HAVING SWIFTLY cobbled together key alliances with regional parties and seat-sharing arrangements with smaller groups, the ruling BJP appears more confident than before in the final run-up to the 2019 general elections that were announced on Sunday.
Despite bickering and discontent among allies in the NDA, the ruling party has exhibited more alacrity than the Opposition’s grand alliance, even swallowing its pride to finalise tie-ups with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. As late as Friday, the party locked an alliance with the All Jharkhand Student’s Union (AJSU) in Jharkhand.
On Friday, at its Parliamentary board meeting, the party’s top leadership was “very particular that winnability should be the only criteria”, said sources. “The party is likely to sacrifice many of its policies, like denying seats for those over 75 and its aversion to dynasty politics, to ensure winnable candidates,” said a leader.
After riding to power on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 282 of the 543 seats in 2014, leaders said the BJP’s prospects are bright this time while admitting that the anti-incumbency factor at a local level could pose challenges. More so, after the defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh infused fresh confidence in the Congress-led Opposition.
BJP leaders, including MPs from UP and MP, claimed that their chances have become stronger after national security became a significant part of the political discourse following the Pulwama terror attack and the airstrike in Pakistan’s Balakot.
At the same time, sources said, the party has realised that it has saturated its electoral gains in the Hindi heartland states in 2014, and will work hard in the southern coastal states and the Northeast.
That, however, may not be an easy task, with the uproar over the Citizenship Amendment bill (CAB) resulting in allies AGP in Assam and UDP in Meghalaya pulling out, and the souring of ties with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which helped the BJP win the Darjeeling seat. The silver lining, though, is the new alliance with Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, the Opposition party in the state.
Besides, TMC-ruled West Bengal continues to pose a tough challenge.
In the south, where the party failed to make an impact in the last five years, it is banking on strong alliances.
The AIADMK remains apprehensive about anti-incumbency, but the BJP has forged an alliance with the Ramadoss-led PMK and Vijayakanth’s DMDK. The PMK has strong pockets in northern Tamil Nadu among the Vanniyar community, and the DMDK has a strong cadre base in districts like Thiruvallur, Salem and Tirupur.
According to sources, the party is also confident that the TRS in Telangana and YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh would remain “friendly” if the NDA requires more numbers. The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD has not been ruled out as a possible supporter, either, another leader said.
As for its key poll plank, the BJP has asked its leaders to bring national security to the centrestage of the campaign discourse. The party hopes that the Balakot airstrike and the quick return of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman will play in its favour. The party’s media faces have also been asked to focus on “economic development and effective delivery mechanism”, sources said.
On Sunday, immediately after the poll dates were declared, BJP president Amit Shah urged the voters to “bless” the BJP. Among a series of his tweets on welfare programmes and economic reforms was this: “Our nation is no longer helpless in the wake of terror attacks. Any force attempting to disturb peace and harmony is being given a befitting response. This is New India.”
And yet, the key to the BJP’s fortunes could lie in some of its alliances in key states.
Despite vehement criticism from the Shiv Sena, the BJP agreed to give 23 seats to its partner since 1995. That tie-up also helped the party dilute the criticism that its new leadership did not know how to deal with coalitions following the exit of TDP, PDP and RLSP.
In UP, facing a formidable coalition of SP and BSP, the BJP mollified disgruntled allies Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.
In Bihar, it has already sealed a seat-sharing deal JD(U) and LJP — each will contest 17 seats, with the remaining six going to Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP.