Everything you need to know about the growing NDA coalition: AIADMK AND Shiv Sena hop aboard

As the Lok Sabha polls draw closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sharpening its campaign strategy, adding three important allies in the south to take on the opposition.

The AIADMK and PMK in Tamil Nadu and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra came out in support of the National Democratic (NDA) led by the central ruling party this week, dealing a huge blow to the opposition’s prospects in these states.

As per the pre-poll coalition arithmetic worked out by negotiators on both states, BJP has been allotted five (out of 39+1) seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and 25 (out of 48 seats) in Maharashtra.

Ruling AIADMK leads the vote share in Tamil Nadu & Puducherry

The AIADMK-led alliance has arrived at an agreement to contest the national elections in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with five seats allotted to the national party.

After sealing the deal with Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, who negotiated on behalf of the BJP announced that the party will support AIADMK candidates in by-polls to 21 Assembly constituencies in the state.

That’s not all, the BJP-AIADMK combine has also beaten the Congress in securing the support of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) for an electoral alliance in Tamil Nadu. In fact, the vote-share agreement with PMK was announced even before AIADMK’s tie-up with BJP was finalised later in the evening.

PMK’s entry

On Tuesday, Chief Minister E. Palaniswami and his deputy O. Panneerselvam met with PMK chief S. Ramadoss to finalise that the smaller regional party will contest seven out of 39 parliamentary seats (six in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha) in Tamil Nadu.

This is being touted as a winning alliance for BJP, which is a relatively minor player in Tamil Nadu, and a huge blow to the Congress, which was in talks with the another major regional party in the state: DMK. The latter two were hoping to forge a Mahagathbandhan against the BJP.

A leading industrialist was instrumental in bringing the PMK onboard the BJP-AIADMK alliance, reported News18.

The PMK finds massive support among the Vanniyar community (classified under Other Backward Classes) in northern Tamil Nadu, which has consistently polled 5-10% of the state’s votes in successive Lok Sabha elections since 1999. A part of the NDA alliance in 2014, PMK’s relationship with the BJP soured after Ramadoss was denied ministership in the Narendra Modi government, which is why he was reportedly in talks with the Congress over the past one month.

Both DMK and AIADMK were allegedly trying to form a rainbow caste coalition with PMK.

What about Maharashtra?

The BJP commands a majority at the centre by virtue of the several regional powers that prop it up, forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). However, not all its allies have been satisfied with the existing vote- and power-share agreements. Andhra Pradesh’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) created the first rupture when it defected from the NDA alliance in 2018.

Many believed Shiv Sena, NDA’s oldest constituent, was likely to follow suit, given the growing animosity between the leadership and frequent disagreements between the two ruling allies since the NDA came to power at the C in Maharashtra in 2014.

On Monday, however, the NDA was able to salvage this seminal alliance as the BJP and Shiv Sena were able to overcome their strained ties to contest the ensuing Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections together.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and BJP president Amit Shah announced the alliance on Monday at a press conference in Mumbai in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. According to the agreement, BJP will contest 25 Lok Sabha seats while Shiv Sena will contest the remaining 23 seats for the national elections in April; this is from the state that sends the highest number of parliamentarians after Uttar Pradesh.

For the state assembly elections, the two parties have decided to go with 50:50 seat sharing. The state is likely to head to the polls in September. 

Partnership beyond politics, tweets Modi

“In recent times, our relationship was strained due to some misunderstandings. But we have now sorted the differences and I am confident that we will win 45 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra,” Shah said.

Modi tweeted after the poll truck was announced on Monday.

Our association with the @ShivSena goes beyond politics. We are bound by a desire to see a strong and developed India.

The decision to contest together strengthens the NDA significantly. I am sure our alliance is going to be Maharashtra’s first and only choice!— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 18, 2019

Both parties claim to have found common ground on the plank of Ram Mandir and made peace for the cause of the larger ‘Hindutva agenda’, although a combination of other factors is believed to have helped bring the Sena around.

