While the Congress camp is divided, the scene in Punjab’s ruling alliance is not any better, where junior partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not joined the Dhuri assembly by-election campaign of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Gobind Singh Longowal.
If the SAD wins Dhuri, it will no longer require the BJP’s support in the assembly, since it will have 59 members for a simple majority in the House of 117. “We aren’t in the campaign for two reasons. First, they (the Akalis) didn’t invite us. Second, our party is busy with the membership drive,” said BJP state secretary Jatinder Kalra.
The party has instruction from its state president, Kamal Sharma, to concentrate on the target of making 20 lakh members in Punjab. “We are, after all, a different party. We may be in coalition, but we have own priority, which at this juncture, is the membership drive,” said Kalra. The BJP’s Sangrur unit is meetings in Dhuri, not to canvass for the SAD candidate but to sign up members. On Sunday as well as Monday, district BJP president Khubi Ram conducted these meetings. “I am doing what the party has assigned us,” he said.
Sources said the BJP was miffed as the Akalis had not treated them as equal partners in Sangrur. The BJP wanted to contest the Hindu-dominated Dhuri seat area but the SAD didn’t agree. “They ignored us, so now we ignore them. When they start respecting us, we will join the campaign,” said a local BJP leader, accepting that the party’s absence from the campaign was deliberate.
Even while awarding the canvassing duties, the Akalis put no BJP minister in charge of any of the 15 clusters into which they have divided the constituency. State BJP president Kamal Sharma was unavailable for comments but the SAD played down the issue. Cabinet minister Sikandar Singh Maluka said the BJP leaders would come in once the campaign had intensified.