Ties between Punjab’s ruling alliance partners — the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — are reaching a freezing point.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah gave Punjab chief minister and SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal the cold shoulder on Sunday at the swearing-in ceremony of Haryana’s first BJP government led by Manohar Lal Khattar, Badal did a tit-for-tat with Khattar as well as the Haryana governor, at a lunch hosted by Punjab on the inaugural day of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association workshop on agriculture here on Wednesday.
Badal, who delivered the keynote address at the inaugural session, arrived at the lunch venue on the lawns of the Punjab assembly with Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan and dignitaries from other states and countries. When Haryana governor Kaptan Singh Solanki walked in at the lunch along with CM Khattar, they received no attention from Badal. The two were welcomed by Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma and former BJP minister Tikshan Sud.
Matters have reached this point essentially because the SAD had tied up with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the BJP’s chief contender, in the Haryana assembly polls, citing old family ties between the Badals and the INLD’s Chautalas.
Same table, cold vibes
With Badal choosing to stay aloof, Akali ministers followed suit, and none was seen welcoming the Haryana CM and governor. Badal’s son and Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, who too addressed the session, made a brief appearance outside the lunch venue and left after a photo-op without waiting on the expected guests. Seated on opposite ends of the table for dignitaries, Badal and Khattar did not exchange any words. Punjab governor Shivraj Patil was not in attendance.
Jakhar’s photo suggestion
When leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly Sunil Jakhar of the Congress quipped to Punjab parliamentary affairs minister and BJP leader Madan Mohan Mittal that the occasion called for a joint photograph of the two CMs — who were not even making an eye contact — Mittal walked with Jakhar to Badal to convey this. But Badal made haste and left the venue soon after, even as the Lok Sabha speaker, the Haryana governor and Khattar, among other dignitaries, were still present, raising questions if it was also a breach of protocol towards the office of the governor.
The Punjab BJP chose the occasion to show where its loyalties lie, and Mittal was the only Punjab BJP minister who appeared to be trying a balancing act, sitting in the middle. Sharma and Sud sat with the Haryana CM and governor.
‘BJP needs us too’
Even as ties with the BJP are frosting, SAD general secretary and spokesman Mahesh Inder Grewal told HT on the sidelines of the lunch that the two parties would never reach breaking point: “Punjab is a border state where a religious minority is in majority. The SAD and BJP together represent the interests of both the communities, and the BJP too needs us. We have always supported the INLD in Haryana, and this time was no different.”
Seat formula won’t change for civic polls, says SAD
As an assertive Punjab BJP is demanding more seats for the upcoming municipal polls, the state’s senior alliance partner the SAD on Wednesday stressed that the seat-sharing formula would remain the same. Punjab BJP chief Kamal Sharma has demanded a bigger pie in category-A and -B cities such as Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Abohar and Fazilka, where he claims the saffron party has a stronger presence.
The number of seats in each municipal body too has gone up after fresh delimitation of wards. SAD spokesman Maheshinder Singh Grewal, however, said that while the number of seats contested by the two allies may go up due to increase in wards, the seat-sharing formula would not change.