Bihar alliance shows the BJP’s unilateralist approach is changing
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pact with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has cemented the wider National Democratic Alliance (NDA) equation in Bihar. The BJP has already arrived at an equal seat sharing pact with the third constituent of the alliance, chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). With a wide Mahagatbandhan (grand alliance), led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), on the other side, the contest in Bihar now promises to be intense. But beyond Bihar, the BJP-LJP pact also reflects a perceptible shift in the manner in which the national party is now approaching the 2019 elections.
Riding on an overwhelming majority of its own in the 2014 elections and victory in successive state elections since then, the BJP had little need for allies and partners. It had a legislative majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. Its governance model rested on the centrality of the Prime Minister’s Office, which left little autonomy for ministers from other parties who were a part of the NDA. And given its political dominance, the party encroached on the space of its partners and often had the upper hand in all seat-sharing negotiations in the run up to elections. This led to murmurs of discontent among allies. Some like the Shiv Sena have been vocal. Others like the Akali Dal have been unhappy but relatively muted in their criticism. Some erstwhile partners like N Chandrababu Naidu and, most recently, Upendra Kushwaha, have walked out.
But the BJP’s unilateralist approach is changing somewhat . The party has increasingly come to recognise that winning an outright majority yet again in 2019 will be difficult. Recent state assembly elections have reinforced this sense. It will need both pre-poll allies and post-poll allies at a time when the Opposition is focused on stitching state-specific alliances to take on the BJP. It is this calculation which has led Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to recalibrate their stand. Conceding an equal number of seats to Nitish Kumar and quickly stepping in to bring an increasingly unhappy Paswan into the fold reflect this. Only an inclusive NDA — which has the BJP in a senior role as the anchor but not as hegemonic partner — can help the party deal with the Opposition challenge.