BJP’s loss, Third Front’s gain

For the BJP, its breakup with the BJD will erode its bargaining power with other NDA allies

Rakhi Chakrabarty Delhi, Hardnews

The 11-year-old alliance between the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal snapped on Saturday. This could well be the game-changer, as CPM general secretary Prakash Karat put it.

For one, it makes the going for BJP tough and dims hopes for the NDA to come to power at the Centre. But, it has helped resurrect the idea of a Third Front.

Prima facie, it seems that the BJP and the BJD fell out over seat-sharing arrangement in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Orissa. After much brainstorming, the BJP and BJD couldn't arrive at a consensus. And, hence, decided to part ways.

But, is this the only reason for the marriage to break up. Political observers are confident, it isn't. There's more to the obvious. One issue that drove a wedge built the two parties was the communal violence in Kandhamal which went on for months. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik was put in a spot in the wake of the violence that raged for months. Those familiar with Patnaik maintain that he is secular in his beliefs as a person.

The results of 2008 Khandamal civic elections showed that the BJP's popularity was on the ebb. In the run-up to the general elections, the BJP seems to be hard put to keep the NDA together.

There is squabbling between the Shiv Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar and his JD (U) is giving BJP the cold vibes. Word is, Nitish is trying to undercut the BJP in Bihar so that JD (U) manages to emerge out of the shadow of the right-wing party altogether. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP is almost not in the reckoning.

Not just the Sena, other NDA allies, too, have a problem with accepting LK Advani as its prime ministerial candidate. Also, they are not too happy doing business with Rajnath Singh as the BJP's national president. In case of Orissa, at least, Pramod Mahajan is being sorely missed. It was Mahajan who had forged ties with BJD in 1998 after the party was formed in 1997.

Under such circumstances, poll prospects of the NDA look bleak. So, BJD in Orissa must have done some electoral arithmetic after reading the writing on the wall.

By divorcing the BJP, the BJD seeks to strengthen its base and ensure that it returns to power in Orissa. This time, with the help of secular entities like the Left parties, NCP and JMM. Dumping the BJP would also help Naveen Patnaik revive his secular credentials.

Moreover, if non-BJP formation comes to power at the Centre, the BJD can hard bargain and land a few ministerial berths at the Centre.

The snapping of BJP-BJD ties will prove more costly to BJP who, without BJD, will be relegated to the margins in Orissa. BJP's withdrawal of support to the incumbent Patnaik government can do no harm. In the 147-member Orissa Assembly, the BJD already has 61 seats. To reach the magic number of 74, it already has the support of CPI, CPM, NCP and JMM. In fact, it has a strength of 76 which will help it prove its majority in the House on March 11.

For the BJP, this will erode its bargaining power with its other NDA allies, felt a veteran Left leader, speaking to the Hardnews. Left leaders have rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the BJP. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury flew down to Orissa immediately after BJP-BJD breakup and discussed seat-sharing. CPI leader AB Bardhan, too, is working to get BJD into the Third Front fold.

But, Naveen Patnaik is yet to announce which way he will go. Going with the Congress in Orissa is not a winning proposition because they are BJD's arch-rivals. But, post-poll support to Congress, if the UPA comes close to forming a government cannot be ruled out. Else, the almost mythical Third Front can be turned into a reality as a formation of regional parties.