The BJP's much vaunted commitment to the "coalition dharma" sounded hollow last week, when it pulled the rug from under the Samata Party in Manipur. The aftershocks of the BJP's "betrayal" are being felt within the nda, fostering suspicion and uneasiness among the alliance partners. Even as staunch and unswerving an ally as the Telegu Desam was moved to criticise the bjp. Party spokesperson Yerran Naidu observed: "Where a bigger party (BJP) is supporting the government of an ally (Samata), it should be more careful. It should look after the interests of the ally."
The Samata Party, which bore the brunt of the "betrayal", made no bones about its sense of hurt. Spokesperson Jaya Jaitly said: "We have often been given long lectures on coalition dharma by the bjp. And we ourselves have been giving such lectures to others. So, it hurts when the bjp itself pulls down our government." From the very beginning, the bjp had refused to cooperate with Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam and has been plotting his downfall, she adds.
Koijam indirectly points a finger at home minister L.K. Advani, saying that his declaration of a month-long unilateral ceasefire with all militants hadn't gone down too well with the home minister. "He was unhappy about it," is all Koijam would say at the moment. "The other reason could be linked to the question of extending the Nagaland ceasefire to our state. My removal would perhaps pave the way for extending the ceasefire to Manipur," Koijam added.
Even now the bjp is hiding behind the claim that its Manipur unit acted on its own, but Koijam is not willing to buy that argument. He claims the withdrawal of support to his government by the 26-member strong bjp legislature party was not only carefully planned but was orchestrated from New Delhi. "The machinations of the bjp both at the state level and in New Delhi are responsible for the defeat of my government... The bjp high command was all along in the know about the moves to oust me," he told Outlook.
The Samata Party agrees with him. Says Jaitly: "The bjp has played a double game with us. They could have controlled the situation if they wanted to. In spite of all the claims of having issued a whip, I believe that they allowed their mlas to do this." She points out that the "bjp betrayed the trust of an ally. After all, we have been one of the architects of the nda".
With the equation between the Samata Party and the bjp none too steady since defencegate and George Fernandes' grudging resignation as defence minister, the bjp is making concerted efforts at a compromise. But the Manipur incident will rankle in the minds of the allies. In the immediate aftermath, there were many who were willing to buy the bjp line that it was a localised action over which the party's central leadership had virtually no control. But now it is virtually clear that a section of the top bjp leadership backed Koijam's ouster.
The theory now doing the rounds in Imphal—in view of the home ministry's next step of imposing President's rule in the state—is that this will now enable the Centre to implement its proposal of extending the four-year-old Naga ceasefire to Manipur, thus salvaging the Naga peace talks. No popular government in Manipur would dare to agree to such an idea, given the public sentiment against it (which stems from the fear that Manipur might have to cede territory to the Nagas under the 'greater Nagaland' concept).
For the record, bjp president Jana Krishnamurthy has strictly forbidden ex-chief minister and bjp mla R. K. Dorendra Singh, who was elected the leader of the newly-formed, 41-member Progressive Democratic Alliance (pda) on May 22, from staking his claim to form a government. Krishnamurthy's letter reads: "I am given to understand that you are trying to form a ministry under your chief ministership. Kindly note that no bjp mla should approach the governor to form the government and no mla of ours should join any ministry."
Despite Krishnamurthy's efforts to smooth the Samata Party's ruffled feathers, the bjp hasn't abandoned hopes of installing its government in Manipur. Padmanabha Acharya, the party secretary, largely credited with building the bjp in the northeast, attended the luncheon meeting with the PM, Fernandes and Krishnamurthy. His attitude was far from placatory and flexible. "The Samata Party cannot dictate terms to us. Manipur has nothing to do with the nda. I believe that the Samata's demand—reinstating Koijam—is undemocratic and childish."
Acharya goes on to attack Koijam. "He had tainted people in his front. And he was a bad administrator. When he took over, Manipur had a deficit of Rs 200 crore. It's gone up to Rs 600 crore." The only solution that he sees is "a coalition government led by the bjp which will give stability" to the state.
Whatever the outcome of the Manipur imbroglio, it has already had repercussions at the Centre. Among the other allies who have expressed dissatisfaction with the nda are the dmk and the inld, who fear the bjp is trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hound.
tdp leaders complain that in spite of their support to the nda, the bjp state unit subtly blackmails them by playing the Telangana card. Points out a senior tdp MP: "They do it quietly now, but the day we break away from the nda, they will lead the movement for a separate Telangana which will be disastrous for the tdp." According to party insiders, all along the tdp has had its way at the Centre but it was shocked at the manner in which the Samata Party, a close ally, was backstabbed by the bjp.
Rumours of the imminent return of the pmk to the nda and speculation in the media of Jayalalitha also returning to the alliance has shaken the confidence of the dmk. The buzz in Chennai is that ever since Jayalalitha emerged an outright winner in Tamil Nadu, the bjp has been making overtures towards her. The big question now being asked by the dmk's middle-rung leaders is that if the bjp could junk the Samata, why couldn't it ditch Karunanidhi? Interestingly, there are many in the dmk who feel that its alliance with the bjp cost it dearly in the assembly election. There is considerable pressure on Karunanidhi to go back to his earlier plank of social justice and the Dravida cause and review his ties with the bjp.
The Shiv Sena too has long been suspicious of the bjp's efforts to capture its voteshare in Maharashtra. Periodic rumours of an imminent tie-up with the ncp have added to the sense of insecurity—ncp leader Purno Sangma last week said his party would support the nda if it fell short of numbers. Then there are reports of Ajit Singh joining the nda. Despite Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala—one of the first to pledge his support to the nda—saying he would quit the alliance if Ajit Singh joined, the move has not been abandoned.
Even if the Manipur crisis is finally resolved, it will leave the bjp's allies suspicious and angry. For many in the nda, the bjp has till now been a necessary ally.They are now discovering that it can also be a dangerous one.
Nitin A.Gokhale and Saba Naqvi Bhaumik
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