Agneepath criticism, demands of caste census: Nitish, Naidu big test for BJP's coalition management skills

The support of NDA allies like JD(U) and TDP won't come easily for the BJP, given their past criticisms of the Agneepath recruitment scheme and demands for a caste census.

Mayank Kasyap
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Courtesy: X/BJP

New Delhi: With 240 seats, the BJP is 32 short of a majority in the 18th Lok Sabha. However, the BJP-led NDA, holding 293 seats, has sufficient numbers to form the government. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) with 16 seats and Janata Dal-United (JD(U)) with 12 seats will be its biggest contributors, playing pivotal roles in steering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third consecutive government.

Catering to demands of allies

From PM Modi’s perspective, managing a single-party government is starkly different from a coalition government, especially with demanding allies like Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu. The political compulsions and demands of these allies will dictate the government's direction and efficiency, potentially challenging BJP’s core policies.

Ministries and portfolios: The battle begins

The distribution of ministries and portfolios is already a contentious issue. The JD(U) has made two significant demands that will test the BJP’s patience: conducting a national caste census and reviewing the Agnipath recruitment scheme. Following the allocation of ministries, demands for special status for Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are expected to surface.

Janta Dal (United) demands

The JD(U) won 12 out of 16 contested seats in Bihar, where it currently governs in alliance with the BJP. Now, Nitish Kumar expects a return favor at the Centre, which will come at a cost. Bihar is one of the few states to have conducted a caste census, a move Nitish Kumar now wants replicated nationwide. With the central government reliant on his support, Kumar is in a position to push this agenda, lest Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD capitalizes on it in the upcoming Bihar assembly elections.

Kumar, having criticized the Agnipath recruitment scheme, is likely to demand its review. The BJP, receiving negative feedback from the army, may be willing to tweak the scheme. Additionally, Kumar will likely push for special status or a package for Bihar.

Regarding ministries, Kumar is expected to demand at least four, including two cabinet berths. In 2019, with 16 MPs, he sought similar numbers but withdrew from the government when offered just one. This time, he’s calling the shots, with likely preferences for people-centric ministries such as Railways and Rural Development.

TDP’s strategic position

In Modi’s first cabinet, the TDP had two ministers. This time, TDP chief Naidu could secure four or five key ministries, potentially including Industry, Civil Aviation, IT, Urban Development, and Petroleum. More critical than ministries is the demand for special status for Andhra Pradesh, special grants for seven economically backward districts, 50% funding for the Vijayawada Metro, and incentives for industries.

There are also rumors that the TDP is eyeing the Speaker's post, though the BJP is unlikely to agree, given the role’s strategic importance in a coalition government. The TDP might settle for a Deputy Speakership instead.

Complications being faced by coalition

The BJP will also need to navigate policies that align with the political agendas of Nitish Kumar and Naidu in their respective states. For example, while the BJP opposes Muslim reservations, the TDP supports them, creating potential conflicts and criticisms from the opposition.

In summary, managing the demands of coalition allies like Nitish Kumar and N. Chandrababu Naidu will be a significant test for the BJP, influencing the stability and policies of the third Modi government.