The NDA alliance is unlikely to crumble anytime soon. This author explains how simple gestures of negotiation are being made for better adjustments within the NDA.
The Bhartiya Janata Party formed an alliance of around 48 small and big political parties during the 2014 parliamentary election. This partnership, called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), got a thumping majority in that election. Some of its constituent parties represented caste and community interests and some stood for regional aspirations.
Parties like Apana Dal, Suheldeo Bhartiya Samaj Party of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party, Upendra Kushwaha-led Lok Samata Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha led by Jeetan Ram Manjhi in Bihar reflect the caste aspirations of various social groups. Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United, Telugu Desam Party and Shiv Sena are largely focused on regional issues and identity.
One thing is common to all these political set-ups is that they all negotiated their share in power either by seeking positions in the cabinet ministry or by demanding a share in development projects and proper budget allocation for their own specific areas or states.
Self-interest is always apparent at the core of these formations, alignments and realignments. Self-interest isn't considered a negative in the politics of a democratic state. It is defended on the basis of community identity and regional interest. Opportunism is further a by-product of self-interest in coalition politics. Founder of the Bahujan Samaj party and eminent Dalit leader, the late Kanshiram, would defend his party's stance of changing alliances for its emergence as an important factor in coalition politics and to protect interest of Dalit community. He had once said, "I can do anything to empower the Dalits in this country."
Coalition politics is the compulsion of our times. Our society is divided at various levels into multiple groups, so it is difficult for one party to unite all under a flag or to polarise entire society. This has provided space to many caste-, community- and region-based parties to emerge in contemporary politics. When small groups with small percentages of following come together, they acquire the capacity to provide a winning edge to one national party or the other. The NDA, which is opposed to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), came to the fore in the 2014 election with obvious and not-so-obvious promises to distribute proper share of the state power to all these groups via their claimed representative political parties. While some of these parties are happy with their share, others are dissatisfied with the distribution of power and resources. The Shiv Sena, for instance, started showing its displeasure just after the Narendra Modi government was formed after the 2014 election.
The Sena had remained a core ally of the BJP from the very beginning. Ideologically too, both parties are on the same page, especially on the use of Hindutva as a core argument in their mobilisational politics. However, the Shiv Sena is upset that it was not adequately represented in the Cabinet and in important ministries. The Maharashtra-based outfit is competing with the BJP today to cash in on Hindutva mobilisation during elections. As a result of this friction, the coalition could go either ways -- it could compel both parties to remain together throughout or part ways during elections. Uddhav Thackeray, Sanjay Raut and other Shiv Sena leaders have been constantly criticizing the BJP's stance on various issues such as demonetisation and farmer suicides. The Sena also does not seem interested in taking a share of the anti-incumbency the BJP is likely to face, either at the Centre or in Maharashtra. These factors may prompt the Shiv sena to break away from the NDA. However, the question is, what are the other alliance options for Shiv Sena in the politics of Maharashtra other than the NDA. After all, they have called themselves the natural allies of the BJP on several occasions. Will they form alliance an with Sharad Pawar's NCP or with the Congress, for that matter. The option on an alliance with the Congress seems almost impossible, but then, politics makes strange bedfellows. The NCP and Shiv Sena may come closer due to their emphasis on regional issues and their common annoyance with their big brothers in their respective alliances. We have seen NCP at loggerheads with the Congress in UPA alliance on various occasions in the recent past.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) raised its voice against the BJP largely for two reasons -- one, the growing closeness of its rival Jagan Mohan Reddy with BJP's central leadership, and two, its (the TDP)'s objective of getting a better deal in the National Budget for Andhra Pradesh. Its MPs in Parliament have even agitated on the latter issue, accusing the Central government of creating regional imbalances. Alliance politics is based on constant negotiations from pressure groups that use a variety of tactics for a better share in power. If we consider this theorem of politics, we should believe that TDP will continue to be a part of the NDA after some adjustments have been made. However, the TDP is also concerned about the extent to which Jagan Mohan Reddy will be able to coisy up to the BJP tp brass, as the closeness could create a serious problem for the TDP. In such an eventuality, the TDP is likely to break away from the NDA alliance. If that happens, the TDP could contest parliamentary elections alone and try to muster up healthy numbers, which it would then use as a bargaining chip with the BJP and the Congress.
Caste-based parties such as Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party and Apana Dal have been occasionally showing their annoyance with the BJP and could take a decision on the coalition prior to the 2019 election, based on two criteria; one is seat sharing with BJP and other is observing prospects of the Congress Party in the coming elections. I don’t foresee the NDA alliance crumbling at this moment. All what we are seeing now are simple gestures of negotiation for better adjustments within the NDA.
Badri Narayan is the Director of the G B Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad