New Delhi: Not only is the decision of the Biju Janata Dal, or BJD, to snap ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a setback to the Hindu nationalist party’s poll fortunes and the prime ministerial aspirations of L.K. Advani, it is also a leg up for the third political alternative being cobbled by the Left.
Poll position: BJD chief and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik (Left) and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani.
A diminished BJP would now find it more difficult to resist pressure from its alliance partner in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), to settle for fewer parliamentary seats than what it had contested in 2004. Chief minister Nitish Kumar has put off any announcement on the seat sharing until after the festival of Holi on Wednesday.
On Sunday, a day after he ended the 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, the main opposition party at the Centre, Orissa chief minister and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik signalled that he was not averse to joining the so-called Third Front, the non-BJP, non-Congress political grouping.
The break-up came about five weeks before the nation heads for a five-phase general election spread over a month. The BJD is the latest in a string of political parties to exit from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which lost national power in 2004.
Responding to the rapidly altering political scenario, Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, politburo member Sitaram Yechury skipped the party’s two-day central committee meeting in New Delhi and headed for Bhubaneswar, the Orissa capital, to meet Patnaik.
“We are happy to hear the BJD’s decision,” CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said after the party’s central committee meeting on Sunday.
While a shocked BJP president Rajnath Singh blamed the BJD for breaking the alliance unilaterally, Brinda Karat, politburo member of the CPM, told NDTV 24X7 television channel on Sunday that the Left would back Patnaik in a confidence vote in the Orissa assembly.
“We couldn’t ever imagine that the BJP-BJD alliance will break down. We are meeting to chalk out the future course of action,” Singh said.
Patnaik announced the end of the alliance after final discussions with Rajya Sabha member Chandan Mitra, an emissary of Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, failed on Saturday.
The two parties had together contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1998, 1999 and 2004, winning a majority of the parliamentary seats in Orissa and two assembly elections in 2000 and 2004, forming successive coalition governments in the state. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the BJD won 12 seats and the BJP seven from the state, which elects 21 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
The relationship has, however, been strained after communal clashes broke out in the state and the BJP sought to up the ante. Riots broke out in Orissa’s Kandhamal district on 23 August, when armed assailants gunned down Swami Lakshamananda, a Hindu leader who had led a movement against Christian missionaries in the area. In reprisals that lasted several weeks, mobs torched Christian homes and churches, killing 38 and displacing thousands.
“I don’t want to go down in history with the stigma of a dirty communal politician,” a BJD leader quoted Patnaik as telling party representatives after the break-up of the alliance. “Orissa has never been a communally biased state. Nor has it witnessed the kind of violence the BJP has initiated in the past five years,” the same BJD leader said, declining to be identified.
Even as the relationship between the BJP and the BJD turned testy, various representatives of the Left stepped up contacts with Patnaik.
A senior CPM leader said Patnaik “is constantly in touch” with the Left parties.
“The fact that Patnaik chose to call it a day with the BJP over the latter’s communal character in the wake of violence in Kandhamal district in the state gives a clear indication that he wants to join hands with the secular forces,” the CPM leader added, declining to be identified.
The BJD on Sunday sought help from the Left parties, other fringe political groups and independent lawmakers ahead of a special assembly session on 11 March to seek a vote of confidence. It has 61 members in the assembly and requires the support of 13 more members of the legislative assembly, or MLAs, to win the vote.
Later in the day, Patnaik met governor M.C. Bhandare to claim the party had sufficient support. “I assure all of you that there are more than 74 MLAs with us,” Patnaik said.
The BJP has 30 members in the assembly, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, or JMM, four and the CPM and the Communist Party of India, or CPI, one each.
Another BJD leader said the party is confident of proving a majority in the state assembly, with the help of the Left and parties such as the JMM. “We have already decided to support the BJD in Orissa. However, we need formal approval from the central leadership”, JMM legislature party leader Bimal Lochan Das said.
Subrata Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Delhi’s department of political science, said the end of the alliance reflected misgivings in the NDA over Advani’s candidacy for the prime minister’s post.
“He is no Vajpayee,” said Mukherjee, referring to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was seen as the moderate face of the BJP. “His extreme posturing has made the NDA allies also uncomfortable. If the BJP wants to come to power, they should have a leader like Vajpayee.”
NDA vs UPA
The NDA, which lost power in the 2004 general elections, groups eight parties, including the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, or RLD, which joined it recently.
While the National Conference, or NC, left the NDA in 2002, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party exited the alliance following the Gujarat carnage in the same year.
Erstwhile allies from Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or MDMK, and Pattali Makkal Katchi, or PMK, joined hands with the Congress party in 2004.
The J. Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, which was part of the NDA during the 2004 elections, walked away after the polls in 2004. The Telugu Desam party withdrew from the alliance in 2005 and Trinamool Congress in 2007.
The 13-party United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress party, saw the exit of the Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, in June last year. The Left Front, which offered it outside support, pulled out in July protesting the government’s decision to go ahead with the civilian nuclear deal with the US.
PTI contributed to this story.