BJP crunch time as partners bolt

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the leader of the pack begins to appear frail, the followers lose confidence and start looking elsewhere for strength. That is as much true of the jungle as it is outside. Smarting under successive defeats, the BJP now realises that its chickens are now coming home to roost. NDA partners are deserting the BJP one by one as they realise that invincibility is no longer an attribute of the saffron party they had benefited from while fighting the 2014 elections together. Some of them even consider association with the BJP a karmic burden they will be made to atone for, going forward to the 2019 General Elections.

The first to raise the banner of revolt was the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s staunchest ally of over two decades, which announced halfway through the Modi tenure that it was parting ways and, henceforth, would go it alone. The extent to which relations soured can be gauged by the fact that Shiv Sena now considers the BJP its biggest enemy. In fact, in the just-concluded Lok Sabha by-elections, the Shiv Sena and BJP fought each other and Big Brother barely scraped through, salvaging some prestige by winning in Palghar. In a love-hate relationship, however, anything can happen and BJP president Amit Shah has already embarked on a mission to bring about a rapprochement.

Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has had a similar stormy relationship with the BJP, and recently quit the NDA in protest against the alliance leaders’ high-handedness. The TDP, which was the NDA’s only alliance partner of some consequence in the South, has, since, turned into a bitter foe. With Akali Dal leaders mounting a vociferous attack on Narendra Modi, there has been much speculation about the party’s continued presence in the NDA, although the BJP is learnt to be keen to keep the Akalis in good humour.

It now seems to be the turn of Bihar strongman Nitish Kumar to demand his pound of flesh. Nitish is known to possess an uncanny knack for predicting which way the political wind is blowing. And he has made full use of such faculty to get into and out of alliances. For a man who has dominated Bihar politics for two decades by pillion-riding on the strength of others, this may be another defining moment and, perhaps, nobody knows it better than Nitish babu. He has already put his cards on the table by unilaterally announcing that, for the 2019 elections, he would be the face of the alliance in Bihar.

Nitish Kumar is well aware of the gamble he is getting into. He knows he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Through his recent actions, including his criticism of demonetisation and renewed demand for special status to Bihar, he has kept the door wide open.