Modi’s allies to extract pound of flesh in return for support

Published June 6, 2024
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures, at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India on June 4, 2024. — Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures, at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India on June 4, 2024. — Reuters

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on Wednesday elected as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Two crucial conditions have surfaced on the wish list of Mr Modi’s strongly independent allies, whose support he needs to shore up his minority government.

The demands, if pressed would bear resemblance to the UK Chartist Movement, which aimed to overthrow king, queen and parliament, but here it seems more rooted in realpolitik than the British legend was.

In the meantime, Mr Modi submitted his resignation, along with his council of ministers, to President Droupadi Murmu on Wednesday ahead of the formation of the next Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government.

This paves the way for the dissolution of the 17th Lok Sabha, which ran from 2014 to 2019.

The president accepted the resignation and requested PM Modi and the Council of Ministers to continue till the new government assumes office.

The incumbent PM’s swearing-in could take place over the weekend, an NDA leader told Reuters. Local media had earlier reported that the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for Saturday.

Meanwhile, India’s opposition alliance claimed on Wednesday that the elections had given a clear verdict against Mr Modi and said they would continue to fight any assault on the constitution or dictatorial tendencies.

Allies’ demands

There are reports of Andhra Pradesh chief minister-in-waiting Chandrababu Naidu demanding the Lok Sabha speaker’s job for his party. There is also talk of alliance members being anxious over Mr Modi’s preference for fellow Gujarati right-hand man Amit Shah as home minister.

The speaker and the home minister have been the lethal arsenal in Mr Modi’s quiver. In the past, he could disregard parliamentary protocol and override probity in the Lok Sabha with his handpicked speaker. Meanwhile, Mr Shah was his go-to man to keep the opposition on the back-foot.

Called ‘Chanakya’, after the ancient strategist, Mr Shah is believed to have plotted to jail two chief ministers and freeze the Congress party’s funds before the polls, among other dirty tricks he has been accused of.

He is also credited with the smashing of opposition state governments by inducing defections and sending revenue sleuths after politicians to make them do his bidding.

If Mr Modi yields to even one of the demands, his wings would be clipped as never before. Then, there are urgent issues that need to be resolved.

How would Mr Modi take to calls from his new allies to dismiss the BJP chief minister in Manipur, under whose watch the state was torn asunder and witnessed gory misogynistic crimes?

How would he respond to calls for probe into allegations of financial crimes in defence deals and of course the electoral bonds saga.

Closeness to INDIA group

What must be worrying for Mr Modi is that the Janata Dal United (JDU) of Bihar and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh have been and are close to several regional leaders that are members of the opposition INDIA group.

Reports said both TDP and JDU conveyed to the BJP top leadership that the role of the speaker should go to alliance partners, recalling that TDP’s G.M.C. Balayogi was speaker during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s coalition government in the late 1990s.

Sources privy to the development, quoted by The Indian Express, said: “The move is to insulate the alliance partners from any possible split in the future. The speaker’s role is crucial in the anti-defection law because the time and nature of the final decision is entirely a call that can be taken by the speaker.”

Both TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu and JDU leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have “sounded out “some of the other allies of the BJP regarding the speaker post move, the report said, citing sources.

It is yet not clear whether Mr Naidu and Mr Kumar raised the demand officially at the NDA meeting that was held in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The post of speaker, the constitutional and ceremonial head of the Lok Sabha, usually goes to the ruling alliance, while the deputy speaker’s post is conventionally held by a member of the opposition.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2024

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