Even as it has broken up with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, yet another alliance of the BJP is under strain. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the saffron party are now the new frenemies -- uncomfortable friends in Punjab and adversaries in Haryana.
If the events after the Lok Sabha verdict are any indication, neither is ready to play the second fiddle. So while Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently hit out at the “dynasty of Chautalas” saying his party did not need the help of jailed leaders to form a government in Haryana, Punjab chief minister and SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal sat straightfaced on the dais with Modi-baiter and former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar when the latter ridiculed the PM over his “56-inch” chest remark while campaigning for the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
Badal and his son, SAD president and Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, had sensed trouble in the alliance soon after the new guard of the BJP took charge in New Delhi. Those wielding power at the Centre were not lending them a sympathetic ear even as state BJP leaders had openly started defying the “coalition dharma”. Scorned by the BJP, the Badals too flexed their political muscle -- by showing solidarity with the “third front” in Haryana and sharing stage with Modi-baiters.
Now, both the SAD and the BJP are wary of each other’s assertive streak. The BJP got a taste of it when the SAD romped back to power in Punjab in the 2012 polls with a higher tally of seats. SAD president Sukhbir lost no time in engineering defections in the Congress and poaching on its MLAs to muster a majority to be able to rule Punjab without any encumberances (read troublesome ally).
The BJP, which was content letting the SAD call the shots in the government as its own tally of seats had gone down, is no more willing to play the second fiddle. It is asserting itself after the parliamentary polls, both owing to its stellar performance nationally and the Akalis luring BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley to contest from Amritsar, a gambit that came as the proverbial last blow to the alliance.
Now, even the faction of the Punjab BJP led by president Kamal Sharma and controversial minister Anil Joshi that humoured the Akalis with total submission has jumped on the anti-SAD bandwagon lest the other faction led by MP Avinash Rai Khanna and former state president Ashwani Sharma steals the “anti-SAD thunder”.
The BJP is now blaming the policies of its ally -- rural-centric sops and burden of taxes and neglect of urban voters -- for loss of its vote share. Its leaders feel they have to assert or risk being perished in the SAD president’s scheme of things. It now has the political capital to do so as the dominant ally at the Centre where the Akali Dal has little say and even less clout with the ruling trinity -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley and BJP president Amit Shah. Even a reticent Shanta Kumar, Punjab BJP incharge, has now advised the Badals to exercise prudence before demanding fiscal bailout from the Modi-led Centre.
That the BJP did not take time to “dump” ally Haryana Janhit Congress in Haryana also speaks about its new-found assertiveness. Clearly, whichever way the verdict swings on October 19, it would have a bearing on the SAD-BJP ties. Signs of their much-touted ‘made-for-each-other’ alliance fraying at the edges are all too obvious.
Post-Haryana verdict, fissures may only widen. A crucial test for their power equation would be the upcoming civic polls in Punjab as the saffron party is in a mood to dictate terms on seat-sharing. So, while on the face of it, the SAD-INLD pact is a testimony to the enduring friendship of patriarchs, Parkash Singh Badal and Om Prakash Chautala, the symbolism is not lost on the BJP -- love thy neighbour when you cannot trust “friends”.