Understanding the discord between the BJP and SAD
Its diminishing clout in Punjab prompts the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to move out to mop up the Sikh community’s support in other states. That apparently is the root cause of its frayed ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ally at the Centre which in recent months has refused to cede ground to the Dal in Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan.
A quick survey of Sikh lawmakers in Parliament and assemblies shows that they don’t need the SAD’s apron strings to serve their constituents.
In Haryana, the BJP rejected the Dal’s demand for seats in a breach of understanding under which the SAD withdrew candidates in the Lok Sabha polls on the promise of being accommodated in the assembly elections.
The result: The only Sikh to make it to the state legislature won on the BJP’s symbol. Similarly, the sole Sikh legislator in Uttarakhand heads the SAD unit in the hill state — but sits in the House as a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA).
The story is the same across states with Sikh populations.
Of the two Sikh MLAs in Odisha, one is from the Congress and the other from the ruling Biju Janata Dal. Likewise, the community’s two parliamentarians from West Bengal are from the Trinamool Congress and the BJP.
In the Delhi polls, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have put up three Sikh candidates each. The Congress has six. The saffron party was willing to accommodate the Akalis if they agreed to have their men fight on its symbol. That, according to sources close to the Badals, was a departure from the previous polls when the Akalis contested two seats on their own symbol and two on the BJP’s.
For their part, the Akalis have claimed that the BJP denied them seats as it was upset with their demand for making the citizenship law inclusive. But there’s an independent version against the SAD narrative. It says the talks broke on the choice of symbols, not as much the SAD’s stance on the law amended to afford citizenship to persecuted minorities.
To that, the Badal faction maintains that they were getting short shrift from the BJP leadership.
But it seems the Dal has been overly ambitious and divorced from the ground reality in claiming, so to speak, the right to eminent domain on the Sikhs’ electoral representation. This oddity is glaring, especially when its supremacy, as the foremost party of the Sikhs, faces a serious challenge in its home base of Punjab.
Incidents of sacrilege during Parkash Singh Badal’s last stint as chief minister continue to hurt the party. The internal ferment over the Badals’ stranglehold on the organisation also came to a head with the exit of SS Dhindsa, the Dal’s secretary general and senior-most Akali after PS Badal. His son Parminder Dhindsa, who led the SAD in the Punjab assembly, has also severed ties with the party.
Another notable leader, RS Brahmpura, formed his own faction, the Akali Dal (Taksali), in late 2018. Not surprising that in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidates trailed in assembly segments held or contested by the SAD. So much so that the Dal failed to retain its president and Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, Sukhbir Badal’s Jalalabad assembly seat in a bypoll last year.
It is common knowledge in Punjab that the BJP, aware as it is of the Dal’s declining fortunes, has been in touch with SAD renegades and dissidents such as Dhindsa — on whom the NDA government conferred a Padma Bhushan last year without formally sounding out the Badals.
If push comes to shove, the BJP , regardless of its last minute entente in Delhi, might not be averse to a life without the Badals in Punjab. Towards that end, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-navigated focus is on the Malwa region that accounts for 69 seats in the 117 member legislature.
In the last assembly polls, there were instances of traditional BJP supporters
voting for the Congress to defeat the AAP candidates backed by the aggressive anti-Badal panthic Akalis and elements from the radical Left.
By most accounts, the lack of trust between the allies who first came together in 1996 is mutual. Their ties have been hit in the past by the RSS view that Sikhs were part of the Hindu faith.
In fact, late last year, Giani Harpreet Singh, the head priest of the Sikhs’ highest temporal seat, the Akal Takht, sought a ban on the Sangh for its domineering Hindutva agenda that he considered divisive.
The Badals’ control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) is well known. They cannot, therefore, insulate themselves from the Giani’s offensive against the RSS.
In that backdrop, it is a lot easier to understand why the SAD is weary of making its candidates fight on the BJP symbol outside Punjab.