Narendra Modi and Amit Shah | File photo: T. Narayan | Bloomberg
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah | Photo: T. Narayan | Bloomberg
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There are many things that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have learnt on their way up the political ladder — from strategic electoral management to the ability to convince voters, make inroads into unfamiliar territories, wrest power and render the Opposition ineffective. But what they haven’t learnt is the art of managing their allies.

The Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) decision to walk out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after 22 years — because of its discomfort with the three farm legislation — is yet another example of the Modi-Shah duo’s failure to reach out to their allies, pacify them and accommodate their concerns. From the Telugu Desam Party to Shiv Sena in Maharashtra to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) in Bihar to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam, the list of allies Modi and his lieutenant have lost is a lengthy one. Though the JD (U) and AGP did come back to the NDA fold, their breaking away reflects poorly on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ability to keep its extended family together.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP had ended its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP). This was an unlikely and tricky alliance in any case, but the break-up only highlighted the BJP’s reluctance to keep difficult relationships going.

If Amit Shah is indeed the mastermind Chanakya of Indian politics today, he would know that the invincible rise is not sustainable forever and also logically impossible. If the Modi-Shah combine doesn’t need allies today, it is also smart enough to know that Indian politics is a game of Snakes-and-Ladders of slippery numbers. The Modi government may not need the numbers today, but an angry regional ally, with political resources and energy, can bring about the beginning of ground-level disenchantment, not seen until now.

The BJP’s belief in the farm reforms is right — they were needed and only an undaunted leader like Modi could have pushed them. But the quality of a good leader isn’t merely the ability to push ahead with her/his beliefs. It is also to be able to take everyone along, and have the skill to convince even the worst critics.

What is the need to value or indulge allies, one might ask, when the Modi-Shah duo is on an upward graph and doing supremely well even without them? Well, these allies might seem redundant now, but they will become critical when the party’s fortunes hit a lower trajectory.

True, all political parties like to be on the winning side, but loyal allies will remain with you even during your downward swing. However, if you treat your allies the way Modi and Shah do, rest assured they will want to run in another direction when the BJP goes through a less happy phase.


Also read: BJP treated allies like spare tyres, has no minority support now, says SAD chief Sukhbir Badal


The absence of coalition dharma

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee lent to India’s political legacy the ‘coalition dharma’, a fact acknowledged by the Modi-Shah led BJP even after his passing away. The current BJP leadership may have taken the party much beyond what Vajpayee and his lieutenant L. K. Advani could — politically and electorally — but they have also ensured it regresses on one front of following this dharma.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have one defining belief in their manner of functioning — my way or the highway. Their tendency to bulldoze their way through and do what they deem beneficial or right overtakes many things, including maintaining decency towards Parliament, the Opposition and the allies.

The manner in which the Modi government has passed a slew of Bills/ordinances in its second term — scrapping Article 370, CAA, triple talaq, RTI amendment and agricultural reforms — shows its complete disregard for building consensus.

This belligerence and obstinacy hasn’t been limited to just rivals. Allies and coalition partners have also been at the receiving end.

The JD (U) had a long alliance with the BJP until Nitish Kumar’s troubles with Modi started brewing and he decided to snap ties in 2013. And this, even before Modi became PM. The acrimony between the two continued and the 2015 Bihar assembly election was fought separately, with the JD (U) forging a mahagathbandhan with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The BJP lost that election with the grand alliance sailing through.

The AGP is yet another example of the BJP’s high-handedness. Narendra Modi brazenly pushed ahead with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), despite the vociferous and legitimate opposition from its Assam ally. The anger among the Assamese people was real, and AGP, whose politics is built on fighting for the indigenous Assamese, was rightfully embarrassed. In January 2019, the AGP walked out of the alliance. It, however, came back to the BJP meekly, barely two months later, just in time for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The Shiv Sena broke up with the BJP after last year’s Maharashtra assembly election over the issue of the chief minister-ship. Sena, an ally of 25 years, chose to forge a team with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and to come to power. To be sure, the Shiv Sena was perhaps being irrational and excessive in its demands, given the BJP was the bigger partner. But this is what the art of coalition politics is all about — to know how to pacify an unhappy ally, to give an inch more than you might want to and to ensure the partnership remains intact.

The SAD’s decision to break ranks with the BJP shows this ally trouble isn’t merely an aberration, but a pattern. After all, the Left had also ended its affair with the Congress in the UPA I government. The problem with the BJP under Modi and Shah, however, is that this is more of a norm.


