Akali Dal’s exit from the NDA is a loss for BJP that goes beyond the limited numbers game in Parliament. Ties between the two parties date back to the Jan Sangh days, making Akali Dal perhaps BJP’s oldest ally. Though the split was precipitated by resistance in Punjab to the farm reform legislations, relations had nosedived in recent years. Choosing the farm bills to exit NDA is a weak gambit. The bills promise better prices and greater freedom to small farmers to market their produce. Akali Dal may have missed a trick by cosying up to protesters, instead of turning the food processing industries ministry under its belt into a force multiplier for reforms and agricultural prosperity.
But each lost ally and the growing gap between the rhetoric and reality of “cooperative federalism” makes it harder for BJP to push its national agenda. In Maharashtra and Jharkhand, BJP failed to accommodate Shiv Sena and AJSU, ceding two states to UPA. Supportive or neutral parties like AIADMK, BJD, YSRCP and TRS may help BJP undermine opposition unity. But the Centre’s tightfisted approach on GST compensation, telling states to borrow to meet shortfalls, and CAG’s finding that Centre retained Rs 47,000 crore of GST compensation cess in 2017-19 to understate the fiscal deficit, could undermine trust between BJP and regional parties. While the finance ministry has refuted the CAG report, it’s worth noting that adverse CAG reports on the previous UPA government helped the current NDA drive it out of power.
Many of its allies and friends, including JD(U), are uncomfortable with BJP’s hard-edged Hindutva: One manifestation was the CAA late last year that spawned large scale protests. Sukhbir Singh Badal has attacked Centre’s “callous insensitivity” to minority sentiments. The shift from the Vajpayee era’s emphasis on coalition dharma to the Modi era’s emphasis on single party dominance has left allies chafing. Neither have BJP’s sharp tactics in pushing through legislation in the just concluded monsoon session of Parliament – without much discussion or debate, and including the controversial passage through just a voice vote of the crucial farm bills – endeared it to other parties.
BJP needs to develop a more accommodating style, reach out to political parties across the spectrum and build political capital with allies and potential allies. Else it may face increasing resistance in Parliament or in states – even when it is pursuing a productive agenda.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.