliance is clearly driven by survival factors. The AIADMK is in danger of breaking up if it cannot display an ability to win elections without its former supremo, J Jayalalithaa, at the helm. Moreover, its shaky state government needs central blessings after the general elections. The AIADMK faces opposition not only from the post-Karunanidhi DMK-Congress alliance, but also a splinter group headed by T T V Dinakaran, nephew of Jayalalithaa’s long-term companion V K Sasikala (now in jail in a corruption case). Dinakaran is fighting the next elections under his own banner, and is widely expected to benefit from a consolidation of votes in a powerful caste group, the Thevars, this year.

If, after the elections, the non-DMK groups have to band together to rule the state, only a central government headed by the BJP can help create this combine.

The DMK headed by M K Stalin clearly was caught napping, cocksure as it has been that anti-incumbency will deliver it a win. But one can no longer be sure of that.

The BJP’s new-found humility has much to do with the realisation that it will lose many seats in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine, and a possible challenge in eastern Uttar Pradesh from newly coronated party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, will whittle down its old 71-seat tally in 2014.

The BJP’s counter to the mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh is to create its own mini gathbandhans outside UP. Hence the Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu alliances.

In Punjab, the Akali Dal-BJP alliance will continue, and in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP is hardly a contender except in one or two seats, and there may be no regional allies available. In Odisha, the BJP is in a dilemma: it does not want to take on Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal head on, though it is in a position to do so, for fear of angering a future ally in case the BJP falls short of 272 the next time.

This brings us back to Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP clearly needs to find many smaller allies to bolster its vote share among tiny, sub-regional caste groups like the Nishads, etc. A reachout to Rashtriya Lok Dal, left out in the cold by the SP-BSP alliance, cannot be ruled out either.

In Karnataka, the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance could eat into BJP’s majority share of Lok Sabha seats in the state, which means that the BJP will have to focus on UP again to see what it can salvage from the 71 seats it won in 2014.

In Assam and the northeast, the BJP’s earlier hopes of garnering a few more seats have been upset by the party’s attempt to push the Citizenship Amendment Bill through. The bill, which did not get introduced in the Rajya Sabha for want of time, may however win the BJP a few brownie points in West Bengal, but whether this will fetch the BJP more seats than before is questionable. The chances are the BJP will up its vote share at the cost of the CPM, but not get too many more seats.

Put simply, having sealed its Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu pacts, the party has to start focusing on UP again if it wants to come back to power in 2019.

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