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Why staying with Akalis will help BJP in Punjab

Sameer Chougaonkar | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:13 IST

The politics

  • Punjab goes to poll next year
  • For the BJP, the question is whether or not to go it alone

The history

  • Siromani Akali Dal has been a long-standing partner of the BJP
  • But high anti-incumbency in Punjab is weighing on the alliance

More in the story

  • Who wants to cut the ties? Who wants to continue?
  • How are the parties placed?

The Bihar fiasco has forced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to rethink its Punjab strategy. Earlier reports suggested that the party could chose to go it alone in the 2017 assembly elections. However, now the party has now dropped the idea, sources said.

A reassessment of challenges posed by the Congress as well as advances made by the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab politics has prompted this decision, party sources said.

AAP had surprised poll pundits by winning four parliamentary seats during the last general elections. And analysts will keenly watch its performance in the Assembly polls.

A sizable faction of the state BJP unit still wants to fight the elections on their own. Leaders from this camp argue that the current government has lost ground due to rampant corruption and drug trafficking. According to them, continuing the current alliance may not work in the party's favor in such a situation.

But the party brass differs. Senior leaders believe that parting ways with Akali Dal would make the Punjab elections a four-cornered contest between the Congress, the BJP, the Akalis and the AAP. This might severely damage BJP's prospects.

BJP strategists think that AAP will mainly target the Congress vote bank. Therefore, entering the fray with Akali Dal (SAD) would benefit the party.

They are also wary of Amrinder Singh taking over the reins of the state Congress unit. He had squarely beaten BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley in the general elections. His re-emergence as the steward of Congress in the run-up to the elections could make things difficult for the BJP.

The spectacular performance of AAP in Delhi is also not lost on the mind of BJP leaders. The Delhi Assembly elections saw the transfer of Punjabi Khatri and Sikh votes to Kejriwal's party in large numbers. BJP's share of Punjabi Khatri votes in the national capital came down from 36% in 2013 to 33% in 2015.

The Aam Aadmi Party secured 57% Sikh votes in last year's Delhi elections. The BJP could manage to win only 34%. These figures have convinced BJP that its only chance in Punjab lies with in the current alliance, despite anti-incumbency.

Only state BJP leaders like Navjot Singh Sidhu are against continuing the alliance. Speculations are rife that Sidhu may get a decisive role in Punjab BJP just before the elections. However, the maverick leader might refuse if BJP does not severe its ties with Akalis.

The BJP had contested 23 seats in the 2012 Punjab elections. It was victorious on 12 seats. Whereas, the Congress had won 47 out of the 117 constituencies it contested. Akali Dal won 56 by fighting 94.

In terms of vote share, the Congress was the largest party, polling 40.9% votes. While SAD bagged 34.73% votes, the BJP managed 7.18%.

The BJP has learnt its lessons from the Bihar fiasco and may not entirely depend on Modi magic for campaigning in Punjab. This makes its alliance with Akali Dal even more important.

The country will go to polls just two years after the Punjab elections and breaking ties with SAD would mean losing a trusted partner in the next general elections. A risk, not many in the party are willing to take.

First published: 9 January 2016, 2:44 IST