The BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have announced that they would contest the Lok Sabha alone as talks between the two parties failed miserably for the third time. While BJP sources said that state party workers were not in favour of an alliance, the Akali was reluctant to join forces due to the saffron party’s Hindutva agenda and the recent farmer protests.

Seat sharing was another issue that blocked the alliance. SAD was not ready to share more than three seats, but the BJP was demanding five to seven seats. Analysts have said that going solo would neither benefit the BJP nor the SAD.

Announcing the BJP’s decision to go solo, Punjab chief Sunil Jakhar said, “The decision was taken after consulting the people, party workers, and party leadership. The work done by the BJP for the betterment of farmers is unmatched. Each grain grown by the farmers during the past decade has been lifted on MSP and was paid within a week.”

He also said that the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor was another feather in the party’s cap.

On the other hand, Akali Dal supremo Sukhbir Badal’s reaction was a veiled attack that reflected the changed stance after former CM Parkash Singh Badal’s death.

“Shiromani Akali Dal is not just a political party driven by number games, unlike some national parties,” Sukhbir Badal said in Amritsar while reminding the BJP of SAD’s changed stance over support to the party.

CLASH OF IDEOLOGIES BEHIND THE DEADLOCK

A year after Parkash Singh Badal passed away, the Shiromani Akali Dal changed its stance towards the party’s 24-year-old “unconditional support policy” towards the BJP.

Parkash Singh Badal would often say that Akali Dal’s unconditional support to the BJP was for Hindu-Sikh unity and was a bond like “flesh and nail”. The sudden change is being viewed as SAD’s religious agenda as it reinforces itself as a panthic party (religious party).

“For us, it is principles above politics and issues above any political numbers. We are a representative organisation of farmers and have always led the fight for their rights from the front and introduced historic measures in governments for their welfare. Our party stands by high principles and is committed to safeguarding Panth (religion) and Panjab,” Badal said.

Sources said the changed stance was the outcome of SAD’s move to strengthen its rural and Sikh vote bank.

Last year, on December 15, Badal apologised to the Sikh community for failing to nab the culprits in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case, when his party was in power. The BJP has claimed that the SAD was carrying the baggage of sacrilege cases that influenced the 2022 Assembly elections.

On the other hand, the SAD was reluctant to partner with the BJP, which was at a receiving end of the farmers’ protests. Akali Dal feared that joining hands with the BJP might spoil its rural and religious vote bank due to the BJP’s Hindutva agenda and negativity within the farming community over MSP and other issues.

Even hardline Sikh groups, including pro-khalistani outfits, were against the RSS and BJP due to their alleged Hindutava agenda. Some even justified it, saying that if the idea of a Hindu nation was acceptable, then why was the demand to create a Sikh nation (Khalistan) being objected to.

AKALI DAL’S VOTE SHARE DECLINING

A comparison of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results and 2022 Assembly election results shows that AAP and Congress had punched holes into SAD’s traditional vote bank.

Akali Dal’s vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha was 27.8 per cent, which slipped to 18.38 per cent in the 2022 Assembly election.

Interestingly, the BJP’s vote share in the Assembly election remained stable. It was 9.7 per cent in 2022 when BJP and SAD were not allies.

HOW GOING SOLO WILL IMPACT THE BJP AND SAD

Psephologists have always favoured a SAD-BJP alliance as it might have made them strong contenders. Experts said the claim being made by BJP leaders that it would win all 13 seats was a mere pipe dream as the party’s vote share was less than 10 per cent.

“BJP’s vote share is limited to urban and semi-urban areas, Akali Dal still enjoys a good penetration among the rural voters. To fulfil its 2024 aspirations, the BJP requires a strong political partner like Akali Dal,” Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), PU, chairperson Professor Pramod Kumar said.

While the BJP as a national party lacks rural penetration, the SAD may face challenges in attracting non-Sikh voters in rural Punjab.

Recently, Congress leaders claimed that without SAD, the BJP would not be able to campaign in rural areas.

“Joining hands with BJP will be a death knell for the SAD, which claims to be a panthic (religious) party. On the other hand, the BJP will not be able to seek votes in rural areas due to its anti-farmer policies,” Punjab leader of opposition Pratap Singh Bajwa said.

Congress leaders also claimed that not forgoing an alliance was part of SAD-BJP’s strategy to attract its cadre votes. Both may reunite after the Lok Sabha polls.

Published By:

Abhishek De

Published On:

Mar 27, 2024

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