The question of local alliances will become fraught for the BJP in the coming years, as it tries to convert its dominance at the Centre into a series of State-level victories…As its own national worth augments, the BJP might decide to be more cautious with its local allies… Modi’s popularity continues to be immense, as is evident from the huge increase in its tally of seats won in Maharashtra and Haryana. But local allies have their own part to play…
Results from the two assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra indicate that the Bharatiya Janata Party continues to be the flavour of the month for Indian voters. It dominated the results in the four-way race in Maharashtra, and it won an absolute majority in Haryana. In Haryana, it has no grass-roots organisation that compares with its rivals, and it has always been a junior partner even when it has held power, so the party’s achievement in winning a majority is considerable.
That it made inroads in more urbanised areas in particular is a reminder that Narendra Modi’s personal popularity and media presence can substitute to an extent for party organisation. In Maharashtra, the BJP took a high-risk strategy, in an attempt to show long-term ally the Shiv Sena its place. Has it paid off? On the one hand, a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would easily have won a majority, further reducing the presence of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in the State of Maharashtra. On the other hand, the BJP has indeed demonstrated to the Shiv Sena that it cannot be treated as a junior partner any longer, as and when the alliance is resurrected after these results.
The question of local alliances will become fraught for the BJP in the coming years, as it tries to convert its dominance at the Centre into a series of State-level victories. The question that will trouble the BJP as it rises is a reflection of the one that haunted the Congress as it fell from dominance — how much must a dominant party concede to much smaller partners? In 2017, for example, the State of Punjab goes to the polls. The incumbent Government, a coalition between the Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal and the BJP, is relatively unpopular.
Given that, can the BJP demonstrate the same pre-poll aggression in negotiations with the SAD that it did in its dialogue with the Shiv Sena? Or can it assume that the taint of anti-incumbency will attach itself only to the Badals, and it can go it alone and do well enough? What of Bihar? The lesson of Maharashtra for the BJP surely is that the giant coalition of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress cannot be dismissed. Modi’s popularity continues to be immense, as is evident from the huge increase in its tally of seats won in Maharashtra and Haryana.
But local allies have their own part to play. Meanwhile, for the Congress, this should be a time for serious introspection. Maharashtra has been for long its strongest bastion. Unlike Andhra Pradesh, the State is not completely lost to it. But it will be, unless a major overhaul and reorientation of the party is undertaken — starting at the top.
The negotiations on Government formation in Maharashtra were closely watched, including by investors. Mumbai and coastal Maharashtra are the engines of Indian growth far more than any other part of the country. Post-poll alliances of opportunism may be unavoidable in general. But stability and a commitment to improving governance and investments to plug the infrastructure gap in Maharashtra must be an outcome of the negotiations.