How far would BJP go in order to placate old allies?

Shiv Sena is the same party, after all, which had openly the BJP in its mouthpiece Saamana, and displayed hostility towards senior BJP leaders by taking after Congress leaders in calling them unparliamentary names.

“The two parties had stuck together for over 25 years on its single ideology of nationalism and Hindutva agenda. We have had differences in the past but we are ready to leave them behind and come together to push the Hindutva agenda on a national level,” Thackeray declared at the conference on Monday, adding that the decision was taken in the interest of the nation which depends on building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya in the earliest.

However, a day after sealing the seat-sharing pact with the BJP, the Shiv Sena warned the central government against fuelling allegations that it was trying to wage a war to influence poll results. Riots and terror attacks should not be used for “political gains”, the Sena said in an editorial in Saamana, adding that targeting students from Kashmir over the Pulwama attack could spell more trouble for the government.

At the same time, from BJP’s point of view, shoring up alliances with the Sena, despite being insulted by it on numerous occasions, suggests the immense pressure on the saffron party — under attack from a united opposition and defecting allies. The Wire quite correctly notes that BJP in ceding political space to placate old allies and forge new ones, appears reasonably worried.

Why did Shiv Sena suddenly decide to bury the hachet?

As to why Shiv Sena decided to lend their support to the BJP, one crucial factor is the prospect of losing their negotiating power, in case the saffron party secures a single party majority in the coming polls. The BJP negotiators were able to stoke this fear, warning Thackeray’s party that arch-rival MNS and the NCP were not entirely beyond BJP’s reach. The possibility of a backdoor arrangement between the two was also conveyed bluntly and successfully.

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, however, said the pact between BJP and the Sena, which have been allies for 25 years, does not surprise him. The electoral understanding between the saffron siblings was a forgone conclusion, the former Union minister told PTI.

Another possibility was addressed by the leader of opposition in the state, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who alleged that BJP used the enforcement directorate (ED) to corner Shiv Sena, forcing it to form an alliance. He also questioned decision to strike a deal when it had pledged not to go solo unless drought-hit farmers got help and the construction of Ram Temple began at Ayodhya.

Many critics, however, believe that the Sena was always all bark, no bite. But credit is due to the new teams which held fresh talks, keeping leaders who held old grudges out.

Prakash Javadekar, a leader from Maharashtra, was a key negotiator for the BJP while Subhash Desai, adept at outreach and connect, was a key negotiator for the Shiv Sena. Eknath Shinde, go-to man in the Thane region, was tasked with convincing other senior leaders of the need for an alliance while Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took major calls for the BJP.

Earlier this month, strategist-turned-JDU leader Prashant Kishor met with the Sena leadership including Uddhav’s son and second-in-command Aditya Thackeray, convincing them that the BJP was serious about an alliance this time and would be willing to accommodate a few demands of the Shiv Sena. Backchannel talks between Thackeray, Shah and Fadnavis proceeded only after this.

State of BJP’s other allies

The NDA in the northeast is in shambles as parties which constitute it have either already defaulted or were threatening to quit the alliance over the Citizenship Bill controversy. After Asom Gana Parishad suspended its support to the BJP government in Assam, Meghalaya’s National People’s Party (NPP) also warned it would follow suit.

The BJP is reportedly also facing an uphill task retaining allies in Hindutva heartland Uttar Pradesh. Parties like Apna Dal (S) which contested the 2014 election with the BJP are not happy with the functioning of the state government and the state BJP .

Others like Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which joined the alliance ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, are upset with the BJP-led UP government because workers of allies were not being appointed to corporations and boards and also because no discussion was being held regarding seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha polls. The SBSP has also been demanding that the state introduces categories in the 27% seats reserved for OBCs.

If BJP loses the support of Apna Dal (S) and SBSP, it could suffer a jolt because both these parties have influence among OBC communities 

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

AIADMKBJPCoalition politicsLok Sabha Elections 2019NDAPMKPoliticsShiv Sena