Why is BJP Dumping Allies & Who Could Be Next? Hint Lies in Data

Modi & Shah want ever Hindu to vote for BJP. Lowest hanging fruit are the Hindus voting for allies like Sena, JDU

6 min read
BJP has grown phenomenally under Narendra Modi & Amit Shah. Now its looking to expand at the expense of allies.

Three of BJP’s pre-poll allies for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are no longer allies of the party.

  • The Shiv Sena – BJP’s oldest ally and the largest one in terms of seats – quit the NDA earlier this week. BJP didn’t mollify the Sena even if it meant losing its chances of forming a government in India’s richest state Maharashtra.
  • The All Jharkhand Students’ Union is all set to contest the Jharkhand elections on its own as the BJP refused to meet its seat-sharing demands.
  • In July this year, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant dropped Goa Forward ministers from this Cabinet after several Congress MLAs joined the BJP. As a result, Goa Forward was virtually driven out of the NDA.

This is not all. The BJP has been sidelining several other NDA constituents. The BJP didn’t leave any space for the Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party in Jharkhand or for the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Haryana elections last month.

There are two key questions here:

  1. Why is the BJP now dumping or sidelining its allies one by one?
  2. Which ally could the next one to be eased out?

To understand this, one needs to look at the BJP’s own calculations.

The BJP secured a vote share of 37.8 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It contested 436 seats and its vote share in the seats it contested was around 47 percent.

It is difficult for the party to expand further at the same rate. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have proven to be more resilient to the BJP’s expansion efforts than it expected.

Due to its pro-Hindutva image and policies, the BJP is unlikely to make any significant gains among Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

Understanding these structural weaknesses is important as they may determine which allies end up surviving and which ones don’t.

Therefore, the only option for the party is to consolidate Hindu voters even further and the only way the party can do it is by eating into the votes of its allies.

BJP Reaching A Saturation Point Among Hindu Voters

According to the Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey, 36 percent of all Hindus voted for BJP in 2014. This increased to 44 percent in 2019. For BJP allies, the increase was smaller – from 7 percent to 8 percent respectively.

This increase was across caste lines.

Among upper caste Hindus, BJP’s vote share increased from 47 percent in 2014 to 52 percent in 2019. But the performance of its allies fell from 9 percent to 7 percent in this period. This indicates that the BJP’s dominance among upper caste Hindus didn’t extend to its allies.

A similar pattern could be seen among Hindu STs. BJP’s vote share increased from 37 percent to 44 percent while that of its allies reduced from 3 percent to 2 percent.

Among Hindu OBC’s, BJP’s vote share increased by 10 percentage points from 34 percent in 2014 to 44 percent in 2019. For its allies, the increase was 2 percentage points.

BJP’s support among Dalits also increased but it was nowhere near its dominance among Upper Castes and OBCs.

All in all, the BJP roughly got close to 50 percent of the non-Dalit Hindu vote.

In contrast to BJP’s rising dominance among Hindus, its vote share fell among Sikhs, remained stagnant among Muslims and increased only marginally among Christians.

The consolidation of Hindu votes for the BJP becomes even more clear if one looks at the data state-by-state.

According to the CSDS survey for 2019, the NDA got an overwhelming majority of Hindu votes in Assam (70 percent), Gujarat (67 percent), Karnataka (58 percent), Madhya Pradesh (60 percent), Rajasthan (63 percent), Uttar Pradesh (59 percent), West Bengal (57 percent), Delhi (66 percent) and Jharkhand (64 percent).

In all these states, the success almost entirely belonged to the BJP with other NDA constituents being minor, 1-2 seat players such as AJSU in Jharkhand, RLP in Rajasthan, Apna Dal in UP and AGP in Assam.

The only states where it had to rely on allies majorly were Bihar and Maharashtra. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, BJP and its allies both performed poorly.

