The core of coalitions, the single largest party, requires the shield that the smaller partners provide
The decision by N Chandrababu Naidu, leader of the Telugu Desam party which has been an ally of the BJP and an important member of the NDA for the last five years, to more-or-less get out of the coalition is not surprising.
Several explanations have been put forth. All have to do with money.
Mr Naidu has said that financial promises made to his fledgling state of Andhra Pradesh have not been kept. He wants ‘special status’ which would guarantee him more money.
Another explanation, uttered sotto voce, is that he needs money for the 2019 election. A helping hand from the BJP which enables him to keep some of the promises he has made would come in handy.
A third explanation, again a whispered but far-fetched one, is that the alliance was between the two Naidus – Venkiah and Chandrababu. With the former being made vice president, the key cement has dissolved.
A fourth explanation has to do with the Polavaram project that is being run by the Centre but over which Mr Naidu wants an open ended, without financial limits, control without administrative oversight by the Centre. The key lies in the freedom to award contracts.
And a fifth explanation is that Mr Naidu is keeping his options open for a post-2019 election situation in which the BJP is reduced substantially in strength in the Lok Sabha.
These add up to a lot of reasons and each is probably a little bit true. Together they add up to a strong reason to separate, not the last of which is the fact that the BJP doesn’t really care any longer.
What it loses if the TDP goes out, it has gained from Nitish Kumar joining the NDA. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats while Andhra has 25. And let’s not forget that Nitish Kumar too wants special status for Bihar which he has not got.
The permafrost problem
These are the proximate reasons. Underlying all this is the permanent problem of coalitions, what I call the permafrost problem.
Permafrost is the layer of soil or rock which remains frozen for more than two consecutive years. If there is ice above it, it stays as it is; if not, it freezes and thaws annually.
The BJP in the NDA is the bit that doesn’t thaw or freeze; it remains frozen and is extremely hard to break. On the other hand, the other members of the NDA are like the top soil or snow. They thaw and freeze depending on the political temperature.
As long as they are there, they provide strong protection to the permafrost. But once they start to drift off it becomes vulnerable because the effects cannot be predicted.
This is exactly true of coalition politics also. The core of coalitions, the single largest party, requires the shield that the smaller partners provide.
Take those away and because of the knock-on effect, you don’t know what will happen in the election. The loss of a partner means the loss of goodwill also, as the BJP discovered in Bihar in 2016.
First Published: Fri, March 09 2018. 18:27 IST