Since the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power following the 2014 elections, India’s opposition parties have severely had to face existential threats. Particularly the regional challengers to the BJP, have had no choice but to disintegrate. With the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra getting destroyed, the BJP has left no stone unturned in its quest to stay as the single largest party.
However, the recent split of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar has resurrected the opposition’s grand alliance narrative. In this effort, national opposition parties have come up with strong agendas to defeat the BJP, with the regional parties playing a vital role, while the BJP is on its path to dismantle all. For the opposition parties, unity is crucial. And for the BJP preventing this unity is equally vital for it to remain on top unchallenged.
The Case of Manipur
Among BJP-ruled states, Manipur has been a battleground for various national and regional parties. Since it came to power in 2017, the BJP has prioritized patriotism and nationalism. This is evident when the state’s current Chief Minister N Biren Singh often associates the national slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ with the Manipuri slogan ‘Manipur Ima na Yaifare.’ In addition, revisiting and glorifying Manipur’s legacy of patriotism in resisting the British Empire has made it easier for the party to sustain its electoral positions in the state.
Except for the Manipur People’s Party (MPP), which is currently experiencing an existential crisis, no regional parties have been influential and capable of addressing the state’s interests and aspirations substantially. One of the reasons such parties have fallen out of favour is a lack of mass social movements.
Parties capable such mobilisation are entirely missing in the state today. As a result, state politicians have no choice but to cooperate and await directions from higher-ups in the political hierarchy. Such cases are considered a significant opportunity for the BJP, which is actively seeking to widen its base and has already done so in numerous states.
Small States, Big Opportunity
Smaller states appear to be easier for the BJP to make inroads with promises of a slew of development projects since most small states’ political agendas prioritize development. The BJP is well aware of this, as party legislature elections in smaller states are less focused on the party’s ideology. However, proximity to state power and central funding is given priority. After all, regional parties in smaller states rely on the BJP for survival, and the BJP depends on regional parties to expand its electoral base.
Likewise, the BJP in Manipur has taken a more moderate approach to Hindutva ideology, focusing mostly on the different development programs, and has been seeking to bridge the developmental divide between hills and valleys since 2017. They are, however, attempting to provide Meitei (Gaudiya Vaishnavites) in the valley’s significant electoral positions while marginalizing tribal minorities in the hills.
To move forward, the Meitei Nationalist Party (MNP) was founded in the presence of Manipur’s titular monarch and BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Leisemba Sanajaoba and has professed right-wing ideology, promising to protect Meitei and build an Akhand Bharat (unified Indian subcontinent) based on truth and nonviolence.
There are currently twelve states governed solely by the BJP, with five in a coalition. In Goa, despite the BJP failing to win more than 20 out of 40 seats in the legislative assembly elections in 2022, the BJP was able to form the government with two seats from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), a regional party in Goa and three independent candidates.
In Sikkim, the BJP has 12 seats and is in coalition with the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) with 19 seats, while in Tripura, the BJP has 36 seats and is in alliance with the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) with five seats. The BJP is the single largest party in Manipur, having won 32 seats in the 12th legislative assembly elections in 2022. In smaller states, the BJP is the most powerful and influential political party.
Destroying the Regional Parties
Following the downfall of the Indian National Congress (INC)-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, numerous formidable regional parties have stepped in to fill the void. The JD-U did exceptionally well, winning six seats in the most recent Manipur legislative assembly elections in 2022. However, the party’s five legislatures have merged with the BJP. To consolidate its power, the BJP would form alliances with regional parties. Later, the parties are left to break up or join the BJP, much like Matsyanyaya’s philosophy of the small fish being devoured by the big fish.
In Maharashtra, for example, rebel MLAs toppled the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government for deviating from the Hindutva of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. The party has split into two factions, one led by BJP supporter Eknath Shinde who is also the Chief Minister of the state, and the other by Uddhav Thackeray. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar-led JD-U averted such a BJP move by breaking the alliance with the NDA, bolstering the opposition’s bid to defeat the BJP in the 2024 elections.
In Bihar, the BJP has tasted its own medicine. A mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) consisting of the JD-U, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the INC, the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPIML), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), and Hindustani Awan Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) has formed a new government. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has accused the BJP of having hidden agendas to eliminate alliance partners and regional parties in multiple states.
Since the BJP has been dumped in Bihar, the party has been forced to reconsider its strategies and coalition dharma with various regional parties. Several opposition parties, on the other side, have praised Nitish Kumar for breaking the alliance with the BJP. However, Bihar will be facing the BJP as opposition in the legislature, where the new coalition may face rounds of visits from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Investigation agencies.
Towards South India
For the time being, all eyes are on South India, which serves as a natural stopover in the BJP’s preparations for the 2024 elections. To deepen its roots following the party’s successful capture of power in North-eastern India. The BJP is heading south. The party has focused on casteism, corruption, and dynasty politics in the region, which the BJP believes regional parties have promoted.
Regional parties in South India, including Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, and Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) in Andhra Pradesh except for Karnataka, where the BJP has already made inroads, should prepare themselves for the BJP’s march towards the region. It must respond to the BJP and its dharma of destroying regional parties in unison.
Despite the absence of significant political revelations from regional parties relevant to national politics. Regional parties will be crucial in the opposition’s attempt to oust the BJP from the Centre in the 2024 elections. South India is playing a critical role in this effort, and it has the potential to pave the road for the opposition’s unification.
Though, given the shifting tectonics in India’s voting patterns since the BJP’s rise to power, it is too early for the opposition to make any revitalizing predictions about a grand alliance strategy to defeat the BJP in the 2024 elections. Furthermore, regional parties also lack a national perspective. There is an absence of uniting effort, and most crucially, the opposition lacks leaders who can match Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma.
The writer is a Research Scholar at the Department of Political Science, Manipur University. He writes in his blog Global Affairs on international politics.