Also read: BJP in a spot as Punjab unit leaders want party leadership to address farmers’ concerns


Why allies should matter to the BJP

The BJP’s hubris always makes one believe that they don’t need others. And Narendra Modi is, by far, the most powerful, influential and electorally successful politician India has seen, given how the political landscape, today, is far more competitive with many more players than the Nehru-Indira times of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

The trouble with this thinking, however, is that it does not take into account the possibility of a future when you might be far weaker, and in a less jubilant phase. Would the JD (U) or AGP have come back to the BJP if the party had not been in such a position of strength? That remains highly debatable. The AGP, for instance, might be only a marginal player in Assam today. But never say no in politics. If the BJP begins to decline in Assam at some point, the Congress and AGP together will continue to become a serious threat.

Modi and Shah are way too clever to not understand the loss of an ally going away, especially when they don’t quite know if it will ever return to their fold. It is their arrogance and conviction that whatever they do is right, along with the absence of Vajpayee’s statesmanship that gets the better of them.

The headiness of being at the peak makes you believe it is there to last. The downward slope that follows the peak, however, is always the toughest because that is when you need someone to hold your hand to stop you from slipping. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, as popular, electorally brilliant and powerful as they might be, will not always win 303 seats. It is then that the Akalis, Shiv Sainiks and AGPs of the political world will seem important. And let’s not forget, being the hardcore majoritarian party that it is, the pool of allies available to the BJP is anyway limited.

As the famous cliche goes — be nice to people on your way up because you will meet them on your way down. For Modi-Shah, it is important to be nice to their own allies when they are on top, because they are bound to need them when the inevitable fall begins.

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14 Comments Share Your Views

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you liberal madam that you told modi & amit shah what to do. Otherwise what would they have done without your counsel. Such wisdom.

  2. The Print Team is putting in the best efforts to be straight and sincere. Yet there could be a different view…
    It is sometimes intriguing that some of us know more about politics and Governance than political parties. On reflection we can see why. Politics is difficult and crooked. Coalition politics is more difficult and more crooked. Anything straight will be smooth. When things are crooked they tend to get entangled and never really work. We assume that everything is straight. Sometimes it may be prudent to shed potential problems, before they really become one.
    for instance, those commenting on the farmer bills may please examine status of small farmer (who are in majority) and not the big ones (including some leaders ) who show crores as non taxable farm income. The farmers bills actually hit the big farmers who show incomes upwards of say Rs. 50L. (e.g. only). Even as of now before the bills, MSP is not admissible to 81% of farmers in India, who are small and deal with traders (middlemen) and not with Mandis which implement MSP.
    Tail piece: In politics and off screen Bollywood, there is always more than that meets the eye.

  3. “But the quality of a good leader isn’t merely the ability to push ahead with her/his beliefs. It is also to be able to take everyone along, and have the skill to convince even the worst critics.” – Do you think the opposition wants to be convinced? Do you think TDP or Shiv Sena leaving NDA was due to some logic? Opposition sees an opening to corner government and they will take the chance to push Modi government to the wall. Why do political writers and analysts even write such idealistic statements when there is no place for idealism in real politics. Every party is thinking about their growth and selfish needs.
    Shiv Sena/JDU and BJP fought on almost equal number of seats in the lok sabha elections. In Bihar they gave up five sitting MPs to give extra seats to JDU when clearly there was no need. Shiv Sena with 50 odd seats should be given the CM chair? What will BJP tell their karyakartas and what image will it project of the party workers down the ladder? Work hard and get good results but we will give away CM chair for coalition dharma? Vajpayee had to follow coalition dharma because he had no other option.

    When you are in position of dominance you think about how to make your position more dominant. You dont think about losing and worst case scenarios and give away a pound of your flesh to any party who is trying to squeeze you. Political alliance has to be a symbiotic relationship otherwise it does not need to exist. Yes people and political parties lose and some new formations, alliances and political force will emerge in the future but thats the way of life and existence.

  4. MODIJI wants development and education and zero tolerance for corruption and would welcome anyone whose agenda is a progressive INDIA.

    Even poohi is welcome is she discards her CONGRASS mentallity of seeking commission instead of development and conversion of HINDUS as her primary goal.

  5. Isn’t it great that Ruhi and The Print are around to point out that PM Modi & Mr. Shah need allies. What would the BJP do without these strategic minds, they would be totally lost!!
    Ruhi, please stick to your knitting – limit yourself to Congress and Rahul G.

  6. If the article mentions Breaking up for PDP and BJP as something that reflects poorly on BJP, then it is hard to take the article seriously.

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