Sandhya Jain is a political analyst and independent researcher. She is the author of ‘Adi Deo Arya Devata- A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface’ (Rupa & Co., 2004) and ‘Evangelical Intrusions. Tripura: A Case Study’ (Rupa & Co., 2009).
Narendra Modi’s stunning outreach to the political parties that refused to join the NDA coalition, first broadly hinted at in a television interview on May 9, and reiterated on May 12 after the near unanimity among pollsters and analysts of a certain BJP victory, reflects his sagacity and farsightedness. The development of the eastern parts of the country – a mega theme of his eight month long campaign – will require mutual cooperation between the Centre and the States under non-BJP regimes. By magnanimously proclaiming an open door policy towards recent bitter rivals on the campaign trail, he has made it clear that the shrill rhetoric of electioneering will not stand in the way of States getting their legitimate due under his rule.
By thus placing the entire nation under his protective wings, Narendra Modi has diplomatically de-motivated non-NDA parties from adopting a confrontationist, anti-BJP posture at the start of his regime. This feat of reverse political engineering will doubtless scuttle the emergence of an anti-NDA conglomeration in the Parliament under the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The fact that the 2014 Lok Sabha election is likely to decimate the Left parties even further will doubtless facilitate this task.
Indeed, the strategy is already beginning to bear fruit, with the Biju Janata Dal’s chief whip Parvat Tripathy indicating willingness to extend conditional support to the NDA in the interests of the State and the nation. The BJD, he has said, will support the NDA if it grants special category status to Odisha. Another demand is that Odisha should not be adversely affected by the Polavaram multi-purpose project in Andhra Pradesh (the project Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopted for the Centre during the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, which was supported by the BJP).
The BJP also got a shot in the arm when the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), that is part of the UPA and is also in coalition with the Congress in Maharashtra, hinted that it favoured “a strong and stable Government at the Centre”. The NCP has been chafing under the Congress yoke for some time and while it may not walk out of the Maharashtra coalition till the Assembly election due in October, it has indicated that it will not join a Congress-led anti-NDA alliance at the Centre.
The BJP overture could not have been more timely as Sonia Gandhi has reportedly already sent urgent appeals to BSP leader Mayawati, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to be ready to join hands in the event of the results throwing up the slightest chance of forming a non BJP-led Government at the Centre. Sonia Gandhi is said to have personally reached out to Mamata Banerjee around the time Narendra Modi descended on Amethi and put Rahul Gandhi’s election in peril, while senior party leaders have always been in regular touch with the BSP and SP leaders.
Although, the Congress heir apparent recently asserted that the party will not back a Third Front if it does not have the numbers to lead a Government, it is the Congress president who will have the last word on the subject. As of now, the electoral mathematics does not support a workable alternative to the BJP, but the exercise shows that Sonia Gandhi is not one to let grass grow under her feet. Hence, Narendra Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah have done well to be the first on the draw in this round.
Neither Mamata Banerjee nor Mayawati have so far responded to the Congress overtures. While Mulayam Singh Yadav has been saying that he would support the Congress to keep the BJP out, it is pertinent that at Amethi, Narendra Modi said that he was confident that if he brought any development scheme to the area, the Government in Lucknow and the local SP and BSP MLAs would chip in to make it a success. The SP, therefore, may decide that discretion is the better part of valour.
Further, the BJP’s open door policy is a double-edged sword. By repeatedly telling the people that he believes in development without discrimination, Narendra Modi has placed the onus of failure to respond to his gestures on the non-BJP State Governments, MPs and MLAs. In the current environment, leaders who abandon the development plank for the ephemeral goal of joining an anti-BJP formation could be taking a ticket to nowhere.
Meanwhile, not taking any chances, the top BJP leadership is fine-tuning its strategy to ensure that the Congress does not emerge as the pivot of an anti-BJP formation in the Parliament. In view of the BJD feelers, the BJP will soon send a senior leader to speak to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who fought the elections by poaching on the local Congress leadership and studiously refrained from anti-BJP rhetoric. A former NDA partner, who was in coalition with the BJP in Odisha before he abandoned the party in 2009, Patnaik quietly resisted overtures to join a putative Third Front earlier this year. Once the results of the State Assembly poll (held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election) are out, the Biju Janata Dal leader will take a call on remaining neutral but friendly, or formally joining the NDA coalition.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa may also opt for neutrality vis-à-vis the Centre, rather than support a declining Congress.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker and former NCP leader, PA Sangma has already visited Gandhinagar and met Narendra Modi along with his daughter, Agatha Sangma. In the event of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti doing well in the new State, it too, may opt for non-confrontation with the regime at the Centre. This would equally apply to YS Jaganmohan Reddy, if he emerges as the Chief Minister of Seemandhra, though analysts predict victory for the TDP-BJP combine.
Observers recall that despite making pointed attacks on Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa during his rallies, Narendra Modi had maintained during interviews that election speeches do not shut the door on post-poll alliances. “This can also be a strategy to keep the door open,” he said enigmatically in an interview, promising to say more after May 12.
Accordingly, after polling ended, the BJP leaders asserted that they expect the NDA to win a clear majority but are willing to accept support from any party wishing to work for development. In fact, Narendra Modi has often stated during interviews that he valued even single-member parties. This approach could pay dividends in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling party will need support to pass key legislations.