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SAD-BJP alliance weathered many a storm unscathed — until now

The Akalis first joined hands with the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) in 1967. They parties stitched together a pre-poll alliance for the 1997 Punjab Assembly elections, which continued till 2019 parliamentary polls.

The BJP had been part of post-poll alliances with governments led by Akalis in Punjab four times, from 1967 to 1980. (File)

WHILE THE farm Bills issue finally led to the BJP losing its oldest ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), this is not the first time that the two parties have had differences. Despite these, the alliance, which has seen several highs and lows, remained intact, until now.

The Akalis first joined hands with the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) in 1967. They parties stitched together a pre-poll alliance for the 1997 Punjab Assembly elections, which continued till 2019 parliamentary polls. The BJP had been part of post-poll alliances with governments led by Akalis in Punjab four times, from 1967 to 1980.

The differences between the two surfaced every now and then, but never resulted in a separation.

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Senior BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia told The Indian Express on Sunday that the Jan Sangh leadership had flagged their demand for setting up the Dayanand University when the then Akali government had announced the Guru Nanak Dev University in November 1969, to mark the 500th birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru.

“Jan Sangh did raise the issue of Dayanand University at that time, but it never reached a flashpoint,” said senior Akali leader and party’s core committee member Sikander Singh Maluka.

Kalia’s father Manmohan Kalia was a member of Jan Sangh. There were three ministers from Jan Sangh and a local government minister in the then Akali government led by Justice Gurnam Singh.

Kalia said the Jan Sangh had raised issues from time to time but the alliance remained intact. “My father took oath in Hindi as minister only after his demand to declare Hindi as the second language in Punjab was accepted.”

“Incidentally, the foundation stone of DAV University was laid by me only in 2010 as the dream of my father and the Jan Sangh leadership came true. Then deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was scheduled to lay the foundation stone along with me, could not make it for the function due to some engagements,” said Kalia.

During the SAD-BJP’s rule from 2007 to 2012, the ties between both parties were strained for some time after the BJP’s state unit demanded the post of deputy chief minister for Manoranjan Kalia, the party leader in Punjab Vidhan Sabha at that time.

The demand was not met. Kalia said the central leadership of the party conceded to Akali Dal for “peace and harmony” the alliance stood for.

Kalia said the BJP had also opposed to a power tariff hike for urban consumers, which was resolved after the intervention of veteran BJP leader L K Advani.

In fact, a delegation of BJP ministers had even offered to resign on the issue and met Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal. The seasoned five-time chief minister went on to quell the dissidence by offering to resign himself.

As per the the arrangement agreed to by both parties for the 1997 Punjab Vidhan Sabha polls, SAD contested on 94 seats and BJP on remaining 23 seats in the 117-member House. The contesting seat sharing arrangement continued till 2017 Assembly elections.

In 2013, Bluestar Memorial was inaugurated in the Golden Temple premises which, apart from paying tribute to the devotees killed in the Army operation in 1984, also eulogised Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala. Despite BJP objecting to the memorial, the ties between the two alliss remained intact, with the leadership of both parties saying that each party has its “own ideology”, but the alliance was required for peace and harmony in the state.

SAD first came close to the BJP’s precursor, Jan Sangh, during the coalition governments formed soon after Punjab and Haryana were carved out as separate states after the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966. According to the director of the Chandigarh based Institute for Development and Communication, Pramod Kumar, those governments were formed out of post-election coalitions and were “unstable marriages of convenience”.

Senior Congress leader from Amritsar, Professor Darbari Lal, who had joined BJP when the party fielded Arun Jaitley from Amritsar in 2014 Parliamentary polls and subsequently switched back to Congress in the run-up to 2017 Assembly elections in the state, said, “History would repeat itself. SAD would get Sikh votes and BJP would get Hindu votes and they would come together in a post-poll alliance.”

Lal, who migrated from Pakistan during Partition and started his political career as a “polling agent in 1952”, said, “Before Akali Dal and Jan Sangh came together in a post-poll alliance in 1967 after reorganisation of Punjab, both used to abuse each other vociferously.”

Pramod Kumar however said: “Akali Dal had no choice but to sever ties with BJP as the new legislations were aimed at diluting the federalism and hitting the peasantry, the two main issues very vital to SAD. The SAD had been strong votary of federalism and a peasants based party.”

“For survival, they [Akali Dal] had no other choice. From minus zero, they have come to one. In the end, it is advantage for Akali Dal as they have gone back to their main support base. Also, commission agents and shopkeepers are also with Akali Dal on the issue and Akali Dal will get support from urban areas as well,” he added.

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