Caste alliances based on old politics might hurt Modi’s BJP

Caste alliances based on old politics might hurt Modi’s BJP

By M.D. Nalapat | 1 March, 2014
BJP leaders with Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan, his son Chirag Paswan and others after a meeting at Paswan’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI
However, a well-crafted alliance system can provide the tailwind needed for the Bharatiya Janata Party to cruise past the 220 seats to lead a stable government.

After 12 years, Ram Vilas Paswan has returned to the NDA, having left it after the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. The welter of parties and individuals who condemned the mob fury of those days meant that Paswan could not succeed in fashioning the Dalit-Muslim coalition which he thought was his ticket towards the Chief Ministership of Bihar, though why anyone in his senses would wish to be CM of Bihar is another question. Since his stand against L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra and his devotion to a monochromatic view of communal unrest — where the majority community is always guilty and the minorities eternally innocent — it is not Lalu Prasad Yadav that has had the first claim on sentiment, that intangible factor which drives a goodly part of the vote, not only of minorities, but of almost all voting blocs. The only time Lalu was less than an unmitigated disaster in matters of governance was after he came to Delhi bruised by the fodder scam. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav became a tad more nervous of taking controversial (or in other words, commercial) decisions after having been singed by CBI fire. Despite current CBI chief Ranjit Sinha apparently finding him guiltless in that scam, another officer refused to accept Sinha's verdict and continued with his enquiries. Officer U.N. Biswas, proved the undoing of Lalu, although it was his career that languished subsequently, while that of Ranjit Sinha prospered.

Errors in alliance politics, especially in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra Pradesh, were not the only factors behind the defeat of the NDA in 2004. The BJP's error in repeating almost all its 1999 list, even when many of the MPs had become unpopular during the past five years, played a huge role in the electoral rout, an error repeated by the party in 2009.

However, a well-crafted alliance system can provide the tailwind needed for the BJP to cruise past the 220 seats that the party needs if Prime Minister Modi is to lead a stable government. Hence, the importance of the choice of allies by the BJP. Because this columnist is a voter in Gurgaon, perhaps he may be excused for beginning with Haryana, a state where 80% of the population is non-Jat, but which has had Jat-centric administrations for long periods, whether under Bansi Lal or Devi Lal or Om Prakash Chautala or now, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Will the BJP opt for a deal with Chautala and thereby perpetuate a Jat-centric image when Assembly elections come this year, or will it follow the Devaraj Urs strategy of uniting all others rather than relying on the dominant caste? Urs unified Karnataka's backward castes, dalits and minorities who were chafing at the dominance of Lingayats and Vokkaligas, and swept the polls. Allowing the Jat vote to get divided by Hooda and Chautala and fighting the election on a "Justice to All" platform rather than a Chautala-based Jat-centric platform would be a repeat of the Devaraj Urs strategy, this time by the BJP, and most likely repeat the success of the crafty southern politician.

What about Andhra Pradesh? Although conventional wisdom holds that the TDP is the best ally of the BJP, in fact that party may be a liability not only in the Telangana region (where it is toxic) but in Seemandhra. This is because of the caste connotation linked to the TDP, a party which puts off several groups powerfully attracted to Modi's message. In a multi-cornered contest, with Kiran Reddy, Jagan Reddy, Congress, BJP, TRS and TDP slugging it out by themselves, the 25% vote of undiluted Modi fans in AP may prove decisive in more than 10 seats across the state, while even the TRS may be willing to come to a post-poll agreement with the BJP, because of the saffron party's backing for the new state.

As for Tamil Nadu, while most speak of arithmetic, it needs to be remembered that there are both pluses and minuses. Both the MDMK's Vaiko as well as the PMK's Ramadoss are toxic to several pro-Modi voting blocs in Tamil Nadu, and will take away as many or more votes from the BJP as they would add to the saffron party. Alliances which dilute the Modi message of good governance or are based purely on caste logic may in some states hurt rather than help a Modi-fying BJP, which by the way, seems under Rajnath Singh to be changing to the Bharatiya Sarkari Janata Party, given the number of retired babus now flocking to it. To win the 220-plus seats its new leader needs, the party will need to show the electorate that it will not, via openly "Old Politics" alliances, sacrifice its future by binding itself to relics of a discredited past.

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