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As Harsimrat quits, BJP’s ties with oldest ally come under strain like never before

After submitting her resignation to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Harsimrat told reporters on Thursday, “I don’t want to be part of a government which brought farm sector bills without addressing apprehensions of farmers.”

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Updated: September 18, 2020 9:09:14 pm
sad quits nda, sda ends alliance with nda, akali dal bjp alliance, sukhbir singh badal ends alliance with bjp, nda alliance sad, farm bills protest sad, harsimrat kaur badalIn this file photo, Harsimrat Kaur Badal (right) is seen sharing stage with her husband, Sukhbir Singh Badal (center), and Narendra Modi at a joint election rally. SAD was one of the oldest allies of the BJP.

THE resignation of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union Cabinet over the issue of agriculture Bills has far reaching consequences for the SAD-BJP in Punjab, putting a major question mark on the future of the alliance.

As reported by The Indian Express Thursday, the continuation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the Union Cabinet was untenable with the party having taken the position in Lok Sabha that it was against the Bills.

After submitting her resignation to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Harsimrat told reporters on Thursday, “I don’t want to be part of a government which brought farm sector bills without addressing apprehensions of farmers.”

However, Sukhbir, while speaking to reporters outside Parliament, while maintaining that SAD was ready to make any sacrifice for farmers and their welfare, also said that the party’s future course of action and whether to stay in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or not will be decided in a party meeting later.

Explained: Why three agriculture Bills pushed Akali Dal to quit Union Cabinet

One of the oldest coalition partners of the BJP, dating back to the days of the Jana Sangh in the 1960s, SAD has managed to keep the alliance intact despite many challenges in the past. However, the volatile political climate of the state over the agriculture bills, along with the fact that SAD still faces a backlash over the incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib during its tenure, has brought the ties between the two parties under great strain.

With the Jat Sikh vote bank of the party, which comprises mainly of agriculturists, SAD will face a tough time facing its loyal constituency in case BJP refuses to bow down on the issue of agriculture bills. Coupled with the backlash that the party still faces over the Behbal Kalan firing, desceration incidents and the issue of pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the Akalis would suffer a crippling blow to their image if urgent course correction was not done.

Read | With exit of traditional ally, BJP faces setback ahead of Bihar polls

The grand old man of SAD and five time chief minister of the state, Parkash Singh Badal, has always described the SAD’s ties with BJP as ‘nau-maas da rishta’ or ties like nail and flesh. Privately, BJP leaders too have not been shy of saying that BJP will not think of breaking away from the alliance till ‘vadde Badal sahib’ (elder Badal) was still around.

Parkash Singh Badal had not only kept the alliance together, but also asserted time and again that the Akali-BJP ties were a guarantee of Sikh-Hindu amity in the state and that being a border state which suffered due to terrorism for more than a decade, such sensitivities were important for Punjab.

Also read | Three ordinances and a protest: Why farmers in Haryana and Punjab are angry

Both parties managed to cobble their alliance together and keep it intact despite disparity of political alignments in neighbouring Haryana and in the national capital. However, despite difference on issues like Citizenship Amendment Act, SYL canal, seat sharing bickering etc., the two parties never faced as severe a challenge as the present one.

Senior BJP leaders, who did not want to make their comments public, confided that in their opinion the ‘gathbandhan’ (alliance) was in grave danger in Punjab with this new development. “Harsimrat’s resignation will not augur well for the alliance. However, it is certain that BJP will not be the party which walks out of this alliance if it ever happens,” a senior BJP leader said.

However, senior BJP leaders concede that they do not see how the alliance could remain intact in the 2022 Assembly polls if the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre does not back down on the issue of the Bills.

Electoral compulsions and machinations had also played a role in the rocky relationship between the two lately, with the senior Badal having taken a back seat and Sukhbir Badal taking a more central role in running the party. While on one hand, the SAD made inroads into the Hindu voterbase in urban constituencies and gave tickets to an increased number of Hindu candidates, the BJP had recently announced party office bearers for all 117 Assembly constituencies in the state. BJP leaders have for long now been making statements that the seat sharing arrangement between the two alliance partners also needs to be reworked and number of seats for BJP be increased from 23 to almost 50.

There has been disquiet within the SAD when the then senior leader of the party, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who had parted ways with the Badals, was awarded Padma Vibhushan by BJP in power in centre. It was seen as an open effort to bestow a certain status on Dhindsa in an effort to sow discord within SAD.

Sure enough, Dhindsa soon came out openly against the Badal family and floated his own political outfit comprising dissident SAD leaders. This was seen by SAD leadership as a vindication of their suspicion of BJP motives.

The SAD-BJP conflict comes as a boon to the ruling Congress as well as the beleaguered AAP in Punjab. While the Congress and Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has been under attack from within its ranks, and from AAP over inaction in desecration and Behbal Kalan firing, it has now used the agriculture ordinances and Bill related farmers’ protest to its advantage as a lifeline.

SAD has also come under sustained attack from AAP on the issue with the latter sensing an opportunity to appeal to the sensitivities of the farmers’ organisations and make major inroads ahead of the 2022 Assembly polls and rejuvenate their dwindling fortunes.

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