This month, the Narendra Modi government will celebrate its ninth anniversary with customary fanfare, but the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) completing 25 years is one anniversary at the risk of going unnoticed. The NDA was formally launched on May 15, 1998, and was crucial to the BJP ruling at the Centre from 1998-2004. However, the initial enthusiasm of the BJP leadership towards allies in the aftermath of the 2014 win has diminished.
Saturday’s Karnataka assembly and bypolls results are a reminder to the BJP of the NDA’s relevance, feel some in the BJP. For hours after the party’s Karnataka loss, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said southern India was now “BJP mukt”.
On Sunday, BJP MP G V L Narasimha Rao criticised the ruling YSR Congress Party for the “anarchy” in the state. Addressing reporters in Visakhapatnam, Rao acknowledged Jana Sena Party (JSP) chief Pawan Kalyan’s call not to allow the anti-YSRCP votes to split in the next year’s assembly elections. The BJP and JSP are allies, as are the JSP and Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The TDP had stormed out of the NDA ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but has lately tried to mend bridges. Rao said his party’s central leadership would decide on other alliances, a reference to the TDP. RSS ideologue and former head of BJP intellectual cell R Balashankar told Business Standard that while a decision on allies is for the top leadership to take, the TDP or even the DMK, if they so want, should be welcomed to the fold.
“Many more parties are closer to the NDA than to the UPA, such as the Biju Janata Dal, until recently even the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the YSRCP,” he said. Balashankar conceded that some of the allies — the Akalis, Janata Dal (United) and a faction of the Shiv Sena — were no longer with the NDA. Still, the NDA has added more partners over the last quarter century. “The NDA is a spectacular success, with a government at the Centre for over 16 of 25 years and winning four of the six Lok Sabha elections since 1998,” Balashankar said.
The Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll result on Saturday reminded the BJP that it would struggle in Punjab without its former ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, despite such leaders as former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal and former Congress state unit chief Sunil Jakhar joining its ranks over the last 12 months. The BJP candidate secured 134,000 votes, and the SAD’s 154,000 votes, against the winning Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate’s 302,000 votes. A source said the difference between a united SAD-BJP vote share and AAP’s was an eminently surmountable one per cent.
However, SAD leader Naresh Gujral said his party is wary of the BJP. “The BJP needs to rebuild the trust deficit between itself and its former allies. They did not follow the coalition dharma, broke its tenets, and tried to usurp the political space or legislators of allies, like the Sena, JD(U) and SAD,” Gujral, who represented his party in the now-defunct NDA coordination committee, said.
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However, the Uttar Pradesh bypolls highlighted another facet of the NDA’s relevance. The Apna Dal (Soneylal) contested and won the two bypolls — Chhanbey in Mirzapur and Suar in Rampur — defeating Samajwadi Party candidates. In Suar, Union minister Anupriya Patel-led party fielded Shafeek Ahmed Ansari, who defeated SP’s Anuradha Chauhan on a seat considered a bastion of SP leader Azam Khan and a constituency the BJP, or its allies, had not won in over two decades. Patel credited the win to the people’s continued trust in the NDA. A source said since the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in UP in 2022, it can use its allies to show the community that its patronage reaches them and presents an inclusive image.
“It is not just about numbers. Sometimes coalitions and alliances have symbolic value,” said a leader of a party that severed its ties with the BJP in 2020.