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SAD-BJP alliance under strain: Akalis have nothing to lose if they walk out

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 12 February 2018, 16:58 IST

Over the last one week there have been indications of strains between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally in Punjab (Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) once again coming to the fore. But this time it was the latter that was complaining of the BJP not treating its allies the way it should be.

Amid the flip flops of Akali leaders on this issue as they went on to say that the alliance would continue and is permanent, what needs to be answered is that in the event of the alliance breaking up what have the Akalis got to lose. After all it is the country's oldest regional political force with a strong cadre strength spread across not only in Punjab but it also has its presence in parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan.

There is a strong view that the Akalis have got nothing to lose in case of their alliance with the BJP breaking breaking up except for a union cabinet berth that is being represented by Harsimrat Kaur Badal who is the wife of the SAD president Sukhbir Badal and the daughter in law of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

The strains between the two parties were reflected last week when the Akali Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral called for the 'Vajpayee touch' from the BJP. Gujral reportedly exhorted the BJP to learn the coalition dharma practiced by the former BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee during his tenure as the prime minister. He was quoted in the media saying, “Coalition politics does not run on arrogance. I think they need to make amends, it needs to be run the way Vajpayee used to run it, they should be more diplomatic.”

Gujral further went to reportedly say, “The BJP can’t ride roughshod over their allies. They are not dealing with allies with finesse. They are taking allies for granted, amends are required otherwise it will have disastrous consequences.”

The message was clear that the Akalis along with the other BJP allies do not want to act as the big brother ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and are reminding the saffron party that it would require allies if it wants to return power.

The next day Gujral went on to say that the breaking of the alliance with the BJP was 'impossible'. His party president Sukhbir Badal too told a section of the media that the Akali relationship with the BJP is permanent. “Our relationship with BJP is a time-tested one, and there is no clash. It’s a relationship that emerged to keep the democratic forces together in Punjab, which borders a hostile country like Pakistan,” he said. But at the same time the Akalis are preparing to go it out all alone in the next Haryana Assembly polls and reports say that they plan to contest no less than 50 of the total 90 seats.

But there have been reports saying that the Akalis are upset that the BJP leadership is maintaining a 'negligible social relationship' with allies. Sources have been pointing that how the Akalis were nowhere to be seen campaigning or for that matter attending the swearing in ceremonies for the BJP in the recent Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections. They are also upset with the appointments made to minority institutions like National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities without them being consulted. They have also been pointing at no Sikh being appointed a Governor or a vice chancellor of any of the central universities.

A senior Akali leader told Catch that although the alliance continues for now, the Akalis are actually set to gain in the long run if they go ahead on their alone minus the BJP baggage in Punjab. “For now the alliance works on the electoral strategy of the BJP being given urban seats to contest where there is a substantial Hindu population while the Akalis contest the Sikh dominated seats. Both these parties are seen as representative of separate religious identities. But at the same time the Sikhs which are at the core of Akali politics see BJP as a force of the RSS which has two extremes. On one side is the political wing the like the BJP that presents are moderate image and on the other are organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal,” he said.

He pointed that in the event of the alliance breaking up, the Sikhs who are now with the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would consolidate behind the Akalis. He pointed that it would be an opportunity for the Akalis to work on the ground pushing forward their clear agenda and consolidate their support base even in the urban areas that are at present the Congress strongholds.

Observers have often pointed that the BJP-SAD alliance is one of the most contradictory ones that justifies the saying that 'politics makes strange bedfellows'. This observation is based on the troubled relations between the Akalis and the RSS in the eighties when the militancy was at its peak in Punjab and communal divisions were simmering.

Veteran political analyst Jagtar Singh points out, “Even before the period of militancy the RSS had opposed the Akali agitation for the Punjabi Suba by the Akalis. It is also a fact that the Akalis had come to power on their own in the 1985 polls when Surjit Singh Barnala had been made the chief minister.”

At the ideological level the RSS takes credit for bringing the Sikhs back into the mainstream of Indian polity by getting the BJP to enter into an alliance with the Akalis after the militancy was on the wane. Observers say that this is true to some extent as this was the time when no one was even willing to talk to the Akalis and Punjab was in for a big surprise when the SAD-BJP combine came to power in 1998.

Observers say that by going solitary the Akalis at this point will lose nothing more than Harsimrat's berth in the union Cabinet. In any case the parties opposed to the Akalis in Punjab have often been challenging her to give up the post in the interest of the state.

Of late there have been demands also from the BJP cadre for the party going out alone in the coming polls. A section within the BJP feels that the party will have to take a solitary course if it wants to expand in base in Punjab, particularly in the rural hinterland.

The alliance stands for now amid rumblings of discontent. It remains to be seen what crumbles first—the rumblings or the partnership.

First published: 12 February 2018, 16:58 IST