The BJP calculation is to make every Hindu voter a default BJP voter. And the lowest hanging fruit in this direction are the Hindus voting for BJP’s allies.

The BJP’s decision to let the Sena go in Maharashtra needs to be seen in this light. With the Sena and BJP both being pro-Hindutva parties, their bases in Maharashtra are similar, though not identical.

The BJP would hope that if the Sena compromises on its ideology to form a government with ‘secular’ parties like Congress and NCP, it would be able to capture a major chunk of the Sena’s vote.

The same calculation determined the BJP’s decision to do away with Goa Forward in Goa and not concede to the AJSU’s demands in Jharkhand.

The Goa Forward mostly comprises former BJP and Congress leaders and its social base isn’t very different from that of the BJP. The same goes for the AJSU, which has its support among OBCs and Adivasis, sections where the BJP has been expanding tremendously.

Which Ally Could Be Next?

Which ally the BJP could sideline next depends a large extent on whose base it has the best chance of capturing.

Based on the party’s social base, BJP allies can be divided into broadly four categories.

1. Allies whose base is predominantly among non-Hindu communities

These include parties like the SAD in Punjab, NDPP in Nagaland and NPP in Meghalaya. With their base mainly among non-Hindu communities, there are limits to which BJP can eat into their vote base. Therefore they are the least vulnerable to the BJP’s expansion efforts.

Rather than fearing BJP’s expansion, parties like NDPP and NPP would be more wary of losing its supporters due to BJP’s pro-Hindutva policies such as the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill.

The case of the Akali Dal is a bit more complex. BJP has been trying to expand its base in Punjab, but Sikh voters remain mostly lukewarm towards it. However, the BJP has made it clear that in the 2022 Punjab polls it wants to contest more seats than the last few elections. It remains to be seen if the Akalis are willing to concede.

Regionalist Parties in States BJP is Weak

These include parties like AIADMK and PMK, which are from Tamil Nadu, a state where the BJP has traditionally been weak and continues to be weak. They are under little threat from BJP’s expansion plans. The only threat for them is if BJP dumps them and allies with rival parties from the same state.

Caste/Tribe-Based Parties

A number of BJP allies aren’t pan-state parties, instead they represent one caste group within one state. These include Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP with its base among Bihar’s Dusadh Dalits, Apna Dal (Sonelal) with its base among Kurmis of East UP, Hanuman Beniwal’s RLP which is popular among Jats of central Rajasthan, JJP which is dominated by Haryana’s Jats, BPF which represents Bodos, and RPI(Athawale) that has influence among neo-Buddhist Mahars in Maharashtra.

The BJP is traditionally weak among these communities and it allied with these parties to make up for it.

However, due to these alliances, the BJP has increased its acceptability among these sections. And given how BJP has expanded among OBCs, STs and SCs across India, these parties may become vulnerable to the BJP’s expansion some time in the near future, though not immediately.

Regional Parties in State BJP is Strong

While minorities may vote for these set of regional parties more than for the BJP, they are largely dependent on Hindu votes cutting across caste lines. The base of these parties is most vulnerable to being taken over by the BJP. Shiv Sena, AJSU and Goa Forward all belong to this category and this explains why their alliance with the BJP has broken down.

Among the present NDA allies, these include the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. Despite Amit Shah’s assurance that the NDA will fight the 2020 Bihar elections under Nitish Kumar’s leadership, the Bihar chief minister should consider himself lucky if the BJP sticks by its word.

The same goes for the AGP, which might have another break-up with the BJP if the latter brings the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

What has made matters worse for BJP allies is the Shiv Sena’s decision to pull the rug from under the BJP despite contesting as a pre-poll ally. Now, the BJP isn’t likely to trust many of its regional allies fearing that they may change sides after the respective Assembly elections.

The big picture here is that the BJP may end up becoming more and more reluctant about pre-poll alliances. It may prefer to maximise its own vote share and seats and arrive at post-poll arrangements wherever necessary.

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