The BJP probably did not want to take the risk of losing support of regional parties.
The art of political jugglery on Indian front was perhaps never so intense and extensive as it is taking shape in the present phase with eyes set on the forthcoming parliamentary polls. It is certainly not an easy task for those who may view themselves as masters in this art neither for those who have never been comfortable with exercising this strategy. Nevertheless, with most upbeat about the gains that their indulgence in this move can spell for them, numerous interesting dramas may be expected to unfold in the coming days.
In fact, a beginning has already been made with recent bypolls having spelt a political shock for the BJP followed by command over Karnataka being virtually snatched from its hands and under its nose. Well, the BJP was certainly not prepared for these developments. The party was over-confident about its political value and that of socio-religious cards its members and associates have been trying their hands at. What a shock! Just towards the end of its term in power at the Centre, the BJP has learnt that its socio-economic investment — communal tension, inflation, etc — cannot always yield political returns desired by it. This also suggests that the importance given so far to Modi wave is gradually, but definitely beginning to deflate.
To a degree, the BJP has been outsmarted by the very political strategies that it had been substantially banking on till date to stay in the lead. It may be recalled, even though the BJP had won sufficient seats in 2014 parliamentary elections, the party chose to head the government by forming an alliance. The BJP probably did not want to take the risk of losing support of regional parties. The situation is totally different today. Quite a few regional parties are now apprehensive of aligning with the BJP. The Shiv Sena is just one of these. The BJP and, of course, its key leaders, particular Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are caught in a strange political situation. The BJP fears that the manner in which it has been out-smarted by the Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka may repeat itself at a larger scale during parliamentary polls.
It has taken a long time for the Congress to finally come to terms with the political reality that it cannot afford to ignore and/or sideline regional parties as well as local leaders. Doing this would only spell further weakening of its political standing. Though the Congress did not win Gujarat Assembly elections, it gave a strong fight to the BJP, with the latter winning lesser seats than last time. Had the Congress not fought those elections by reaching a political understanding with Hardik Patel, it may not have improved upon its earlier performance. With respect to Karnataka, undeniably both the Congress and JD(S) faltered by not aligning prior to polls. But they did not take long to correct this error soon after the results were announced. Herein, it may be noted, the Congress chose not to play a passive role. Had it, as suggested earlier, it would have only been equivalent to damaging its own political stature.
The notable change in political strategies being exercised by the Congress is certainly not being welcomed by the BJP. Ironically, the present scenario suggests that quite a few regional parties are banking more on aligning with the Congress than with the BJP for parliamentary elections. The explanation is not far to seek. There lurks the fear among regional parties and leaders that increase in BJP’s regional strength can prove damaging for their own hold in their respective domains. At present, the Congress does not pose this risk. Here, the Shiv Sena and that of JD(S)’ reluctance against aligning and/or entering some political understanding with the BJP stands out. Neither is keen to weaken its own base in Maharashtra and Karnataka, respectively.
Earlier, BJP’s limited importance was confined primarily to Hindi belt. Its attempts to move beyond this area have succeeded considerably. But the party’s success has also proved damaging for its rival parties in various states. Clearly, where UP is considered, the regional parties, particularly the SP and BSP fear the risk of being almost wiped out if the BJP manages to improve upon its earlier performance. They and other parties, including the Congress, are thus deliberating upon alignments, realignments and other political handshakes than lose their dominance in their respective areas.
Interestingly, regional leaders and parties keen to retain and/or increase the strength in their respective areas are least likely to be moved by whatever claims are made about Modi wave. Nevertheless, Mr Modi and his team are going overboard regarding achievements of their government. Their electoral campaign has begun with a new aggressiveness to convince people about Mr Modi’s success. Recent political shocks faced by the BJP have given them the message that they cannot afford to overestimate their party’s reach and that of Modi wave. Rahul Gandhi cannot yet be projected as a major political threat to Mr Modi. But he is also not viewed as a threat by anti-BJP regional parties in their domains. Keenness of the Congress to take advantage of this scenario may only complicate political situation further for Mr Modi and his party. The latter are caught in a strange political fix, fixing which may not be an easy task for them!
The writer is a senior journalist. She has come out with two books Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office