Earlier this week, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) became the 16th party to quit the National Democratic Alliance since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014. The AGP’s reason for leaving was its opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha Tuesday.
“We tried our level best to explain the negative effects of this bill in Assam, but the BJP left us with no choice but to leave the alliance by taking this bill forward,” said AGP president Atul Bora.
This latest exit has given rise to speculation that the NDA is facing trouble. However, Himanshu Dubey, the Uttar Pradesh spokesperson of the BJP, insists: “Whenever old allies leave, new ones join. The NDA doesn’t get weaker if a party leaves it. The coalition is in an even stronger position than before.”
Exodus began soon after Lok Sabha polls
The exodus of allies from the NDA had started in 2014 itself, when, just a few months after the Lok Sabha elections, the Haryana Janhit Congress quit before the state assembly elections. Party chief Kuldeep Bishnoi had alleged: “The BJP is a fraudulent party. It wants to finish regional parties.”
Another ally that left the fold that year was Tamil Nadu’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which broke ties with the NDA in December. Its chief Vaiko alleged that the BJP was working against Tamils.
Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which had lost all 14 seats it contested as part of the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls, left soon after, as did S. Ramadoss’s Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) — all before the 2016 Tamil Nadu assembly polls.
Telugu superstar Pawan Kalyan had campaigned heavily for the NDA in the general elections, but didn’t take long to get disenchanted, leaving the alliance with his Jana Sena Party.
In 2016, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Bolshevik) in Kerala also distanced itself from the NDA. Recently, tribal leader C.K. Janu’s Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha split, accusing the NDA of not fulfilling its promises to the tribal population of Kerala.
The next year, it was the turn of Maharashtra ally Swabhimani Paksha to leave. Party chief and MP Raju Shetti accused the BJP-led central government and state government of being anti-farmer.
Glut of exits in 2018
Last year, the spate of allies quitting the NDA began with Bihar’s Hindustan Awam Morcha. Its leader and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi had demanded a Rajya Sabha seat, and when he didn’t get it, left and joined the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led opposition alliance.
Then, during the assembly elections in Nagaland in February, the BJP lost one of its oldest allies. Thanks to its tie-up with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), the Naga People’s Front broke its 15-year alliance with the NDA.
In March, a big wicket fell in the form of the Telugu Desam Party, when party chief and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu’s long-standing demand for special status to his state wasn’t fulfilled. By the end of the year, the TDP was cozying up to the party it was formed to oppose, the Congress.
The same month, in West Bengal, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha withdrew its support to the NDA, claiming that the BJP had cheated the Gorkhas.
The aftermath of the Karnataka assembly polls saw the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party break its partnership with the BJP to join the post-poll JD(S)-Congress alliance.
By December, another ally had had enough, as the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party left the NDA fold and joined the UPA. While leaving, RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha said: “We were let down multiple times.”
Another party from Bihar, Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, followed the RLSP into the opposition fold. Sahni was considered close to Amit Shah.
In the midst of all these exits, there was just one caused by the BJP, and it was a significant one. In June 2018, BJP pulled out of its alliance with the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, engineering the fall of Mehbooba Mufti’s government. Later in the year, the PDP staked claim to form the government again with the support of arch-rival National Conference and the Congress, but Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the assembly instead.
Threatening to leave
There are also many NDA constituents who are unhappy with the BJP and have been threatening to leave. Prime among them is the BJP’s oldest ally, the Shiv Sena, which has been at loggerheads with it at the Centre and in Maharashtra for years now without severing ties. It is planning to go it alone in the general elections.
Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal (Sonelal), through its convenor and Union Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel, has warned the BJP to improve its attitude towards its partners.
Meanwhile, UP cabinet minister Om Prakash Rajbhar and his Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party are also disgruntled. The BJP had organised a rally in Ghazipur on 29 December in honour of Maharaja Suheldev, but the SBSP, which was founded to follow his principles, boycotted the rally.
Bihar’s Lok Janshakti Party is also mulling its options. Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag has indicated that it will be a “tough road ahead” if the NDA doesn’t address the issues of farmers and youth effectively.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party has also threatened that he has all options open to him, including quitting the NDA. The NPP is vehemently opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha Tuesday.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had contested with 28 parties, winning 282 seats on its own, while 22 allies won 54 seats. After the polls too, the NDA has welcomed many smaller parties into its fold — at its peak, the NDA had 42 constituents.
Political analyst Abhay Kumar Dubey says this exodus is down to parties hedging their bets for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
“Regional parties which supported the NDA are foreseeing a new political scenario for 2019. They feel there will no longer be a BJP wave, and that anti-BJP powers are going to soar this time,” he said.
“In Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time, the BJP had behaved very well with its allies. However, this dispensation hasn’t bothered to care much about them.”
Meanwhile, senior Lucknow-based journalist and analyst Mahendra Tiwari believes the allies that have not left the fold are playing pressure politics.
“The likes of Anupriya Patel and O.P. Rajbhar are playing pressure politics. They are demanding a price for staying in the alliance. But instead of persuading them, the BJP is trying to strengthen its voter base. Reservation for economically-backward upper castes is a part of it,” he said.