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Advantage Congress in Punjab as SAD-BJP alliance of 23 years breaks over farm bills


CHANDIGARH: With the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) breaking its 23-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both parties are expected to suffer losses in Punjab.

If SAD and BJP contest separately in state polls, it will lead to a four-way contest including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This will be an advantage for the ruling Congress which has been facing anti-incumbency in the run-up to the assembly elections in early 2022.

Talking to this newspaper, political expert Prof Kuldeep Singh said, “Both SAD and BJP will be at loss. The advantage seems to be going to Congress. BJP didn’t want to play the second fiddle in Punjab as its graph went up nationally. The Haryana experiment of fighting elections alone has twice worked in its favour. So, BJP had asked for half the seats in Punjab during the 2017 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, despite its best efforts, BJP has not been able to make inroads in the rural areas and with the farmers’ protest that possibility is now gone.”

Meanwhile, SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal has said that his party was ready to join any struggle in farmers’ interests.

He called upon all political parties and organisations to close ranks for a united fight to protect farmers, farm labourers and farm produce traders while addressing a protest gathering in Ropar on Sunday.

Although, BJP leaders have expressed regret at SAD’s move, some of them said that the party was ready to go alone.

Party’s Punjab unit president Ashwani Sharma said that SAD leaving the NDA was unfortunate and BJP is ready to talk to farmers to discuss all issues relating to the farmer Bills.

“It’s unfortunate that SAD broke a long association and took the decision in haste. BJP is also a party of farmers and we know how to protect farmers’ interests,” said senior BJP leader and former minister Manoranjan Kalia. 

History of SAD-BJP tiff in recent years

It was, however, not for the first time that the two allies had differed on several issues, including various legislations.

On the Citizenship Amendment Act, the SAD had last year said the Act should not specify any particular religion and the right to acquire citizenship should be given to refugees of all religions.

Though the party had voted in favour of the contentious law in Parliament last year, it had maintained that it was against keeping out any religious community from the law's purview.

The SAD's core committee had then reiterated that it supports the CAA to the extent that it protects the interests of the Sikh community but wanted the legislation to widen its ambit to include Muslims as well.

Later, in first signs that all was not well between the two allies, the SAD opted out of contesting this year's Delhi assembly polls.

The SAD had then announced that it would not contest the polls after it was asked by the Bharatiya Janata Party to change its stand on the contentious CAA.

Senior SAD leaders Daljit Singh Cheema and Manjinder Singh Sirsa had then said the party wanted to contest the elections in alliance with the BJP but were left with only two options -- either to reconsider the stance over the amended Citizenship Act or decide against contesting the polls.

A year ago, differences between SAD and BJP surfaced when SAD's lone MLA from Kalanwali in Haryana, Balkaur Singh joined the BJP just weeks before the October 2019 Haryana polls.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had then lashed out at the BJP for inducting its lone sitting MLA in Haryana into its fold, saying what the saffron party has done is "unethical and unfortunate".

Barely days after SAD decided against contesting the Delhi assembly polls on the grounds cited by it, many senior saffron leaders started raising pitch that the BJP workers have a dream of having their government in Punjab.

Former Pathankot MLA Ashwani Sharma, meanwhile, was appointed as the Punjab BJP president in January.

Senior BJP leader and former minister Manoranjan Kalia had said in January that every party worker has a dream of having a BJP government in Punjab, while another party leader Madan Mohan Mittal pitched for contesting 50 per cent seats in the 2022 assembly polls.

Another BJP leader and former minister Master Mohan Lal had then said the saffron party should go alone in the 2022 assembly polls.

Over the years, the SAD-BJP had settled seat-sharing formula in the state, with the saffron party contesting on 23 seats and Akalis on 94 seats in assembly polls.

During parliamentary elections, the SAD fights on 10 seats and the BJP on three.

SAD's alliance with the NDA dated back to 1997.

Akali stalwart and former chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal used to describe ties with the BJP as 'nau-mass da rishta' (ties like nail and flesh).

Badal senior had over the years held that ties with the BJP were everlasting and essential for the peace and communal harmony in the state.

Senior Punjab BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia told PTI on Sunday that the BJP had always tried to accommodate the SAD and cited an example that in 2007, the post of deputy chief minister was given to the alliance partner Akali Dal when the government was formed in Punjab due to the good performance of the BJP in polls.

He said it was "unfortunate" that SAD had walked out of the alliance, but at the same time, he asserted his party was ready to fight and even win the 2022 Punjab assembly polls all alone.

(With PTI Inputs)