During its inception, the BJP was a fledgling organisation that needed the support of other parties to come to power. Party veterans like LK Advani would often emphasise that no party is “untouchable” for the BJP. This led the BJP to even join hands with the Left parties in extending outside support to the VP Singh government in 1989, though the two were ideologically poles apart. Earlier, the BJP’s previous avatar, Jana Sangh, was part of the Janata Dal government after the Emergency.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee epitomised coalition dharma like no other politician when he headed a government constituted by 24 political parties. His acceptability among various political parties and his diplomatic charm ensured that ruffled feathers were soon smoothened. His close aide Jaswant Singh and NDA convenor George Fernandes kept the flock together. Singh was often pressed into service to deal with a difficult AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa.
The SAD and Shiv Sena were an integral part of the NDA over decades and the glue of ideological compatibility bound them together. The stature of SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal – who continues to treat even junior union ministers of the Narendra Modi government with respect – and Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray also contributed to the longevity of the alliance.
Among the old constituents of the NDA, the JD(U) was the first to have issues with the BJP. In 2010, JD(U) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar cancelled a dinner for BJP leaders in Patna owing to the presence of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, seen as a hard Hindutva face. Kumar feared his presence would scare away his minority support base. This became the reason for the JD(U) to part ways with the NDA in 2013 when the BJP declared Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.
Despite the Modi wave in the 2014 general election, the BJP gave ample space to its NDA partners. Though the BJP got a clear majority with 282 seats in the polls, its allies were given important portfolios.
However, the party’s growing ambitions in states has meant a shrinking space for its allies. After the demise of Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena had apprehensions that the BJP would gobble up its political space. There were enough indications from the electorate too as the BJP’s seat tally went up in Maharashtra. Uddhav Thackeray chose to join hands with old political adversaries Congress and NCP to keep the BJP in place.
Though the BJP is a minor party in Punjab, it did not need the SAD at the Centre. At the time of government formation in 2019, the SAD was kept at tenterhooks about a cabinet berth. SAD leader Sukhbir Badal has now been vocal about differences with the Modi government, saying allies were never consulted.
With a staggering 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, the BJP does not need allies. However, it is weak in several states. Parting ways with All Jharkhand Students’ Union may have been one reason for its defeat in the assembly polls. Similarly, in Punjab the BJP cannot go far with just the Hindu votes and would need the SAD.
The upcoming Bihar election will be the next test case for the NDA. The JD(U) is wary of BJP leaders who may try to polarise the electorate as they did in 2015. Amit Shah had said crackers will be burst in Pakistan if JD(U)-RJD coalition wins while Union minister Giriraj Singh said those who do not vote for the BJP should go to Pakistan.
The JD(U) had opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the legislation banning triple talaq. The BJP will have to tread cautiously and follow coalition dharma to avoid antagonising another NDA partner.
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