Efforts to cobble together a ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Punjab to take on the Congress and the SAD-BJP alliance in the Lok Sabha polls appears to have run into trouble at a nascent stage with divergent viewpoints emerging among the proposed partners and the refusal of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to be a part of it at this stage.
The outline of the ‘mahagathbandhan’, a name used by SAD (Taksali) leader Ranjit Singh Brahampura, was discussed at a meeting of the members of the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) in Ludhiana Tuesday. Apart from leaders of SAD (Taksali), the meeting was attended by Lok Insaaf Party president, Simarjit Singh Bains, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Rachpal Singh Raju and Punjabi Ekta Party president Sukhpal Khaira. Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, Patiala MP representative of Punjab Manch is also part of the PDA though he did not attend the meeting on Tuesday.
The effort to unite all anti-Congress and anti-SAD-BJP political parties, however, has received a setback as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has refused to be part of any alliance in which Sukhpal Khaira and his newly formed party along with Bains brothers’ LIP are members.
“This has been conveyed to me by Bhagwant Mann and I am sure his stance has the blessings of the senior party leaders of AAP in Delhi. My view is that any party which is not part of this ‘mahagathbandhan’ will ultimately end up helping the SAD-BJP alliance and the Congress and this will not augur well for the people of Punjab,” Brahmpura said.
While declaring that the alliance will put up candidates in all 13 Lok Sabha seats of the state, he said that there has been no discussion on who will fight on which seat and the modalities will be discussed in meetings to be held in the coming weeks. “I made a telephonic call to Bhagwant Mann in front of all members. He said that they cannot be part of any alliance with Khaira and Bains as members. However, our talks are still on,” said Brahmpura.
Striking a discordant note, the BSP has also put pre-conditions to be a part of the ‘mahagathbandhan’. Rachpal Singh Raju, president of the BSP in Punjab said, “We are open to an alliance if Mayawati Behenji is supported as PM candidate”. SAD (Taksali) leader, Sewa Singh Sekhwan, confirmed that this issue was also under discussion in the alliance.
While LIP president Simarjit Singh Bains was not available for comments, sources said he has voiced his objection to over reaching out to AAP to be part of the alliance.
Reacting to the AAP’s insistance on having no truck with him, Khaira said, “I have no objection even if AAP is part of this alliance. If anything is in the interest of Punjab, I am open for it. I will not bring my ego in it. But if AAP refuses to be part of this alliance it shows their true face.”
SAD (Taksali) leader Sewa Singh Sekhwan said this was the first meeting of all like-minded parties on a common platform. “We will soon release a common minimum programme to the masses ahead of Lok Sabha polls and seat adjustment discussions will be done in the subsequent meetings,” he said.
Among all these issues, fighting the polls on separate party symbols or a common one is also a matter yet to be worked out. While some leaders want to contest on their own party symbol, Khaira said that a joint party symbol will be worked out to contest under the banner of PDA.
Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema reacted to the developments saying that AAP had reservations against being part of any alliance in which Khaira and Bains brothers were a part. “Ranjit Singh Brahmpura had told us that he will not be part of any alliance in which SAD-BJP and Congress are part while we had told him that we cannot be part of any alliance which has SAD-BJP, Congress, Khaira and Bains groups as a part. However, our talks are still on with like minded parties,” he said.
Reacting to the developments, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar said that it seems that members of the alliance were pursuing their individual agendas without any clear goal. “It appears that the so-called ‘magathbandhan’ is a non-starter. Brahmpura ji would have been well advised to have stuck to his original goal of cleansing the Akali politics of Badals’ influence and getting SGPC rid of the political interference. He has deviated from his own originally stated goals,” he said.
The BJP has also trashed the efforts to form a united front against the SAD-BJP alliance calling it a “gameplan of discarded leaders”. National Secretary of the party, Tarun Chugh, said, “All discards like Sukhpal Khaira, the so-called Taksali leaders, Bains brothers have come together for their own vested interests. AAP has already opted out of the alliance and Dr Gandhi too is unhappy which is why he did not attend the meeting today despite having confirmed his presence,” he said.