The slippery ‘mahagathbandhan’ – a mega alliance that a motley group of opposition parties are attempting to cobble together – has dominated the political debate and news cycle in the last few months, looming large over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral ambitions. This week, however, it was the turn of mini-gathbandhans to take centre stage and become the newsmaker.
Led by its president and chief strategist Amit Shah, the BJP was busy stitching together important alliances this week – placating some belligerent allies and bringing new ones into its fold. So, while Monday was about the high-profile talks between Shah and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, followed by a press conference to announce the deal, Tuesday was spent on securing a tie-up with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP, although allies, have had a rocky relationship since the past few years, to put it euphemistically. Thus, sealing the deal was a relief for the BJP. With the AIADMK tie-up, the BJP hopes to bolster its chances in the southern region – otherwise a weak area for the party.
Meanwhile, the party also had to devote some of its attention to Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) – a small ally in Uttar Pradesh – after its chief and cabinet minister in the state Om Prakash Rajbhar expressed his grievances. Shah met the sulking ally and succeeded in pacifying him. There are now murmurs of the BJP and former ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) holding some back-channel talks to explore the possibility of coming together again.
Sewing alliances are a routine aspect of pre-election strategising by political parties, but the BJP’s mini-gathbandhans this week stood out because they challenged the general perception that the Opposition was busy with coalition-building attempts and the BJP was losing allies or dealing with bellicose ones. In terms of projection, the BJP in the last few months had appeared increasingly lonely and isolated, while the Opposition threw up constant images of ‘unity’.
For instance, a key southern ally – Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) – left the NDA fold in March last year. This year didn’t start on the best note either, with the AGP in Assam walking out over the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Allies like the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal in Punjab constantly seemed combative, while smaller allies in the northeast also flexed their muscles over the contentious Citizenship Bill.
Contrast this with the image conjured up by the Opposition – few tangible results like the big Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh and more intangible ones like a host of parties sharing a platform on more than one occasion and vowing to bring the Narendra Modi-led government down. The ‘mahagathbandhan’, therefore, dominated news space.
This week, however, was an aberration in that sense. The BJP moved swiftly and deftly to secure its allies. The rival camp, on the other hand, seemed a tad unsure. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress were bickering, the Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav was openly criticising his party’s tie-up with the BSP, and the Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati seat-sharing agreement made it amply clear that there was little room to bring the Congress in.
Amid this hyped and amorphous ‘mahagathbandhan’, the BJP’s mini, but critical and concrete, gathbandhans this week seemed to tower over everything else.
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