March 09, 2014

BJP AHEAD OF THE CONGRESS...


IN THE RACE FOR ALLIES

Courtesy: IBN Live/Reuters
When the BJP decided to take a gamble by appointing Narendra Modi, first as the chief of its campaign for the Lok Sabha polls and then as its nominee for the post of the Prime Minister, many thought it would never get any allies and would thus warm the Opposition benches for another five years in the Parliament. After all, in this era of coalition politics where no party can think of crossing the half way mark on its own, it is but imperative to have powerful regional satraps on one's side. In fact, in one of the articles that I had written post Modi's anointment (Link), I had mentioned that the stigma of the 2002 Gujarat riots could keep several powerful regional players away from doing any kind of business with the NDA. With Nitish Kumar's JD(U) walking out of the BJP led coalition, it seemed that the saffron outfit was fighting a battle that it was destined to lose. Six months down the line, things have changed. Of course, I need to admit that I was wrong in thinking that a NDA headed by Modi would ever grow beyond three or four parties.

While Nitish Kumar and certain segments within the BJP including the party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani may have been against his appointment, the Gujarat Chief Minister must be given credit for galvanizing a party that seemed to be heading towards doom. Considering his strong Hindutva image, he helped consolidate the party's core vote bank. Next, with a strong leader at the helm of affairs, the war of succession amongst the BJP's second generation leaders too has been brushed aside at the moment. The differences have been dissolved, at least for the time being, and the party has stood solidly behind its PM nominee. Meanwhile, at rally after rally in different parts of the country, the Gujarat leader has spoken about his development agenda. This has helped him connect with the masses who have been disillusioned with the UPA. His poll managers have also done a great job on the social media, boosting his popularity amongst the youth. In the last few months while the BJP has moved from strength to strength, the Congress has constantly been under fire with so many scams being unearthed in recent months. Many allies have marched out of the UPA and several more prospective partners have refused to enter into any sort of agreement with the INC, fearing the massive anti-incumbency against the regime in New Delhi. Finally, after a thumping victory in the December 2013 polls held in four states, it is evident that the BJP is in the driving seat and everyone wants to be a part of the NDA bandwagon.

Of course, one cannot overlook the role of party president Rajnath Singh in 'resurrecting' the NDA. Taking over from Nitin Gadkari after his name figured in the alleged wrong doings regarding investments in his Purti Group, he was instrumental in the elevation of Narendra Modi in spite of strong opposition from Advani and a bitter divorce with the JD(U). As the Gujarat CM toured the nation, talking about his 'vision' for the country, Singh worked behind the scenes to stitch together a mega formation to take on a weak UPA. The first part of the strategy was to bring back those leaders who had walked out of the BJP earlier. Soon, former CMs B S Yeddyurappa and Kalyan Singh were back into the party fold (Link). Keshubahi's GPP too is expected to merge into the BJP soon. Next, Singh went on allying with several smaller partners. The saffron outfit built up solid alliances in states like Maharashtra and Bihar. In Tamil Nadu, where the party has minimal presence, it brought together many Dravidian parties while the Congress seems to be fighting the polls all alone. To go beyond its traditional support base, it has also joined hands with Dalit parties including Paswan's LJP.

Though there is no doubt that the NDA is emerging as the foremost coalition ahead of the 2014 General Elections, it is clear that it will still need many more partners if it has to form the next government at the Centre. In fact, many parties have started sending feelers to the BJP. Raj Thackeray of the MNS has made it clear that he will support Modi for the PM's post. AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha is believed to be close to the Gujarat CM whereas Karunanidhi has also referred to him as a 'good friend'. A lot can be read into NCP chief Sharad Pawar's clean chit to BJP PM candidate. Even Jagan Reddy of the YSR Congress has called him a 'good administrator'. Naidu's TDP is an old ally and is speculated to join back the NDA anywhere soon. The AGP too is a prospective partner; its absence from the meeting of the Third Front leaders does say a lot. And finally, the big catch - the BJD and the BJP too may kiss and make-up.