Politics in Punjab has scaled new heights of honesty over the past few months. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have discovered that the other is corrupt. Is it coincidental then, or only appropriate, that they are partners in power? Corruption seems to have a magnetic quality.
In the latest round of shadow-boxing, the word ‘mafia’ sprung up again. Suffixed to anything, from cable to liquor to sand to gravel, this word is used often these days to describe Akalis and their cronies, though it’s hard to differentiate which one’s which. The BJP, in case you didn’t know already, is an epitome of grace.
Not this past Thursday, though, when its Amritsar unit had to use some harsh words and the ‘mafia’ charge after BJP minister Anil Joshi was accused of corruption and nepotism by the SAD. Joshi is clean, insists the BJP, and the Akalis are the mafia.
But wasn’t this whole ‘mafia’ business started by Navjot Singh Sidhu? Don’t take that literally. I just mean that Sidhu was the first BJP leader of stature who used the term for the Akalis, during elections in Haryana when the SAD stood with a fellow family firm called the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in a direct fight against the BJP.
Sidhu can get away with anything. He’s cute that way. Irony, however, had to suffer many deaths during that campaign.
Amid the usual Congress-bashing, not only was the BJP busy decrying the SAD over its “mafia raj”, but it even termed INLD’s Haryana government (1999-20005) led by OP Chautala as a period of “gunda raj”. Important note: Not only is the BJP a partner in the Parkash Singh Badal-led Punjab regime, but it also supported Chautala’s 1999-2005 government.
Despite being part of “mafia raj” and “gunda raj”, the BJP rode 10 years of anti-incumbency against the Congress and an endless wave of support for Narendra Modi to power in Haryana, on its own for the first time. Truth be told, I was worried for Haryana. But then I read that Dinanath Batra, the enlightened patron saint of wisdom from the RSS, is to head a government panel on education policy for Haryana, which has the good fortune of being his home state. I am not worried anymore.
Let’s go back to Punjab.
After its historic Lok Sabha poll win and the subsequent solo success in Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP appears to be working on solo lines for Punjab as well. It started after a relatively poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab where even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — seen by the BJP as an irritant in its bid to grab all of the anti-Congress space — won its four seats. The BJP blamed the SAD, and the heat has only been turned up since.
The calculation is simple. If the BJP goes it alone and gets majority, it would achieve a big milestone in a long-term project to sideline regional parties. If not, naturally anti-Congress groupings like the SAD can still be partnered. Honestly, what’s the harm in sticking to some friendly “mafia” in Punjab when a “Naturally Corrupt Party” can be a worthy partner in Maharashtra?
A more dangerous line, however, is doing the rounds. No, I am not talking about men in khaki shorts doing the rounds of Punjab’s towns and villages. The line is that somehow the communal harmony in Punjab is beholden to the SAD and BJP staying together. This theory is based on some simplistic premises and a rather scary admission.
The first premise is that the SAD represents Sikhs as a group that not only votes on the basis of religion but also derives its social sense of being from the Akali Dal. The second is that the BJP represents all Hindus, who may lose their sense of harmony if the party breaks up with the SAD.
The implicit admission is that neither party will care about harmony if it has to fight solo.
Discount the Congress and AAP, thanks to the SAD-BJP chill, Punjab’s politics is surely witnessing a hot season of honesty.
ON THE ASIDE: BATRA SIR, ONE QUESTION
I have this thought stuck in my head. See, Dinanath Batra’s books say India’s map should include Pakistan and Bangladesh as ‘Akhand Bharat’. And now he is heading a government panel on Haryana’s education policy. So, if kids were to draw a map of Haryana, should they draw undivided Punjab? What’s the cut-off date for maps, sir?