3 Reasons Why the BJP Hug Has Become Too Tight for the Regional Parties
Chandrababu Naidu moves away
NEW DELHI: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has been straining at the NDA leash for a while now. And can be expected to snap ties with the BJP altogether with the resignation by his two ministers from the Union Council of Ministers a serious move in that direction.
The first indication of a strain in the BJP-TDP relationship as reported in The Citizen at the time was the decision to go along with the rest of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in voting against the government's Triple Talaq Bill and insisting it be referred to a parliamentary committee. This had come as a surprise to even the Opposition parties in Parliament at the time as there had been little in preceding months to suggest TDP disaffection.
The second was Naidu’s little tantrum over the Union Budget where he said that Andhra Pradesh had been neglected, despite his many requests and meetings with the PM. He spoke out publicly against the betrayal leading the BJP to ‘repair’ the damage with specific announcements that seemed to have bridged the gap, or so it was presumed.
The third demand, however, has followed immediately after with Naidu urging the BJP to move on its promise for a special status for Andhra Pradesh, This led Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to state that this will not be possible following which the two Ministers resigned. The BJP responded with the resignations of its Ministers in the Andhra Pradesh cabinet as per directions by the party president Amit Shah.
"I went to Delhi 29 times, met Prime Minister and Central Ministers and requested them to fulfil our demands.When the intended purpose (of joining the Union Cabinet) has not been served, there is no point in continuing. For me the sole agenda is to safeguard the interests of the state,” Naidu said. He also maintained that the PM had not spoken to him despite a request, after which the two did have a telephone conversation Thursday evening but were unable to break the stalemate. At least for now. However, Naidu has announced that he is still part of the NDA alliance with his 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha and four in the Rajya Sabha.
However YS Chowdary, who resigned as the Minister of State for Science and Technology, along with Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju, regretted that "the major emotional and sentimental issue of special status for Andhra Pradesh was not addressed.”
Naidu is merely reflecting a strong unease that has gripped the regional parties since Janata Dal(U) Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar joined the BJP. As an opposition leader said that far from allaying these fears, the ease with which the BJP was able to win over Kumar despite the massive mandate against it, had demonstrated its ability to break the federal system. Its rapid growth in the states since, and the marginalisation of parties in alliance as well as in Opposition was “worrying.” More so as the regional parties had fought against the hegemony of the Congress to gain their spot in the sun in 1978 briefly, and since 1989 more consistently, and are now visibly worried about their future with the expansion of the BJP that is seen as more ruthless than the Congress.
The Shiv Sena, a BJP partner in Maharashtra, has been acting like a hard boiled Opposition party, with the initial barbs turning into full fledged tirade against its larger ally. Uddhav Thackeray has taken a decision to oppose the BJP, short of going completely asunder, in a bid to a) highlight its status as an independent entity to the voters; and b) keep the larger party in check (or so it hopes).
The same unease is visible in Tamil Nadu where the BJP has been trying to firm some sort of an alliance, with the AIADMK and DMK both hesitant to bite the bullet. Regional sentiments in Tamil Nadu have been stoked against the BJP, seen as a North Indian, Hindi party. Even the seemingly pliable section of the AIADMK seems to be hesitant to take the plunge with Kamal Haasan who might or might not succeed in the long innings, definitely managing to shift goalposts further from the BJP in this sensitive state.
The slumbering Biju Janata Dal seems to have woken up with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik indicating uneasiness that is threateningt to split his party over an alliance with the BJP. But Patnaik who is not particularly worried about the Constitution and democracy, is definitely worried about his party being swallowed by the BJP in Odisha and now before the polls is looking for alliances that could stave off this threat. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has responded, and is currently in discussion with other regional parties to form an alternative alliance. She, in particular, has seen the BJP expand in West Bengal and while she remains the reigning queen, is astute enough to realise that this position is under threat.
The Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir caught in a vice of its own making, is now finding the alliance with the BJP suicidal. The recent incidents involving the Army and civilians in the state has the PDP fretting about its existence, with the normally reticent and servile Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti being compelled by ground pressure to respond to the killings of civilians in the state. As a Congress leader from the state said, “she is damned if she does (leave the BJP) and damned if she does not, but she will have to make a choice now if she is to survive at all.”
The Akali Dal in Punjab has not been particularly enthusiastic in supporting the BJP these days. And has brought in a distance without being actively hostile, like the Shiv Sena. However, the Akali Dal has warned the BJP about handling its NDA allies with respect in what many see as a warning to the party.
Opposition MPs agreed on 3 main reasons why the regional parties are reacting now against the BJP on the eve of state and general elections:
1. The aggressive expansion of the BJP makes the regional groups insecure. Most of the regional parties--UP,Bihar,West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab,Haryana,Maharashtra---have emerged out of a struggle against Congress hegemony The going has not been easy, and despite the targeting and the initially hostile environment the regional satraps managed to make a dent in favour of a federal system answering local aspirations.They sense a similar danger to their existence from the BJP which has changed its colours in four years seemingly accommodating to brazenly arrogant, ruthless.
2. The alliances have favoured the BJP. In all states, where it has been in alliance. In Maharashtra it has reduced the Shiv Sena in size and reach; in Jammu and Kashmir it is in complete control; in Punjab it was becoming increasingly dismissive of the Akali Dal; in Bihar, it has reduced Nitish Kumar to a shadow of his former self. And the leaders remaining in power sense the growth, and like Naidu are looking now to close doors just as in 2014 they were rushing to open these.
3. In the South there is real worry about what is seen as the Hindi heartland party with its aggressive posturings creating worry amongst sections of voters. In Tamil Nadu the recent pulling down of the Periyar statue has created a storm of protest, and further distanced the regional parties from the BJP. Significantly, in the North East the BJP’s reputation kept the voters wary in Nagaland as the results show. And now even before government was formed in Tripura, the Indigenous Tribal Peoples Front has protested against its new ally’s non support for a separate state that was its main plank in the elections. Even if this is settled now, it will raise its head in the months to come.
But the BJP too does not seem to be in a mood to accommodate the regional groupings beyond a point any longer. Or at least is giving that impression, hoping to mute the vagaries of regionalism with all bugles blaring in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.