The BJP wants to demonstrate to its opponents that it does not lack political friends, even after being recently jilted by trusted ally JD-U, says Anita Katyal
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s recently-launched Mission 272+, to get that many seats in the Lok Sabha elections next year, is based on the premise that the party can get a working majority on its own.
But the saffron outfit is not taking any chances. It has started looking for prospective allies to expand the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The party has identified the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam as possible electoral partners.
“We will have three more allies before the next elections,” remarked a senior BJP leader.
This exercise has a two-fold objective.
Firstly, the BJP would like to shore up its numbers in the run-up to the next general election, as the party does not have a pan-Indian footprint.
Secondly, the BJP wants to demonstrate to its opponents that it does not lack political friends, even after being recently jilted by its trusted ally, the Janata Dal - United.
BJP insiders admitted that they would like to finalise these partnerships before the next general election so that the NDA is perceived as a viable alternative to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.
The UPA has consistently claimed that the saffron party will not be able to attract allies if Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is projected as its prime ministerial candidate.
“Modi is no (former prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee. It was primarily because of Vajpayee that the BJP was able to win over so many regional parties,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
The BJP maintains the three allies it has identified so far are pitted against the Congress in their respective states and have been members of the NDA in the past, making the task of winning them over easier.
The saffron outfit is not ruling out the possibility of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress supporting the NDA after the elections as Banerjee was also a partner in the NDA during Vajpayee’s regime.
While the party is looking out for possible allies, a senior leader said the BJP is forging ahead cautiously, as it does not want to show that it is desperate for alliances. Party strategists believe that once their campaign gathers momentum after formally nominating Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, regional parties will be more receptive to doing business with the BJP.
The BJP has already opened channels of communication with INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala and TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is also hopeful about repairing its strained relationship with the AGP.
In fact, Modi himself reached out to Naidu, in the course of his speech at a public rally in Hyderabad recently.
By its own admission, the BJP has virtually no presence in Andhra Pradesh. Its hopes of making inroads in Telangana by promising a separate state have been dashed after the Congress piped it to the post by agreeing to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
The party wants to benefit from the TDP’s voter base in Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra, in order to make an electoral dent in the southern state.
But the TDP is not doing particularly well itself, as it is facing a stiff challenge from the Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress.
Given this situation, Naidu is apparently not averse to a tie-up with the BJP, as he is hoping to cash in on Modi’s popularity among the middle classes and the youth. He is reportedly considering teaming up with the BJP after Modi managed to attract a huge crowd at his recent public rally in Hyderabad.
In fact, Naidu’s studied silence to Modi’s public offer of friendship has not gone unnoticed.
The former Andhra Pradesh chief minister is no stranger to the BJP as his party had extended crucial outside support to the NDA government.
Science and Technology Minister S Jaipal Reddy, a senior Congress leader from Andhra Pradesh, recently told rediff.com, “Unless some party like the TDP responds to Modi’s appeal, the BJP will not have a base either in Telangana or other regions of the state. Naidu cannot be trusted on this. He has, after all, been in the NDA earlier.”
Besides the TDP, the BJP would like to join hands with the INLD, another former NDA ally, in Haryana.
The INLD has a strong support base among the Jat community in the state. The BJP is virtually non-existent in Haryana but it can reap rich electoral dividends if it were to team up with Om Prakash Chautala’s party.
But veteran BJP leader L K Advani is not too keen on such an alliance, as he believes that the party’s much-hyped anti-graft campaign would seriously be undermined if it ties up with Chautala, who has been convicted on corruption charges.
Those in favour of this alliance have argued that the INLD’s voter base has not been affected even after its leaders were jailed for corruption, while its restless workers have remained loyal to their leaders.
However, Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay, both convicted on corruption charges, will not be eligible to contest the next elections, following the recent Supreme Court directive.
Although its relations with the AGP are strained, the BJP is hoping to undo the damage in the coming months. The two parties had an alliance during the last Lok Sabha and state assembly elections, but they fell out subsequently after several AGP leaders and workers crossed over to the BJP.
The tense relationship between the two is also attributed to the fact that upper-class Hindus comprise the voter base of both the AGP and the BJP. The AGP believes that it does not gain anything from an alliance with the BJP as the latter is not able to add any votes to the total kitty.
Much to the AGP’s chagrin, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the regional party won only one seat while the BJP managed to bag four.
While conceding that the AGP is in a poor shape currently, BJP leaders said they will nevertheless pursue an alliance with their former ally.
"The AGP may have only one Lok Sabha seat today. But this is about sending out a positive message and generating a momentum in our favour," remarked a senior BJP leader.
Image: BJP President Rajnath Singh with senior leader Arun Jaitley at a party rally ' Photograph: Courtesy: http://www.bjp.org/