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BJP: A party hegemonic to opponents and allies?

Jun 24, 2022 12:39 PM IST

The reason why the Sena decided to dump its pre-poll ally after the 2019 assembly elections was that it wanted the chief ministership for itself. This would have entailed unseating the incumbent BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The immediate trigger behind the political storm in Maharashtra may well be the unexpected victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates in the recently held Rajya Sabha and legislative council polls. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that the seeds of this political drama were sown the day Shiv Sena decided to enter into an alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). It contested the 2019 Maharashtra assembly elections in an alliance with the BJP. The reason why the Sena decided to dump its pre-poll ally after the 2019 assembly elections was that it wanted the chief ministership for itself. This would have entailed unseating the incumbent BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The fact that Uddhav Thackeray has repeatedly reiterated the centrality of Hindutva to the Sena is clear proof that the BJP’s line of attack has a resonance in the Sena’s rank and file.(Satish Bate/HT Photo) PREMIUM
The fact that Uddhav Thackeray has repeatedly reiterated the centrality of Hindutva to the Sena is clear proof that the BJP’s line of attack has a resonance in the Sena’s rank and file.(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

While the Shiv Sena justified this act in the name of regional and partisan pride, the BJP has always described it as an ideological betrayal of the Hindutva cause by the Sena. The fact that Uddhav Thackeray has repeatedly reiterated the centrality of Hindutva to the Sena is clear proof that the BJP’s line of attack has a resonance in the Sena’s rank and file.

While Sena’s, or Thackeray’s current predicament seems to be the result of falling between ideology and political ambition, it is not the only BJP ally which is facing an existential crisis at the moment. This is the fate of almost all major BJP allies in the post 2014 phase. Here are four charts which explain this argument in detail.

In the 1990s, BJP needed allies to capture power at the national level, but that is not the case in the post-2014 phase

The BJP broke political ground in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 85 seats in the Lok Sabha, a huge jump from its tally of just 2 in the 1984 elections. The 1989 elections were fought on the agenda of building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and this was a key agenda of the BJP in the next two elections -- 1991 and 1996. The tactics of putting all its eggs in the Hindutva basket helped the BJP increase its parliamentary strength, but it was not enough to form a government in Delhi. The BJP could not muster a majority despite being the single largest party with 162 MPs after the 1996 polls. The 1996 experience triggered a rethink in the BJP’s political strategy and it actively started wooing possible allies. Between 1996 and 1999, the number of seats contested by the BJP fell from 471 to 339. This was managed by a dilution of the core political agenda of Hindtuva. However, both the number of seats (won by the party-led coalition) and the party’s strike rate actually improved during this period.

The story is very different in the post-2014 phase -- the second time the BJP came to power after 1999. While the number of seats contested has not increased by a large extent, BJP’s own seat share has increased sharply because of a big jump in its strike rate. The message is clear, it is the BJP and Narendra Modi’s popularity which brings traction to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Now the allies need the BJP to win Lok Sabha elections

The best proof of this argument is in the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U)’s example in Bihar. The JD(U) walked out of the NDA over Narendra Modi being the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in 2013. It contested the 2014 elections largely on its own (the Communist Party of India (CPI) contested two out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies). However, the JD(U) could win just two Lok Sabha seats, a sharp fall from its 2009 tally of 20 seats when it was a part of the NDA. In 2019, the JD(U) contested as part of the NDA once again and its seat tally jumped to 16.

But competing political ambitions mean things are still complicated at the state level

When the BJP was seeking allies in the 1990s, it was happy to play second fiddle to its allies in the states. Whether it was the JD (U) in Bihar, or the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the chief ministership, if it came, and larger number of seats in the alliance were always with the regional alliance partner. Buoyed by its national level dominance after 2014, the BJP is not willing be the junior partner even at the level of states now.

This has led to friction with regional partners such as the Shiv Sena and the JD (U). The BJP and the Sena could not come to a pre-poll understanding before the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections, despite having fought together in the Lok Sabha polls held just months previously. The Sena joined the state government after the BJP got significantly more seats that it. Even though the Sena accepted lower number of seats in the 2019 assembly polls, it kept making noises for the chief minister’s post even before the results.

In Bihar, the seat distribution was more favourable to the BJP in both 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 assembly elections than it was until 2010, the last election the BJP and the JD (U) contested together before the JD (U) walked out of the NDA in 2013. It is widely believed that the BJP tried to undercut the JD(U)’s tally by encouraging the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) -- it was still a part of the NDA at the centre -- to contest against the JD (U) in the 2020 Bihar polls.

Do the allies have an option?

Both the Shiv Sena and JD (U) have tried aligning to the other end of the political spectrum. In both cases, the experiment has not worked as per calculations. It can be argued that the immediate trigger for failure of such alliances has been linked to events which have underlined the BJP’s political invincibility in the medium term. That both the Bihar (The JD(U) split with the Rashtria Janata Dal soon after the 2017 UP election) and the Maharashtra grand alliance experiments have unravelled within months of BJP winning Uttar Pradesh is not just a coincidence.

The writing on the wall is clear. Whether in the opposition or in alliance with the BJP, a party must live with the consequences of the BJP’s political hegemony. This means either becoming a junior partner or preparing for a protracted political struggle. Both of these mean living without political power in the realpolitik sense of the term.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Roshan Kishore is the Data and Political Economy Editor at Hindustan Times. His weekly column for HT Premium Terms of Trade appears every Friday.

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