BJP treads cautiously with SAD: Partnership could be in question
While the BJP is still treading with caution, referring to the SAD’s tirade against it as “political compulsion”, the SAD has taken its criticism of the farm bills a notch higherUpdated: Sep 26, 2020, 08:45 IST
The fissures that have emerged in the ties between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and one of its oldest allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are all set to deepen with the latter intensifying its attack against the BJP government over the recently passed farm bills.
The bitterness and the war of words that erupted after the BJP and the Shiv Sena, also an old ally, failed to reach an agreement over power-sharing in Maharashtra, has been noticeably missing after cracks emerged in the ties between the BJP and the SAD. But while the BJP is still treading with caution, referring to the SAD’s tirade against it as “political compulsion”, the SAD has taken its criticism of the bills a notch higher.
On Friday, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said at a rally in Punjab, “During World War 2, the US shook Japan up with an atomic bomb. Akali Dal’s one bomb (resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal) has shaken up the Modi government. For the past two months, there was no word on farmers, but now as many as five ministers are speaking on the issue.”
The SAD pulled out its only minister from the Narendra Modi cabinet in protest against the government pushing through the new legislations in Parliament. Though the BJP said it is ready to address all SAD’s concerns about the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance the Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the SAD is pulling no punches in its disapproval.
The BJP, on its part, has decided to focus attention on creating awareness about the new legislation’s benefit to farmers.
“They have nothing to lose and the statements they are making stem from political compulsions. It is not right for the BJP to join issue with their ally,” said a senior party functionary.
Exiting the coalition: Will they, won’t they?
The question, however, is if the disagreement would pave the way for the exit of another BJP ally from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
According to SAD’s Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral, though there is pressure from the cadre to pull out, the party will not take a hasty decision. “We are mindful that we are a border state and we cannot destabilise the situation. Our cadre is pushing us to break away from the NDA, but we will not rush into it. We will take a decision, which is in the interest of the people of Punjab and our country,” he said.
The SAD leader also explained that the party voiced its concerns to protect the interests of the farmers.
“In any coalition, all partners’ ideology cannot be the same. Whenever we have disagreed on issues that were contrary to our thinking, such as the attack on minorities or the Delhi riots, we spoke up. But we have never made stipulations. We spoke up so that we could stick to the core of our ideology. The farm bills affect us, our workers and leaders are farmers, how could we not speak up?” Gujral said.
While the government claims that the bills were adequately discussed, and has rolled out a massive outreach led by Union ministers to dispel concerns about the bills, allies claim there has been little by way of communication.
“The NDA this time is unlike the NDA of the [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee era. There is no consultative process, we never meet and there are no coordination meetings. We found out about the ordinance only when it was put before the Cabinet where our minister protested. We said the bills are not in the interest of farmers, not in the least in Punjab. And because our concerns were not addressed, it was not feasible for us to stay in the government,” Gujral said.
Shiv Sena’s Lok Sabha MP Vinayak Raut echoed the SAD’s view that the BJP does not take its allies into confidence. “When we were part of the NDA, there were no meetings of the allies. To have a meeting of the leaders at the Business Advisory Committee is not the same as keeping allies informed and taking their views into consideration,” Raut said.
Ahead of the upcoming Bihar elections in October, the Lok Jan Shakti Party, another ally, has been stoking a controversy by criticising a third ally, the JDU in the state, indicating that all is not well within the NDA in the election-bound state. The BJP has had to step in to settle squabbles between two allies, which has given fodder to the Opposition in the state.
The BJP functionary quoted above said the allegations of BJP not being amenable to allies have been made to score a point. “We have always treated allies with respect and kept them informed,” the functionary said. On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also instructed party workers to reach out to farmers across the country to dispel the “misleading” accusations made by the Opposition.
Hunt for new allies
Before the BJP snapped ties with the Shiv Sena in 2019, with which its equations saw many ups and downs over the years, it parted ways with the Telegu Desam Party. In March 2018, Chandrababu Naidu’s party decided to break its ties with the BJP and pulled out two of its ministers—Ashok Gajapathi Raju and YS Chaudhary—from the Modi cabinet. The TDP, which had been an ally of the BJP in the southern state for nearly four years, broke away following the Centre’s decision to not grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
At that time, there was speculation that the BJP could warm up to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which won the 2019 assembly polls in the state.
Rakesh Reddy, BJP’s spokesperson in Telangana, said the party has never had friendly ties with the TRS before or after the carving out of Telangana state. He said the BJP has been fighting the TRS on the ground for the last six years and is equally distant from both the TRS and the TDP. “We are a strong contender in the state and have already begun preparations for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections scheduled early next year. When we allied with the TDP, a party that was opposed to the carving out of Telangana, we suffered in the elections,” he said.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) is counted as a friendly party in Parliament, the BJP asserts that the bonhomie is limited to support for “issues” and does not indicate forging an alliance.
“There has been talk of BJP tying up with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, but these parties have contested against the BJP in their respective states. They have supported some bills in Parliament, because those were issues they agreed on. If every instance of support is indicative of an alliance, then what about the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which supported the BJP on Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation, but differs on other issues?” said a second BJP functionary.
A changed NDA
What the allies called a changed complexion of the NDA, Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) called the new working style.
“They have numbers on their side, but this is the government’s new style of functioning. They want to be seen as decisive and not given to negotiations or talks once they have made up their mind about an issue,” he said.
The complaint from allies of being left out, he said does not “create a good impression” but has not “adversely affected” the BJP so far.