Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal is a relieved man today. His party no longer depends on the BJP to remain in power in Punjab, the SAD having mustered the magic number of 59 seats in the 117-strong assembly with the entry of another SAD MLA though the Dhuri bypoll.
Though SAD leaders say this gives them only a “psychological advantage” over the BJP which has 12 MLAs in the assembly, in Sukhbir’s plans for the future, the Dhuri bypoll result means a vital milestone in how coalition politics shapes up in the state from now on. While chief minister Parkash Singh Badal kept up the farce of calling the SAD’s ties with the BJP unbreakable, close aides suggest that unlike his father, the SAD’s aggressive chief seems to have lost all love for the party’s “age-old” bond with the BJP.
With his eyes already focused on the 2017 assembly polls, aides to the SAD president admit that nothing can be ruled out now. “The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into Punjab’s political arena has made everyone sit up and take note. Other than performance it will be a numbers game in 2017. According to our current calculations, the SAD benefits from a break-up with the BJP for the next polls. A tieup with the BSP or strengthening our Dalit leadership could be a possible next step. We are hoping that the Congress would have revived itself to take care of AAP,” explained a senior SAD leader.
Sukhbir has been uncomfortable with the 2012 assembly from day one. Though the party had made a historic comeback, it had not managed to make it on its own. The SAD had won 56 seats and the BJP was needed to get a majority. The situation had been the same in 2007 and though the SAD and BJP “swore” by each other’s unstinting support, all has not been well with the coalition the second time over.
Sources claim that the SAD under Sukhbir systematically “pulled out” Congress MLAs at Moga and Talwandi Sabo necessitating the bypolls. The SAD gave tickets to these turncoats to fight the same polls which they had fought as Congress candidates. Even in Dhuri, sources say, the SAD had a role to play in the resignation of Congress MLA Arvind Khanna, who said he was “retiring” from politics. The strategy worked bringing the SAD to the magic number of 59.
The relationship between the two parties has remained strained with the bond stretching to a breaking point following the parliamentary polls last year when senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley lost to former Congress chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh in Amritsar in a campaign managed by the SAD. The Badals, sources say, were not happy at the Badal bahu Harsimrat Kaur being given only “half ” a portfolio in the NDA cabinet. To add insult to injury, BJP leaders campaigned heavily against the SAD during the Haryana assembly polls. Former Amritsar MP and now Badals’ bete noire, Navjot Sidhu, had a field day as he called the Badals a bunch of “liars” in almost every speech.