India Changes Course: Golden Jubilee to Millennium

By Paul R. Dettman | Go to book overview

6

A BJP-Led Government in Delhi

The 1998 General Election returns had produced no party with a majority of MPs in the new Lok Sabha. The BJP and its supporters held 264 seats, the Congress Indira Party bloc 168 seats, and the United Front 101 seats. Not only was the BJP bloc in the strongest position to form a coalition government, but it dominated the field because neither of its opponents held enough seats to offer a serious challenge. Despite these advantages, it had to go through some rough sailing before it could take advantage of them. Although it was only 10 seats short of a majority, the preelection and postelection alliances between the BJP, which had won 178 seats, and the more than a dozen supporting parties, which, together with independents, had won 86 seats, had to remain intact if the coalition was to take office. Maintaining its solidarity did not prove to be easy.

Realizing this fact of postelection political life, the BJP's leaders took the first step to induce its supporting parties to remain on board by agreeing to produce a “National Agenda” which would consist of policies and programs representing a consensus of all the members of the bloc. They announced at the outset that the goal of the coalition government would be to give India a strong and stable government that would deal effectively with the problems faced by its people, not to push the BJP's Hindutva agenda. Since, as one of the BJP strategists put it, the election had been a “Vaj payee wave, not a Ram wave, ” the “National Agenda” would say nothing about building a Ram Temple at Ayodhya, introducing a “uniform civil code, ” or terminating Jammu and Kashmir's special constitutional status.

For the other leaders of the BJP's supporting parties, these concessions were enough, but not for Jayalalitha, the doyenne of the Anna DMK and its Tamil auxiliary parties. Acting on behalf of this Tamil cadre, which held 27 seats, she refused to provide a letter of support for a BJP-led coalition government. Given the existence of what she called the “North-South divide”—the traditional conflict

-27-

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