Earlier this week the BJP sealed its alliance in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena after speculation for long over whether the saffron party's oldest partnership would continue or not. A day later, Piyush Goyal travelled to Chennai and finalised his party's pact in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). There are some indications that Vijayakant's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) too may join the bandwagon.
On the face of it, also given that the BJP recently settled the tricky matter of allocation of seats among National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners in Bihar, it appears that without tom-tomming, as is its usual wont, the party had begun sealing well-worked out pre-poll alliances which are going to be crucial in the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha. This development assumes greater importance because the Opposition remains divided on crucial issues and unsure about alliances in several frontier states to prevent the division of the anti-BJP vote. Pre-poll alliances are going to be particularly crucial this time compared to 2014, because of the presumption that the BJP is going to win fewer seats than in the previous election. In the event of no party securing a majority on its own, the President is then likely to ask the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance to form the government even if it does have the required majority at that time - the precedent of 1996 can be used in this case when the BJP was asked to form the government but also told to show its majority in Lok Sabha within a stipulated period.
The eagerness with which the BJP has been sealing poll pacts with estranged allies is in sharp contrast with its approach towards them in 2014. Back then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed that the willingness of allies - between 2004 and 2014 many of its former partners had deserted the party - to enter into a pre-poll accord with the BJP was directly proportionate to their assessment of the BJP's winnability. In other words, if the allies concluded that they stood to gain by aligning with the BJP, they would even accept terms which otherwise they would not have. The BJP adopted a "take it or leave it" attitude in 2014 as it was certain that it was the winning horse, and that the only question remained over the extent of its victory.
In 2019, however, the situation is the reverse, and it is not the allies that are dependent on the BJP but it is the other way around - the BJP has come to realise that its survival in these elections and getting to within striking distance of forming the next government is going to be completely depended on strategic alliances. Thus the party has chosen to eat humble pie and accepted a status in the alliance which is not commensurate with either its past record or its relative strength in the state.
Clearly, the BJP has decided to take two steps backward in the hope that it will enable the party to take one step forward after the general election and hence become the only non-Congress government to get a second successive term in office after completing its tenure during the first stint.
The BJP's decision in both Bihar and Maharashtra, however, would have caused immense heartburn within the local units. After all, in Maharashtra, prior to the alliance between the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress being swept away by the Narendra Modi tidal wave of 2014, the two parties had handsomely won three Assembly elections. Even though the BJP and the Shiv Sena fought the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 together, the two of them decided to go their separate ways in the Assembly polls that were held immediately afterwards that year. After years of playing second fiddle, the BJP established its leadership position in the state and although it sought the assistance of its erstwhile ally, the mantle of senior partner had passed to the BJP. The decision to accept the Sena's insistence for equal status in the Assembly polls due later this year and the agreement to even keep the issue of chief minister open underscores the necessity of the BJP to seal the pact.
Likewise in Bihar, where the BJP was initially the junior partner but after Nitish Kumar's "homecoming", the dominance of the BJP was never in doubt although the state chief minister remained the local face of the coalition. The BJP national leadership has worked overtime to convince its cadre in the state to accept equal sharing of seats with the Janata Dal (United). This entailed giving up some seats that the party currently holds - it won 22 seats in 2014 from Bihar, when the JD(U) was not a partner of the BJP. By accommodating the JD(U) and giving it an equal status, the BJP leadership has underscored the necessity of the alliance if the challenge led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and its allies is to be surmounted.
The BJP's eagerness for alliances in the three states, besides the indications that it is also in the process of sealing pacts in several other states, is a clear indication of the party's realisation that it faces a tough challenge due to questionable delivery of promises, the agrarian crisis, rising unemployment and a sluggish economy. By accepting terms that it would not have accepted in 2014, the BJP has accepted its decline since then. Significantly, the alliance in Maharashtra especially was announced days after the Pulwama terror strike and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's promise of retributive action against terrorist groups and Pakistan. This is indicative of an early assessment that the P-card is not going to yield too many votes in the elections, and thus the BJP has to go back to old-fashioned politics of consolidating blocks at the state level.