RS Dy Chairman Election: Nothing More Than an Ego Kick for BJP?
This week’s contest in the Upper House over the quite inconsequential and normally uncontested post of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman is yet another example of the BJP’s obsessive need to score a point over the Congress, even if it does not really need it.
The easy victory of the NDA candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh of the JD(U) over his Congress rival with the help of recalcitrant allies like the Shiv Sena and neutral parties like Biju Janata Dal (BJD), along with abstentions from a few parties otherwise opposed to the BJP, is being touted by the ruling party and its cheerleaders in the media as a huge boost to the Modi regime and a big blow to the emerging Opposition alliance in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary polls.
However, the hard realities of the current political scenario suggest that the win in the Rajya Sabha may turn out to be nothing more than an ego kick for the ruling party.
Where’s the Threat to BJP? Uttar Pradesh
Firstly, the danger to the BJP’s poll prospects next year is neither a resurgent Congress nor its ability to cobble together a nationwide alliance. The immediate threat for the party is in India’s most politically crucial state – Uttar Pradesh – where almost a clean sweep of its 80 parliamentary seats by the BJP in 2014 gave it a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.
Here, the Congress is a bit-player, and it is rapidly consolidating an alliance between two regional behemoths – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), further bolstered by Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), backed by the dominant Jat community in Western Uttar Pradesh – that is giving the BJP president Amit Shah sleepless nights.
BJP’s Problems May Have Just Compounded
Ironically, the sudden offer of the deputy chairman’s post by the BJP to the JD(U) after growing tension between the two parties, while facilitating an NDA victory in the contest, but may well have compounded the ruling party’s problems in the increasingly contentious seat-distribution from Bihar in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
This is likely to further increase tensions with the BJP’s other allies in the state – Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP – who do not want to be edged out by a back-in-favour Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
It could also create resentment among the BJP’s own supporters who want more seats than in 2014. With one former BJP ally – Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi – already in the camp of Lalu Prasad Yadav, and sons who look stronger each passing day, threats by other allies in Bihar could lead to an unseemly tug-of-war over seats regardless of the smooth sailing for the NDA in the Rajya Sabha this week.
The Problems With Shiv Sena
Another large state where the contest over the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman may hardly have any impact is Maharashtra, where the Congress-NCP alliance seems to be firmly in place, and it is the alliance between the BJP and Shiv Sena that has been going through ups and downs.
Interestingly, although the Shiv Sena – which abstained from voting for the Modi government during the recent no-confidence motion – actually voted in favour of the NDA candidate in the Rajya Sabha, party leaders went out of their way to explain afterwards how their problems with the ruling party remain and that, in any case, the contest in the Upper House was for an apolitical post.
Desperate attempts by the BJP leadership, rather belatedly, to mend their damaged relationship with the Shiv Sena in recent months have not yielded any easy rapprochement. Every time a compromise is worked out, it swiftly falls apart, with the latter likely to keep the former on tenterhooks till the last moment on whether they will indeed be in alliance for the 2019 polls.
What Does BJD’s Support Mean?
As for the BJP’s thrill in getting Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD to vote for the NDA candidate – with some party spokespersons going to the extent of suggesting this indicated that the ruling party was actually increasing its number of allies – this is meaningless rhetoric.
This is also true for a party like the Telangana Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, that supported the NDA candidate in the Rajya Sabha, but dare not call itself an ally of the BJP because of the large Muslim population in the Hyderabad region of Telangana.
But it is true that the clumsy and ineffective attempts of the Congress to muster up numbers for its candidate once again underlined that the party simply does not have the political stature to be the undisputed leader of a grand political alliance.
This also indicates that the emerging anti-BJP political alliance is far more likely to be a new federal front of regional parties that will have the Congress as just one of the partners, rather than a UPA-III led by the party.
Yet even this diminished stature of the Congress could turn out to be a disadvantage for the BJP in the coming 2019 polls, which the ruling party is desperately trying to make into a contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)