By Jaideep Sarin
In the last couple of months, the “time-tested” ruling alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is feeling the strain, forcing senior leaders from both sides to step in and claim that all is well. Both sides have indulged in shadow-boxing in recent weeks with the centrepiece being cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.
From the results of the April-May Lok Sabha polls, which did not give the alliance a clean sweep in Punjab, to the recent assembly polls in neighbouring Haryana where the Akali Dal dumped its “natural ally” BJP to join hands with “family friends” Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) to the open barbs being traded between Sidhu and Akali Dal top brass – the alliance is certainly on a political downslide.
The BJP and Akali Dal are definitely indulging in shadow-boxing over Navjot Sidhu. The former cricketer and now a popular TV personality is not known to mince words, especially when referring to Punjab’s ruling Badal family and Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia – the brother-in-law of Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and younger brother of Sukhbir’s wife and union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Badal.
The Akalis too have hit back at Sidhu, even officially asking the BJP to “tame” him. Sidhu openly blamed the Badals for “back-stabbing” the BJP in Haryana by joining hands with the INLD.
The bad blood between Sidhu and the Badal-Majithia combine is over the BJP denying Sidhu the Amritsar Lok Sabha ticket earlier this year. It was at the insistence of the Badals and Majithia that Sidhu, who was elected thrice from Amritsar – in 2004, 2007 (bypoll) and 2009 – was dumped by the BJP without assigning any reason and senior BJP leader and now Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was fielded instead.
Jaitley lost the election by a huge margin of over 100,000 votes to Congress leader and former chief minister Amarinder Singh. The Amritsar debacle was an embarrassing one for the Akali Dal-BJP relationship. An upset Sidhu did not campaign for Jaitley at all. The Badal-Majithia gamble to oust Sidhu from Punjab’s political space, in connivance with some Punjab BJP leaders, failed miserably.
The BJP, after its recent alliance-breaking experience in Maharashtra and Haryana just before assembly polls in both the states, is certainly looking at a bigger role for itself in the 2017 Punjab assembly elections. It is certainly not going to be satisfied with the 23 seats that the Akali Dal gave it in 2012 to contest in the 117-member assembly. The barbs from the BJP leadership, especially Sidhu, are certainly looking at the future scenario.
With the Badal government facing allegations of corruption and Majithia’s name figuring in Punjab’s recent drugs scams, the BJP is unlikely to now play second fiddle.
BJP leaders in the state are already flexing their muscles, forcing the Badals and the Akali Dal to run to the BJP central leadership for cover. With nearly two years to go for the next assembly polls, the BJP is unlikely to let the Akali Dal have a free run.