I have a simple question. Why is the BJP looking for allies now when parliamentary elections are almost 10 months away? The answer could be equally simple - like every political party, the BJP also wants to bulk up electorally before the general elections come around. But I wish the answer could be this simple.
There is no denying that the BJP today feels that it needs new allies to gain more electoral muscle power. And so, it has reached out to the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, Jitan Ram Manjhi of HAM, Mukesh Sahni of VIP and Chirag Paswan in Bihar, JDS in Karnataka, and Om Prakash Rajbhar in Uttar Pradesh.
This is the same BJP that, a few months back, was confident of a majority in the general elections in 2024. Since the 2019 elections, it has behaved as if it does not need allies. When alliance partners left one after the other, the BJP made no effort to reach out. In fact, the party believed its allies needed the BJP more for survival. That seems to have changed. Now the BJP is looking for friends. This is a dead giveaway - the BJP is no longer confident of winning a majority in 2024 and it may need friendly parties to form the government.
The result of the Karnataka election was a jolt to the Narendra Modi-led BJP. Not that the BJP did not expect to lose, but it is the margin of defeat that has shaken the BJP. This was the election in which Modi put his personal currency at risk with the voters, yet it did not cut much ice. It is no coincidence that the Organiser magazine, which is close to the BJP's ideological mentor RSS, wrote, "Modi magic is not working anymore in state elections". That was an admission that the BJP needs to overhaul its election strategy. This was the first instance of doubts raised, from within the pro-Hindutva brotherhood - about brand Modi and his ability to win elections for the party.
It was not surprising when one discovered a few Modi supporters had started writing in leading newspapers that fatigue was setting in vis-a-vis the Modi government, and that the BJP could not take victory for granted in 2024. The advocates of right-wing politics are saying that 10 years is a long time in government, a certain anti-incumbency is manifesting itself, that people may be disappointed with the Modi government's delivery, and they might be starting to look for an alternative; and in this context, the BJP must address the people's issues, find new ways and a newer narrative to neutralise people's despondency with the government.
Let's not forget that these were the people who, after the BJP's grand victory in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Goa, and later in Gujarat, said Modi would return in 2024 with a bigger margin than in 2019. In all these states, the BJP did face anti-incumbency, yet it repeated its government, which was a remarkable achievement. The Gujarat victory was hailed as a future indicator for 2024 for Modi. In the cacophony of a media blitz, the BJP's loss in Himachal Pradesh was forgotten. It was the state in which voters defied Modi's appeal that they should vote only for him, never mind who the BJP's candidate was.
If the BJP thought that the defeat in Himachal was a fluke, then the party was up for a shock in Karnataka. It was Karnataka that forced the BJP to take a reality check. Now, there is a realisation in the BJP that losing in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is a possibility too. In Rajasthan, it might sail through. So close to the massive Karnataka loss, this sort of outcome would be disastrous for the party. Consequently, the BJP has woken up, all set for Mission Damage Control. The BJP is working on two fronts - hunting for allies in states and weakening opposition parties.
Maharashtra had been the BJP's Achilles Heel since the 2019 state election. The Shiv Sena decided to break up with the BJP when it was denied rotational Chief Ministership, as promised to it, as it claimed. It formed a government with the Congress and NCP, two parties that were its ideological enemies in the past. The Shiv Sena's alliance with the Congress and NCP was a curveball. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) emerged as such a formidable combination that it had the potential to restrict BJP seats in parliamentary elections to a single digit. Not surprisingly, Operation Lotus was unleashed and the Shiv Sena was split into two with more than two-thirds of MLAs switching sides to form a government with the BJP.
But if the BJP thought the defection would finish off the Shiv Sena, it was grossly mistaken. In fact, the defections generated sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray, which threatened to backfire on the BJP. The BJP had to move fast. The NCP was targeted. The Enforcement Directorate and other agencies were ruthlessly used, which resulted in Ajit Pawar crossing over with a majority of NCP MLAs.
Like Maharashtra, Bihar is another headache for the BJP. Nitish Kumar's return to his old friend Lalu Yadav was a big setback. Bihar and Maharashtra together command 88 parliamentary seats. In 2019, the BJP along with its allies Shiv Sena, Janata Dal United and others had 80 seats in the two states. Without the JDU and Shiv Sena, the BJP is not expected to repeat its performance in 2024. That could mean serious trouble for the BJP; it could face the possibility of not reaching the majority mark in Lok Sabha. So, Operation Lotus could soon come calling in Bihar.
With the 2024 election approaching, the BJP finds itself bereft of its traditional friends. The Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and JDU were its most trusted allies since the days of Atal-Advani (Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani). Now all three are out of their camp. The Shiv Sena and JDU are firmly with the Congress. The Akali Dal left the BJP during the farmers' agitation. The BJP has lost two consecutive elections in Punjab, where it is vastly weakened today. The BJP has always been a marginal player in Punjab. If these two can come together, they can hope to wrest a few seats from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress. Similarly, in Bihar, it is in search of new friends. Jitan Ram Manjhi, Mukesh Sahni and Chirag Paswan are not big players in the state but will still add value to the BJP. An alliance with them will help the BJP make inroads among maha-Dalits.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is very strong. This is one state where the BJP can improve its tally and compensate for its losses in Maharashtra and Bihar. Om Prakash Rajbhar's is a small party but can prove handy to a certain extent. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has negligible presence, whereas the TDP is big despite losing badly in the last assembly elections. Chandrababu Naidu has been in the NDA before. Now, the BJP and TDP both need each other to fight Jagan Mohan Reddy if they want to be relevant in state politics.
In Karnataka, in 2019, the BJP managed to win 25 seats out of 28. There are serious questions on whether it can manage an encore. In the 2019 election, the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) was in an alliance with the Congress, and during the Karnataka election, it contested alone and was routed, with the Congress gaining at its expense. If the JDS were to reclaim lost ground, then it would need a strong ally like the BJP with whom it formed the government in 2006. Now they both need each other. HD Deve Gowda has given enough hints and both parties can come together in the near future.
The political arithmetic is changing very fast. The opposition unity index going up will create more problems for the BJP, and one must be a novice to not know that. Modi has never lost an election since he became Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is the smartest politician the county has seen since Indira Gandhi, and he knows he can't afford to lose 2024. He is capable of disruption and creating a new narrative. The coming months will be more exciting than one has imagined.
(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.