As the Opposition parties step up to build a united platform against the ruling BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party has returned to kickstart talks with its erstwhile allies in a bid to breathe a new life into the NDA, even as the party has sought to firm up ties with its existing partners.
Its rout in the recent Karnataka Assembly polls coupled with the rapidly-changing political situation seems to have forced the BJP to shed its tough stance against ex-partners that walked out of the party-led NDA on a sour note. Clearly, the party is again looking to stitch up a formidable coalition for the next general election.
BJP sources said the party leadership has already resumed alliance talks with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. The BJP top brass has also reaffirmed the party’s ties with the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Also, it will soon meet and hold discussions with smaller allies in other states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, sources said.
In a recent meeting with the BJP Chief Ministers and Deputy CMs in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was said to have advised the BJP to be open to accommodate the regional parties by forging ties with them.
A number of BJP leaders have admitted that the exit of parties like the TDP, Uddhav Sena, SAD and JD(U) from the NDA over the years has given the party an image in public that it does not want to accept regional parties that are formidable forces in their respective states. Its friendly parties – the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh or the BJD in Odisha – had not been ready for a formal alliance while remaining unwilling to be a part of the party-led government at the Centre.
According to sources, the BJP leadership has decided to keep aside its disenchantment with the SAD, which quit the NDA over the now-repealed contentious farm laws, after evaluating the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll outcome.
The May by-election to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, a traditional Congress bastion, was won by the AAP with 34.1 per cent votes while the SAD and the BJP candidates, respectively, got 17.9 per cent and 15.2 per cent votes. “The fact that the votes won by the BJP and the SAD almost equalled the votes the winning AAP candidate got has made the leadership review its stance. The BJP is a party that drops hard or adamant positions if it is necessary for electoral wins,” said a party leader who is familiar with developments in the Punjab unit.
After its decimation in the Punjab polls last year, the SAD – it could win only three seats in the 117-member state Assembly – was keen on returning to the NDA fold, said the leader. The BJP had then fought the election in a coalition with smaller parties, including the ex-Congress CM Capt Amarinder Singh-led Punjab Lok Congress, managing to win only two seats.
Although the JD (S) was interested in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in the Karnataka elections, the BJP did not go for it in a “strategic move” to let the regional party keep its Vokkaliga-Muslim support base, according to BJP sources. However, the BJP was disappointed with the “surprising drop in its vote share” in the elections. “For the Lok Sabha elections, it makes sense for both the parties to forge a formal alliance as the JD(S) does not have much hope to regain its minority votes in the near future,” said a BJP leader.
Some recent statements from the JD(S) leaders, including ex-prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s praise for Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for his handling of the Balasore triple-train disaster, indicate that there could be a tie-up between the two parties for the 2024 polls. In the wake of the Congress’s spectacular victory in the state elections, the BJP is keen to consolidate the Vokkaliga votes in its favour, sources said.
The Karnataka lessons also appear to have pushed the BJP into resuming coalition talks with TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu. Although Naidu had made several attempts for a thaw in their ties earlier too, the BJP leadership was then reluctant, primarily due to vehement resistance from its state unit. Last week, however, Naidu met top BJP leaders, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party national president J P Nadda, with both sides apparently agreeing to work together in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
With several crucial state elections lined up later this year in which it will face off the Congress directly, the BJP’s current focus has turned to curbing the re-emergence of the Congress in these states.
While Naidu is keen on forging an alliance with the BJP to mount a bid to return to power in Andhra Pradesh by ousting the incumbent Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP from power, the BJP is looking to secure its position as the most potent alternative force in Telangana. In both these states, the BJP wants to restrict the Congress to a distant third position or push it to the margins.
After a hiatus in Maharashtra, the BJP leadership sent out fresh conciliatory signals to the Shinde Sena earlier this month, sources said. Both the allies share power in the state government led by CM Shinde, whose party has also been demanding berths in the Union Cabinet for its MPs who have extended support to the BJP in Parliament. Sources said fresh moves are afoot in the government to explore any possible changes in the Union Cabinet in order to create space for some alliance partners and new faces.
Shinde along with Deputy CM and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Shah earlier this week in the national capital, following which the CM announced that both the allies will contest all future elections in the state together. “During the meeting, it was decided that all future elections (including the Lok Sabha, Assembly and civic bodies) will be contested jointly by the Shiv Sena and BJP. We will contest and win the elections with a majority,” he tweeted.
The BJP is expected to launch fresh efforts to strengthen its ties with the Apna Dal in UP, even as it would explore partnership with other smaller parties in both UP and Bihar.