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Shark-remora bond defines BJP’s ties with allies. Bihar’s ‘Son of Mallah’ learns the hard way

From NPP in Manipur to BPF in Assam and now VIP in Bihar, BJP has maintained a track record of losing allies. And it is not bothered.

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Mukesh Sahani, Bihar’s ‘Son of Mallah’, sacked as the state’s Minister for Animal Husbandry & Fisheries Sunday must be having many questions for the Bharatiya Janata Party. What was his fault?

His Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) had fielded candidates against the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. But so did the Janata Dal (United). Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s party fielded candidates against the BJP in Manipur, too, where it roped in former BJP MLAs and leaders to end up with six seats in the 60-member assembly.

BJP leaders would have the people believe that Sahani had committed the cardinal sin of criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath during the UP assembly election. But so had the Naga People’s Front (NPF), whose leaders called Modi “a big liar” in meeting the Pope at the Vatican but keeping mum on the attacks on Christians in India, The Hindu reported.

Last week, the NPF became the only former ally to rejoin the BJP-led government in Manipur. So, what was Mukesh Sahani’s fault? For one, he became eminently dispensable for the party. The BJP needed the fishermen’s community leader ahead of the 2020 assembly election, and so, generously offered him 11 assembly seats and one in the Legislative Council. The VIP won four of the 11 seats, while Sahani became a member of the Council. With the death of MLA Musafir Paswan in 2021, the VIP was left with three legislators who were earlier with the BJP. After the UP election, these three VIP MLAs joined the BJP. The party also fielded its candidate against the VIP in the Bochahan assembly bypolls, necessitated by Paswan’s death. Mukesh Sahani’s ouster was only a matter of time.

The ‘Son of Mallah’ is looking at an uncertain political future with no party representation in the assembly, and even the opposition, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is distancing itself from him. If he hoped to get any support from Nitish Kumar, the latter’s 45-degree bow to PM Modi at Adityanath’s swearing-in ceremony must have ended it.

The VIP has joined the list of the two-dozen parties that have abandoned the BJP since 2014.

Not that the saffron party seems to be bothered much about losing allies. It has maintained a track record in other states too.

Also read: NDA just lost its 19th ally since 2014, but here’s why Modi-Shah pretend they can’t care less

Manipur, Tripura, Bihar among others

In Manipur, N. Biren Singh was sworn in as CM for the second time last week. Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), whose support was vital to the BJP forming the government in Manipur in 2017, has been left out. The NPP had contested the last election on its own but offered support to the BJP-led government after the polls. The BJP, which won 32 seats in the 60-member assembly this time, is cold to Sangma’s NPP. It can afford to, given its majority in the assembly. And Conrad Sangma can only do little.

The BJP has only two MLAs in Meghalaya — one of which became a minister. But the Sangma government, a five-party coalition under the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) umbrella, owes its survival to the BJP. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma brought them together after the Congress emerged as the single-largest party in the 2018 assembly election.

In Tripura, the Tripura People’s Front (TPF), led by tribal rights activist Patal Kanya Jamatia, merged with the BJP a week ago. The TPF was earlier flirting with the TRIPRA Motha, headed by Pradyot Manikya Deb Barman Bahadur, a scion of the erstwhile royal family of the state.

The TPF’s merger is the BJP’s signal to its coalition partner, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), which joined the TIPRA Motha’s rally in Delhi last November for a ‘Greater Tripraland’. The BJP has got a tribal face in Jamatia now, and the IPFT must weigh its future independent of the ruling party.

In Assam, the BJP had dumped its ally, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), in the Bodoland Territorial Council election in December 2020. Thereafter, it opted for a new partner, the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) led by Pramod Boro. It came after the BPF rejected the third Bodo Accord between the Centre and insurgent groups.

A rebuffed BPF went on to ally with the Congress in the assembly election in 2021. In the run-up to the election, Himanta Biswa Sarma had even threatened to ask the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to send BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary to jail. A couple of months back, however, the Assam CM announced that the BPF had been admitted as the BJP-led government’s “partner” in the state assembly. Ironically, the BPF MLAs are now expected to vote for the UPPL Rajya Sabha candidate in the election.

In Maharashtra, the BJP’s biggest ally today is the Republican Party of India (Athawale). Party chief Ramdas Athawale has been the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment since 2016. The RPI(A) was given zero seats in the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In the assembly election the same year, the party got five seats to contest but on the BJP symbol. For all practical purposes, the RPI (A) is a nonentity in Maharashtra politics now.

In Bihar, late Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s son, Chirag Paswan, was the BJP’s undeclared ally in the last assembly election. He ensured that the BJP emerged as the ‘big brother’ in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), tripping Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). Chirag must be bitter today. The BJP was compelled to go along with Nitish Kumar who was instrumental in splitting the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and getting Chirag’s uncle and rival faction leader, Pashupati Kumar Paras, appointed as a Cabinet minister in the Modi government. Chirag has been left high and dry, but he hasn’t given up hope. In the Bochahan assembly polls, Chirag has decided not to field any candidate in a show of support for the BJP. He must be expecting a reward sooner or later.

What do these instances tell us? That the BJP believes in a shark-remora symbiotic relationship with its allies, doesn’t it? The shark allows the remora, a small parasitic fish, to attach to its body and feast on its scraps. While the shark gets rid of unhealthy irritants, the remora gets a free ride in the bigger ocean.

These remoras are useful as long as they are content with their role as suckerfish and help the shark to be battle-ready to tackle bigger predators if any. But in the political ocean, if some remoras grow ambitious and get under the shark’s skin, it would gulp them down. Bihar’s ‘Son of Mallah’ has learnt it the hard way.

DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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