To understand the BJP’s rapid political moves across India, think back to 1996. That year sagging under the weight of a raft of corruption, scandals and internal defections, the incumbent Congress went to polls weakened. This allowed the BJP to vault into pole position, becoming for the first time the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha. With unprecedented success, Atal Behari Vajpayee took oath as Prime Minister but quickly found that navigating the quicksand of coalition politics was far trickier than the heat and dust of the campaign trail. For 13 days, the party hunted for allies to push it pass the majority mark but to no avail, eventually forcing Vajpayee to resign.
By the time United Front Government, formed soon after, wobbled two years later, the party had learnt its lesson. Though the 1998 elections only gave it 20-odd seats more, it stitched together a coalition, the NDA that the opposition was unable to match electorally or politically. And though allies had a substantially say in the NDA between 1998 and 2004, it ensured a stable non-Congress government (of course with one blip, when Vajpayee government fell by a single vote in 1999, due to tactics of Jayalalithaa) for the first time since independence.
Think also back to 2004. That year riding high on a string of policy successes and positive rating of the PM, the BJP called for early general elections.
BJP ignored quiet moves by the Congress—having slumped to its tally lowest in half a century—that painstakingly stitched together seat sharing arrangement in state after state. It emerged that feedback from the ground was either flawed or was inadequately addressed. When the results were announced, after 2004 Lok Sabha elections the Congress was able to spring a double surprise—not only did it do much better than what was expected, but it was also able to leverage its pre-poll legwork into establishing a stable majority coalition, the United Progressive Alliance.
The contrasting examples of these two general elections proved to the BJP the importance of grassroots and coalition building—two connected and intertwined concepts that are driving the party’s current push to recruit allies and expand its footprint across India.
Sample this—in the past week, the BJP engineered a split in Maharashtra’s the Nationalist Congress Party, made overtures to lure the Janata Dal (secular) into the NDA, reached out to Samajwadi Party (SP) ally Om Prakash Rajbhar in U.P, inducted Hindustan Awam Morcha into the NDA, and set off tasks about instability within Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United). And, it is in talks to get back into the alliance two big parties that it had a bitter falling out with—the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab and the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. Even in Telangana, which goes to polls later this year, there is a buzz that Bharat Rashtra Samiti may keep its distance from the Opposition grouping and keep channels of communication open with the BJP.
Note that these efforts are not limited to regions where the BJP is unsure of its prospects. It includes UP — where the party is in a comfortable position, with the SP struggling to expand its social coalition and the BSP a shadow of its former self, but continues to focus on the eastern districts with two existing allies and a third in the works, to keep backward communities in its fold— and Maharashtra, where it appears unsure about the prospects of the new Shiv Sena and may be hoping to tide over possible losses with Ajit Pawar who has an established base in western Maharashtra. And, it includes Punjab where protests around farm laws forced the BJP out of state politics and cost it its oldest ally, the SAD, only for the party to now try and claw its way back – and Andhra Pradesh where the party has little presence and has held a transactional relationship with the ruling YSR Congress party.
All these moves made by BJP to bring new allies into NDA prove that the BJP leadership has taken up very seriously the challenge from the united opposition in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah will be doing their best to expand the network of NDA to the maximum extent possible covering all the states before the Lok Sabha elections. (IPA Service)