The Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiromani Akali Dal will remain friends.
The BJP leadership has shrugged off suggestions from local leaders to break away but is open to renegotiating later the terms of engagement.
BJP president Amit Shah had a meeting with Punjab BJP leaders on Saturday to discuss the future of the alliance. “We do not see a split happening. Sailing together is the best option,” said a BJP functionary, who is part of the deliberations. Sources said Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal met finance minister Arun Jaitley on Monday and Shah on Tuesday to discuss future course of action.
A leader present in the Saturday meeting said the central leadership shared with Punjab unit some figures of 2014 Lok Sabha elections that suggested that while Akalis were able to hold fort, NDA candidates performed poorly in BJP’s pockets.
Two critical reasons seem to be holding BJP back from any adventurism in Punjab that will go to polls next year. The party has grown in Punjab over the last decade but is not big enough to test electoral waters on its own strength. Its presence is limited to urban pockets of Punjab and has never fought polls in Jat-dominated areas that are held by Akalis under seat sharing pact.
Unlike Maharashtra, where it broke ranks with Shiv Sena in 2014 assembly elections, the BJP faces anti-incumbency in Punjab. It does not see the non-Jat, non-Sikh votes consolidating in its favour — as it happened in Haryana — in the assembly polls next year.
“We do not have the strength to contest all 117 seats. We cannot afford to be seen as a ‘non-serious’ player by fielding just 50-odd candidates in urban pockets,” a BJP office bearer said.
The BJP leadership is apprehensive that snapping ties might prompt the Akalis to return to hardline Sikh politics to protect its base. Such a situation might revive radical elements in Punjab. “The worst case scenario could be a defeat. But elections happen after every five years. We can wait for power, but not risk national interest,” the party functionary said.