With the BJP’s defeat in the Bihar assembly polls, its coalition partner in Punjab -- Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) -- is relieved.
Facing a stiff opposition from within the Sikh community, especially with the scheduled Sarbat Khalsa called by a few Sikh bodies on November 10 coming closer, the news brought relief to Akalis, who were reportedly watching the results closely.
“Nothing will happen to the SAD-BJP alliance; it is unbreakable,” SAD secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said on Sunday after the Bihar result. A big grin on his face hinted that the result had eased out tension to an extent. In the same breath, he congratulated Nitish Kumar, apparently keeping options open for the SAD joining the grand alliance promising to be nucleus of a third front at the Centre.
Since the results of the 2014 parliamentary polls, which were perceived as below par for the alliance in the state, the relations between Akalis and the saffron party have not been smooth. For almost a year, it has been the subject of a debate whether the BJP would go it alone in the 2017 polls.
“There is no immediate impact of the Bihar result on Punjab politics,” said state BJP president Kamal Sharma, who seemed shocked at the results. The Bihar result has shattered the dream of a section of the BJP to go it alone in the 2017 polls. Sharma before the Bihar polls had announced that the results would have a bearing on the SAD-BJP coalition.
“I again want to make it clear. Still there is a lot of time left for the Punjab polls, so I can’t say if the SAD-BJP would contest the polls in alliance. The high command takes these decisions,” he said, trying to keep Akalis on the tenterhooks.
Both alliance parties for over a year have been flexing muscle, with the SAD having attained simple majority in the state assembly with 55 MLAs and the BJP actively working in rural Punjab, thought to be the bastion of the Akali Dal.
“The two will not drift apart now,” said political analyst Harish Puri, suggesting that the BJP would like to consolidate its relations with the SAD. “Public perception of the SAD is at its lowest in its 95 years’ history and the BJP is also not doing well, so both need each other,” Puri said. He is of the view that the beleaguered Congress would check factionalism and stand united.
SAD leaders may not use a harsh tone for its coalition partner, but the scenario allows them to act tough with the Modi government by raising demands for the state and approach the Prime Minister with a bigger wishlist, demanding more central funds and a special package.