Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

How BJP’s game of alliances trumped the opposition’s mahagathbandhan

  • While the NDA warded off the mahagathbandhan challenge in UP emphatically, it turned the identity politics of caste arithmetic in Bihar on its head
  • BJP won 79 seats in the two states which together send 120 representatives to the Lok Sabha

PATNA: The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition’s emphatic win in the 17th Lok Sabha elections was paved by its strong performance in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where it trumped regional alliances.

The BJP won 79 seats in the two states which together send 120 representatives to the Lok Sabha.

The party’s ability to retain its alliance partners also yielded handsome wins in states such as Maharashtra and Assam where it was earlier at loggerheads with alliance partners such as Asom Gana Parishad and Shiv Sena.

The BJP also aligned with regional outfits in the North-East and has remained a part of the North-East Democratic Alliance. Also, the Akali Dal-BJP combine didn’t fare very well in Punjab.

Votes to opposition candidates, especially in key states such as UP and Delhi, were split in a three-way contest. The opposition’s failure to stitch together alliances handed an advantage to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Congress also wasn’t able to form alliances in key states due to delayed decision-making and opposition from within the party.

The Congress seemed undecided in Delhi for a long time, after which the Aam Aadmi Party fought all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi.

The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance also floundered in Karnataka. In one of the few bright spots for the Congress, the alliance of the grand old party and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was ahead in Tamil Nadu, with the alliance leading in 31 of the 39 seats.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam allied with the Congress and seven other parties while the BJP allied with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to get a foothold in the southern state where the saffron party has little presence.

The DMK made a strong comeback in Tamil Nadu after it was wiped out by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 2014.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by the late J. Jayalalithaa in 2014, had won 37 out of the 39 seats while the BJP and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) won a seat each. Tamil Nadu is one of the few states where the BJP and Modi were unsuccessful.

“The last time people believed and voted for Modi sarkar. They have shown their trust this time and voted for Modi sarkar. They have voted filled with trust that this government will look after them and take care of them," petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said over the phone.

While the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) took on the Bharatiya Janata Party and Apna Dal combine in Uttar Pradesh and lost, Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats saw the rainbow alliance of opposition parties—Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), and Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP)—also faring badly.

“The BJP’s vote has come because of macho nationalism narrative built by them which couldn’t be countered by the Congress and its partners," said a Bihar state government official.

The expectation of a keenly contested election in the two states turned out to be a damp squib.

While BJP warded off the mahagathbandhan challenge in Uttar Pradesh emphatically, the BJP-Janata Dal (United) won 16 Lok Sabha seats each in Bihar. It turned the identity politics of caste arithmetic on its head on which the heartland’s elections have been fought over the years.

“It was about striking the right alliances. The BJP was able to keep its alliance partners together except for Telugu Desam Party (TDP), even at the cost of giving larger number of seats to allies in states such as Bihar," said Sandeep Mahapatra, the only right-wing president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU).

“The problem with the mahagathbandhan was it neither chose the right candidate nor did it have people at the booth level," said Nandesh, 32, who originally belongs to Begusarai referring to the superior organizational skills of the BJP.

In the 2015 Bihar assembly polls, BJP fought against a Congress-RJD-JD(U) combine and fared badly.

In 2017, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar switched side to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance ousting the Congress-RJD combine. Seized of the importance of an alliance in the state, the BJP took a step back in Bihar’s seat-sharing arrangement to accommodate two of its key allies, the JD(U), led by chief minister Nitish Kumar and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan.

“I have voted for kamal (Lotus) as Modiji has worked for the country. Earlier leaders only paid lip services to the soldiers. Modiji has avenged what was done to our soldiers in Kashmir. He has also worked for the farmers by starting PM-Kisan," said Dilip Kumar, 28, a resident of Madhubani.

The BJP and the JD(U) contested 17 seats each, while the Lok Janshakti Party contested six out of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP alliance won 64 seats as compared to 15 seats bagged by the mahagathbandhan.

“An ally such as Shiv Sena which was at loggerheads with the BJP for the last five years in the larger interest came together. To keep the alliance intact, the BJP sacrificed their interests in the short term, but in the long run it is BJP that has gained. People across caste lines have voted for BJP. Schemes such as Saubhagya and Ujjwala helped BJP’s appeal cut across caste lines and that’s the reason why BJP has done so well in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar," added Mahapatra, who is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

While the BJP-led NDA gave more tickets to upper castes as well as other and extremely backward classes in Bihar, apart from Yadavs, the mahagatbandhan focussed on smaller groups through caste leaders like Upendra Kushwaha, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahani.

“For mahagathbandan it was bemann kee shehnai (there was no interest in the process)," said Anjum Hasan, 40, a school teacher.

With the Rashtriya Janata Dal winning no seats from Bihar, the 17th Lok Sabha results may also lead to the end of the Lalu era.

Lalu Prasad, RJD president and former chief minister, is now serving a jail sentence in Ranchi. The infighting within his family has added to the party’s woes.

The kingmaker who dominated the state and national politics for close to two decades was jailed for his involvement in the 950 crore fodder scam.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal contested 20 seats this election as part of the mahagathbandhan.

The SP-BSP-RLD combine fared badly in UP with BSP, SP and RLD winning 11, five and one seats, respectively.

Anupriya Patel-led Apna Dal won two seats and the BJP bagged 62 seats in the state. The BJP’s triumph continued in Maharashtra, where the party and ally Shiv Sena (18) won 41 out of 48 seats.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s eastern march continued with the party winning 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand with all AJSU (All Jharkhand Students Union) (one seat). The Bharatiya Janata Party also won 9 out of the 14 seats in Assam.


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