The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was planning to contest the 2017 Punjab assembly elections alone, has dropped the idea of breaking alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Its state leadership is shy of being quoted on it, but the reason is said to be a triangular contest building up with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. With Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh back on the Punjab political scene as state Congress president and the AAP gaining ground, the ruling combine has become cautious.
Optimistic that the AAP and the Congress would contest for the number two and three slots, BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh said the Akali-BJP combination would form the government yet again. The state BJP unit has left the alliance matter to the national leadership and accepted that political scenario in Punjab has changed in the past two months of religio-political turmoil. “The BJP will take all steps for communal harmony in the border state of Punjab,” Chugh said, dropping enough hint that the saffron party would stay with the Akalis, who have set the tone for the 2017 contest already.
Marriage saved from verge of divorce
The BJP’s active participation in the Sadbhawna rallies of the Akalis is a sign that warmth is returning to the relationship, and after the campaign would get over, the partners will make development plans targeted at 2017. The BJP is upset with the partner since the coalition’s sub-par performance in Punjab in the March 2014 parliamentary election results, when the Narendra Modi wave had swept the party to power in the country.
A committee led by a senior Punjab BJP leader Balramji Das Tandon (who later became Chattisgarh governor) found shortcomings in the functioning of the SAD-led state government and suggested course correction. It told the Akalis that the system of halqa in-charge, lack of clarity on property tax; special favours to farmers at the cost of trade and industry; rising prices of sand and gravel; bureaucratic hold on governance, and fiddling too much with the taxation system had cost the combine in the Lok Sabha elections.
Upbeat after coming to power in Haryana on its own last October, the BJP thought of going it alone in Punjab also. But the debacle in Delhi this February and in Bihar recently has pushed it back to the SAD. At one stage, even the Akali were planning a break-up before 2017 and forge an alliance, later, depending on the results.
“There may be a difference of opinion but there are no differences in our heart,” said Chugh, adding that most of the issues with the SAD had been sorted out and the rest would also be resolved.
Staying together more demanding
In the previous assembly elections, the BJP contested 23 of 117 seats in Punjab and in the coming polls, it is expected to seek more. It is keen to contest from Batala, and the Akalis want to negotiate for Amritsar East.