BJP allies step up demands as key election results loom

Modi's party hopes to gain upper hand in Parliament by boosting numbers at Bihar polls

The ruling BJP is in a tough political battle to win elections in the state of Bihar but is also confronting its own alliance in internal wranglings analysts say could tarnish the image of the party and populist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi swept to power last year after a BJP-led alliance of 29 other parties gained a majority in general elections.

The BJP, which has a majority on its own, has since set the agenda and been the dominant party in the alliance, unlike the previous ruling Congress which depended on its allies to prop it up in government.

But at least one BJP ally has been openly critical.

Shiv Sena, a right-wing party in the state of Maharashtra, has criticised Mr Modi for trying to improve ties with Pakistan and accused the BJP of failing to protect Hindu temples. Its activists last month threw black ink on former BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising a book launch for former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri in Mumbai.

But that is not the only front the BJP is watching. In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, tensions have also surfaced with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) over enforcement of a long-forgotten beef ban opposed by the PDP.

A court has currently stayed the beef ban for two months. Shiromani Akali Dal, another ally, has accused BJP leaders of hurting the alliance with communal statements that included one leader asking Muslims to give up eating beef.

Analysts said these rumblings would not necessarily split the ruling alliance but would affect it.

"It has hurt the alliance and the BJP being the head of this alliance, it has affected them," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. "It is sabre-rattling done by partners who are basically jockeying for more political space.

"When the government was formed last year, all the alliance partners very quietly accepted insignificant portfolios (in the federal government). Now when the situation allows, they are trying to slowly but surely assert themselves," Dr Shastri said.

The BJP hopes to win Bihar, where results will be out on Sunday, to boost its numbers in the upper house of Parliament where state legislatures determine the numbers.

The Modi government is also facing criticism for failing to curb Hindu nationalist groups that have been more active over the last year. A Muslim blacksmith was lynched by a Hindu mob that thought he had beef in his house.

Following the incident and attacks on writers, more than three dozen writers, playrights and poets returned their national literary awards to protest against rising religious intolerance.

"The allies are taking advantage of the recent problems," said political analyst Amulya Ganguli. "Much depends on what happens in Bihar. If BJP wins, allies will quieten down."

The ruling party said the alliance remained strong.

"As of now the alliance is intact. Given the situation in Maharashtra and Punjab, there are no other viable alliances possible," said BJP spokesman G. V. L. Narasimha Rao.

"It is a mutually beneficial arrangement and any sensible political party would not want to create any difficulties for itself."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'BJP allies step up demands as key election results loom'. Print Edition | Subscribe