By : K S Chawla
Will the SAD-BJP coalition break in Punjab? This question is haunting the citizens of the state. Although there is lot of bitterness being shown between the two partners but there does not seem to be any possibility of any break before 2017 Vidhan Sabha Polls. Sofar, the BJP leadership has been trying to pressurise the Shiromini Akali Dal leadership to concede the demands which would benefit the urban population. The BJP leadership strongly feels that the Akali Dal has not treated the BJP well and only used it (BJP) as a second fiddle to remain in power.
However, with the BJP Government coming into being at the Centre under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the situation has changed and BJP leaders of Punjab are feeling emboldened and stronger. They are becoming more assertive and aggressive. The central BJP leadership is also thumping the back of the state leaders in this task and the Akali Dal leadership is definitely feeling perturbed over the developing situation. So far the BJP leaders have been maintaining low profile since they knew it was difficult for the BJP to come into power in Punjab at its own health. The installation of the BJP led NDA Government in Delhi has come as a morale booster for the Punjab BJP leadership… and it has started embarrassing the Akali Dal leaders.
The position of the Akali Dal has become weak in the eyes of the central leadership of the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Akali Dal failed to make convincing victory in the Lok Sabha poll and above all the BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley had to face humiliating defeat at the hands of the Congress nominee Captain Amarinder Singh. The Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister had assured Jaitley and the central leadership of the BJP that Jaitley would win Amritsar seat hands down. But the reverse happened. Further the large-scale prevalence of drugs in Punjab and the alleged involvement of the politicians in the smuggling and sale of drugs in Punjab has badly exposed the Akali Dal. The large-scale smuggling of drugs in Punjab has convinced the central leadership of the BJP that such huge business of drugs could not take place without the support of the politicians. The youth of Punjab has been badly addicted to the drugs and the state Government had to face lot of embarrassment on this front.
In view of the poor performance of the Punjab Government, the BJP led NDA Government has adopted lukewarm attitude towards financial needs of the state of Punjab and all efforts of the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to convince the central Government have failed.
The sourness of relationship between the Akali Dal and the BJP started when the Chief Minister and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal extended unstinted support to the candidates of the Indian National Lok Dal headed by Omparkash Chautala first in the Lok Sabha polls and then in the elections to the Haryana Vidhan Sabha. The father-son duo did not pay heed to the protests by the BJP leadership and went ahead with their campaigning in Haryana for the INLD. Despite the campaigning by Badals, the BJP got absolute majority in Haryana and has formed its Government in Haryana. The support to Chautalas has left taste of bitterness between the two parties. The Father-son duo was more keen on cementing their friendship with Chautalas instead of following coalition dharma in Punjab and at the Centre where the Akali Dal is a part of the NDA.
Following the anti-coalition dharma of the Akalidal, the BJP leadership has now decided to expand its base in Punjab and particularly in the rural areas of Punjab. The first salvo was shot by the BJP when it inducted P S Gill former DGP of Punjab police who contested the 2012 Vidhan Sabha elections in Punjab on Akali ticket was inducted into the BJP by Amit Shah. This upset the senior Badal and he lodged his protest with the BJP. But the latter had no effect. The RSS has come to the help of the BJP in Punjab in expanding its area of influence in the rural areas. The RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has visited Punjab four times since the formation of the Modi Government in the centre. The RSS organized its first training camp at Mansa in which swayamsewakas from Himachal, Haryana, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir participated. Besides, the RSS has revived its Sikh outfit – Rashtriya Sikh Sangat. Rashtriya Sikh Sangat was also active during the Akali-Janata Government in Punjab in 1977-79. RSS is organizing its shakhas in rural areas and is trying to attract the youth to its fold. The mainstress of the RSS is to enroll unemployed youth and those addicted to drugs. Rural Punjab has huge population of unemployed youth who could be attracted without much difficulty.
The RSS and the BJP leadership are in search of a sikh face who could head the BJP in Punjab and they have a very vibrant sikh available in the person of Navjot Singh Sidhu who was elected to Lok Sabha thrice from Amritsar. He is a very popular Sikh face among the youth because of his poetry and appearance in the television shows. Besides, he is a known crickter of the country. So far his oratory is concerned, no Akali leader in Punjab can match him. He does not talk nonsense and happens to be a competent spokesperson.
Moreover, he also has take a revenge from the Akali leaders who forced his outster from the Punjab state. It was the conspiracy of the Akali leaders to bring Arun Jaitley to Amritsar to replace Sidhu. Akalis have always found him a potential threat being a jat Sikh who can replace Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal as a leader of the Sikhs and the masses.
Amarinder Singh also admitted this fact that he would have found it difficult to defeat Sidhu in Amritsar and it was easy for him to defeat Jaitley.
Amarinder Singh has strongly opposed the expansion plans of the RSS in Punjab as he feels that this could lead to the political polarization in Punjab and the communal harmony of the state could be disturbed.
The Punjab Chief Minister has also maintained that the SAD-BJP combine has helped in maintaining communal peace in the state.
This claim of the Chief Minister does not cut much ice with the people of Punjab as they maintained complete communal peace in Punjab during the twelve dreaded years of militancy when the Akali leaders were in hiding. There is no doubt that militants targeted Hindus traveling in Buses and Trains but also made Sikhs as their target and killed a large number of them.
The seriousness of the BJP to contest 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections independently stems from the fact that it has won in Haryana and Maharashtra without having any alliance and fought single handedly. Further the central leadership of the BJP has shifted Shanta Kumar who was incharge of Punjab affaits of the BJP and appointed K N Katheria an MP from Agra who is a dalit leader. Shanta Kumar is a mild-mannered person and was not assertive and aggressive. On the other hand, the New incharge is an aggressive person who has shown his assertion by saying ‘I have seen for the first time in my life that in a state both father and son are Chief Minister and a Deputy Chief Minister’. Punjab has the highest population of dalits in the country and the appointment of a dalit as incharge of Punjab affairs is also indicative of the intensions of the central leadership of the BJP. BJP is still harping on Modi magic. Will it work in 2017, only time will tell.
As a matter of fact, Sukhbir Singh Badal, President of the Akali Dal took the initiative of bringing into the Akali Dal Hindu legislators and Hindu leaders to give a secular outlook to the Akali Dal. The taksali Akali leaders have not approved of this move of the president. But no one has the guts to speak against him. In the recent organization of the Akali Dal structure, he has appointed some Hindus as office bearers in the cities which has not been relished by the Sikh leaders of the urban areas. In a latest move he has appointed one big industrialist of Punjab as a general secretary of the Shiromini Akali Dal. This industrialist was earlier loyal to Surjit Singh Barnala and later switched his loyalty towards Harkishan Singh Surjeet CPM leader and Captain Amarinder Singh. Finally his loyalty now lies with Sukhbir Singh Badal. How long his loyalty will remain with Sukhbir Singh only result of 2017 Vidhan Sabha election will tell.
KS Chawla is a veteran journalist.
He can be contacted at 998864424