Why BJP and Akali Dal are drifting apart?

With the BJP suffering a drubbing in Delhi elections, its coalition partner Shiromani Akali Dal instead of owning the results has blamed the saffron party for lack of coordination with allies

It is said that success has many fathers, failure is orphan. With the Bharatiya Janta Party suffering a drubbing in the Delhi elections, its coalition partner Shiromani Akali Dal instead of owning the results has blamed the BJP for lack of coordination with allies. “Better coordination with us could have produced different results for the BJP,” said Daljit Singh Cheema, SAD spokesperson. He has gone on to say on 

record, “Local BJP leaders did not want Akalis to participate due to which we stayed away from the polls. Besides, there were differences on our stand to include the Muslims in the CAA”.

Akali Dal leader said, “the differences were bridged close to the voting day but it was too late for us to participate actively in the campaigning. Moreover, as there was no candidate of the party so the cadre could not be mobilized. Our participation could have given an advantage to the BJP”.

Reacting to the results, Akali leader said the way the BJP candidates lost poorly from Sikh-dominated seats like Tilak Nagar, Rajouri Garden and Hari Nagar besides Kalka Ji and Shahadra proves that it should have taken regional parties along.

President of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, Manjinder Singh Sirsa observed “The results would have been different if the BJP was not swayed by its local leadership.” Sirsa said the BJP did not even feel it fit to field Sikh candidates from the seats dominated by the community like Rajouri Garden and Tilak Nagar. “In Rajouri Garden, the polling dropped by 10 per cent this election. We feel these were the Sikh votes, which were not polled.”

This is not the only reason that the Shiromani Akali Dal is angry with its oldest ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Few know why and what caused the party to vent publicly by skipping the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) January 31 pre-Budget meeting? The conferment of Padma awards on SS Dhindsa and HS Phoolka was another reason for the drift-reason Akali Dal had soar relations with the Dhindsas of late. Dhindsa was earlier the secretary-general of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Senior Dhindsa of late had been sulking in the Akali Dal and finally quit.

Sources say that Rajya Sabha MP and Akali Dal leader, Naresh Gujral who is son of much respected former Prime Minister; I.K.Gujral had expressed Akali Dal’s sentiments to BJP leadership of Maharashtra government’s alleged interference in affairs of Sikhs. Sources say that former Deputy CM of Punjab and President of Akali Dal, Sukhbir Singh Badal took up
the matter with Union Home Minister, Amit Shah.

Shah on his part reportedly promised that he will ensure that the then Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra would withdraw the contentious amendment to the Takht Sri Nanded Board Act. But it did not happen immediately.

The bone of contention is the power that the state government had assumed which empowered it to appoint the president of Shrine’s Board. Such flare up was earlier witnessed in the year 2000 when there was a major controversy when the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan said the Sikhs were a part of Hinduism, and their faith was originally crafted to defend Hindus against the tyranny of Mughal rulers.

The Akali Dal had snapped its alliance with the BJP for the Delhi assembly election and when they came back to the senior party fold again, it was too late to fructify support in Delhi. The result was for anyone to see as AAP stormed to power in Sikh dominated constituencies.

It is no secret that historically, the Akali Dal has favoured the inclusion of Muslims among groups eligible for citizenship. Not only this, the Shiromani Akali Dal insiders say that the party was of the view that not only the CAA, the party should have also taken a tough stance against the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which divested Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. 

Ironically, the Union Minister and Akali Dal leader and wife of Sukhbir Singh Badal, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, did not register her protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in cabinet meetings and in fact consented in favour of the CAA in Parliament.

Though Akali Dal eventually joined hands with BJP in the recently concluded Assembly elections, what impact it would have in Punjab is anybody’s guess? Sources say that BJP leadership had been continuing ties with Shiromani Akali Dal because of the respect BJP leaders including Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have for senior Badal.

After the Shiv Sena and BJP parted ways in Maharashtra, the BJP seems losing out on allies as its disenchantment with Shiromani Akali Dal is known to everyone in political circles. The Akali Dal is one of its oldest alliance partners of saffron party in the country. Both the parties are in an alliance since 1977, when the Akalis fought the assembly elections with the Jana Sangh which was then part of the Janata Party coalition.

The relationship between the two alliance partners may turn further sour with BJP leaders openly talking about going solo in the next state assembly polls in 2022, terming the Akalis a liability. During the 2017 Assembly elections, the Akali Dal and BJP combine had come third while Congress party was able to trounce both AAP and SAD convincingly to return to power. In 2019 Parliament elections during October, the BJP romped home in the entire country with a major chunk of seats but in Punjab, it came a cropper.

The saffron party has already shown its intentions that it might go solo in Punjab in 2022 if Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP relations turn sour on certain issues. The BJP has been vigorously working towards increasing its base in the state by holding a mega membership drive and exploring how it can expand its base in the rural areas, which are the traditional vote bank of the Akalis. It has tried to woo Sikh voters by waiving the GST on langar and releasing Sikh prisoners.

The BJP has increased its cadre base in Punjab and may spring out a surprise just before elections to contest elections independently without an alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal. Another option for the BJP would be to stake claim on more seats and not allow Akali Dal to act like big brother in the alliance. These questions would remain till the doomsday approaches in Punjab.

Till then, animated discussions and developments to be watched within the two parties-the Bharatiya Janta Party and Shiromani Akali Dal Punjab units. Incidentally, the oldest regional party of the country, Akali Dal completes 100 years of its existence this year 2020.