The Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam Party are not the only Bharatiya Janata Party allies that are threatening to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance in the countdown to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Tensions are also growing between the BJP and the Janata Dal-United on the subject of seat-sharing in Bihar for the general elections.
The Shiv Sena, which shares power with the BJP in Maharashtra, was the first to raise the banner of revolt. It passed a resolution on January 23 declaring that it will not partner the BJP either in the Lok Sabha polls or in the Assembly elections in the state, also due in 2019. The resolution came as no surprise given the Shiv Sena’s frequent criticism of the BJP in the recent past.
Then, on Saturday, Telugu Desam Party chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu told media persons the alliance was in danger. Reacting to criticism of his party by BJP leaders in the state, he said, “We are still following mitra dharma with the BJP. I am controlling my party leaders despite severe criticism from local BJP leaders.”
The stance taken by these two parties may have presented the Janata Dal (United) with an opportunity to take advantage of the pressure on the BJP. The party had ended a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP in 2013, over the latter’s choice of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. But in July 2017, the Nitish Kumar-led party had walked out of a Mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress to partner the BJP once again.
The tremor in Bihar, a stronghold of the National Democratic Alliance, has been caused by the Janata Dal (United)’s demand for a “respectable share” of seats commensurate to its status. But the BJP is not willing to offer it more than nine of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, office-bearers of both parties said.
In the ruling alliance in the state, the Janata Dal (United) is the senior partner with 71 seats in the 243-member Assembly while the BJP has 52 seats.
Shah fails to meet Nitish
In the 2014 general elections, the Janata Dal (United) had put up candidates in 38 constituencies but won only two. The BJP and its allies – the Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party – had grabbed 31 seats. The remaining seven constituencies had gone to the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.
For the BJP, offering the Janata Dal (United) more than nine seats would mean parting with a large number of its own seats or diverting the seats held by its allies.
While still a part of the National Democratic Alliance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Janata Dal (United) had fielded candidates in 25 seats, leaving the remaining 15 to the BJP. A similar formula was adopted in the 2004 elections.
“It is this very issue that Nitish Kumar wanted to discuss with [BJP president] Amit Shah over a week back when he visited Delhi,” said a senior Janata Dal (United) leader, who did not wish to be identified. “But Shah was busy and could not spare time for him. As a result, Nitish Kumar had to return after discussing the issue with Ram Lal [BJP general secretary in charge of party organisation].”
Direct contest with Lalu’s party
For the Janata Dal United, what is even more problematic in the BJP’s seat-sharing formula is that the majority of seats on offer have a formidable presence of Muslim and Yadav voters – the core vote base of the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. While two of the seats (Purnia and Nalanda) are held by the Janata Dal (United), four (Araria, Madhepura, Bhagalpur and Banka) are with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, two (Supaul and Kishanganj) with the Congress and one (Katihar) with the Nationalist Congress Party.
For a party leading the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, the number of seats the BJP is offering is too small to be acceptable. However, it is too early to say whether Nitish Kumar will surrender unconditionally to the BJP or if he will turn another somersault and leave the alliance to try his luck independent of both the BJP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.