Potential Allies With Potential Problems
Having captured 282 of the 545 seats in Lok Sabha (LS) in the recently-held elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in an unassailable position in the lower house of the Indian parliament. The situation in the upper house - Rajya Sabha (RS) - is a different story altogether. BJP is only 42-strong in a house of 250 seats. This means that while legislation of laws in LS will be a cakewalk, BJP would have to put all its political management skills to test to drum up the required numerical strength to have its way in RS.
Rajya Sabha In Session
BJP's allies which have between themselves a total of 20 seats, could come to the help of the former in RS. BJP would still need additional support. The following parties have indicated that they could be BJP's potential allies on a selective basis:
- All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam - AIADMK (10 seats)
- Trinamool Congress - TMC (12 seats); and
- Biju Janata Dal - BJD (6 seats)
Ms.Jayalalithaa of AIADMK and Mr. Naveen Patnaik of BJD have already met PM Modi in what were seemingly innocuous courtesy calls. During the calls, however, long wish lists were handed over to Mr.Modi.
TMC is yet to indicate its willingness, if at all, to extend support to the Modi government even on a selective basis. Its supremo, Ms.Mamta Banerjee, yet to come out of the humungous sulk she had gone into after the landslide victory of BJP in the LS polls. All the three state leaders mentioned above had been hostile and poured venom against their political opponent before the polls. With their dreams of becoming Prime Minister themselves shattered, they are yet to come to grips with the changed political reality wherein a mere tea boy has not only become the strongest Prime Minister of India in recent times but is also well set on the course to become a true national leader beyond party politics. Blessed with humungous egos, they are yet to accept the nation's verdict in its true spirit. Nonetheless, they need Mr.Modi as much as the latter needs them, if not more.
Another state leader who may agree to play ball with BJP is Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) whose party has 14 seats in RS. Her party had failed to win a single seat in the LS elections. She was also known to ride the high horse of secularism and deride Mr.Modi as a communal and divisive politician, before the elections. With her very political survival under the threat of extinction, she may now be expected to review her party's position vis-a-vis BJP after the latter's baptism by fire at the elections.
Against the above backdrop, BJP may soon be expected to engage in political brinkmanship albeit in the interests of its political agenda. Notwithstanding support in RS, BJP would sooner or later likely come under political pressure brought by the potential allies. The leaders of none of these regional groupings which are technically called national parties, has been known to be free of being temperamental or be even reasonable in their behaviour, politically or otherwise. Many of them are involved in court cases and CBI investigations. But, then, politics is not unknown for making strange bedfellows!
Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal have strong anti-Congress governments. The United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, which has been beaten at the LS polls, had all along ignored the genuine demands of these parties for the development of their states. With the prospects becoming potential allies of BJP, AIADMK, BJD and TMC would seek special financial packages to make up for the lost time in the development of their states. The catch is that these packages would run into thousands of crores of rupees - not a mean task to accomplish, considering the current plight of the Indian economy!
AIADMK Supremo Ms.Jayalalithaa
Loaded Demands and Requests
The potential allies are also likely to bring about piquant situations for the comfort of the Modi government, like Jayalalithaa has done in the case of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. She wants India to sponsor a resolution in the UN, condemning India's southern neighbor for its 'genocide' of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The Sri Lankan government is against this proposal and has asked for Mr.Modi's understanding of the issue from the Lankan perspective. Sri Lanka has been claiming that it had only exercised its sovereign right of taking military action in the civil war in that country against the declared enemies who had waged war on the state and those who helped them. Sri Lanka is against calling the killings genocide. That country is already under UN pressure for cooperation in the UN-sponsored investigations into the alleged war crimes and human rights violations. Jayalalithaa's proposal comes in the wake of the UN pressure. Besides, Tamil Nadu has, of late, turned into a hotbed of Tamil nationalism, with practically every party in the state pitching in for firm action by India against Sri Lanka, with Jayalalithaa leading the pack.
Jayalalithaa has also demanded the retrieval of Katchatheevu, an islet in the Palk Straits ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974, and restoration of traditional fishing rights to Tamil Nadu fishermen. Besides, hundreds of Tamil fishermen are captured by the Sri Lankan navy from time to time for straying into Sri Lankan waters and put in jail. The government of Tamil Nadu claims that these are deliberate actions of provocation by the Sri Lankan government against innocent fishermen and seeks action by the government at the Centre to stop these atrocities.
Jayalalthaa's requests have an emotional appeal for the people of Tamil Nadu who summarily rejected the Congress party, which had ignored the issues and let the people's anger fester by its inaction, at the LS polls. Any more inaction in the matter by the government at the Centre, will be looked upon none-too-kindly by the people of Tamil Nadu. In such a scenario, the fledgling state unit of BJP would have to sprout roots in a hostile atmosphere which had already decimated the oldest party in the country, namely Congress. Nonethless, while addressing these issues, India should factor in the country's overall geo-political interests in its bilatetal relations with Sri Lanka. Any cooling off in Sri Lanka's relations with India would be to the advantage of Pakistan and China in their bid to get closer to Sri Lanka. Mr.Modi is required to do the fine balancing act of doing right by the people of Tamil Nadu without yielding to excessive demands by the rabid elements in the state and compromising the country's foreign policy interests.
There is another festering issue where the potential ally of West Bengal, TMC, may try to lean on the Modi government. BJP has a considered position in the matter of infiltration into India by people from Bangladesh who are not bona fide refugees. A shift in a party's stance on any issue on the basis of change in ground realities or a pragmatic reassessment of the prevailing situation in national interests would be in the order of things in an ever-changing political scenario. Giving in, however, to a hostile and sulking ally's whimsical demand would only bring discredit to the government of Mr.Modi who is well set to usher in an era of progress within the country and one of peace and friendly co-existence in the international arena.
At the end of the day, you may afford to lose some battles but not the war - the war between the country's interests on the one hand and selfish, narrow-minded political parties and their whimsical leaders on the other. The astute politician that he is, Mr.Modi may be expected to play hardball with his potential allies with as much ease and felicity as he did with his adversaries at the polls.
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman