Delhi Election: BJP & SAD Break Alliance, 5 Ways This Is Important
With less than three weeks to go for polling day in Delhi, the BJP and its long-time ally Shiromani Akali Dal have decided to end their alliance in Delhi in the upcoming Assembly elections. The Akalis have announced that they won’t be contesting the elections.
This development is crucial from the point of view of the Delhi elections as well as the alliance between the two parties at the Centre and in Punjab.
But first, the build-up.
An Uneasy Alliance
The BJP and SAD haven’t been on great terms for some time now, particularly after Sukhbir Badal took charge of the Akali Dal.
The two parties contested separately in the Haryana Assembly elections last year and they also had a face-off regarding alleged interference by the then BJP government in Maharashtra in the affairs of Huzur Sahib Gurdwara in Nanded.
However, until last week it did appear that the two parties may make up and contest the Delhi elections together. But BJP released its first list of 57 candidates even when talks were still going on between the two parties.
The SAD had two main demands: six seats and all the nominees contesting on the Akali ‘weighing scales’ symbol.
The BJP was willing to spare Rajouri Garden, Hari Nagar and Kalkaji seats but insisted that Akali candidates contest under the BJP symbol.
The Akalis weren’t willing to do that.
BJP, Akalis Clash on CAA
Akali leader MS Sirsa, who won from Rajouri Garden on an Akali symbol in 2013 and BJP symbol in a bypoll in 2017, said that the CAA lay at the root of the break-up between the two parties.
According to him BJP wanted Akalis to “reconsider its stand that all religions should be included in CAA” and party Chief Sukhbir Badal chose to end the alliance instead of going back on his stand.
Akalis understood that its decision to back CAA and its earlier support for the abrogation of Article 370 hadn’t gone down well in Punjab, with many accusing it of selling out to the RSS.
This has compelled the Akali Dal to adopt a more independent approach on certain issues, despite its leader Harsimrat Kaur being a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet.
BJP Planned to Split Sikh Votes?
The BJP’s calculation is slightly different and it doesn’t fear any major erosion in Sikh votes due to Akalis’ exit.
“One section of Sikhs are sympathetic towards Muslims. They won’t vote for BJP any way. But those who are not overly Panthic in ideology will vote for us any way. Akalis going away will help us,” said a BJP functionary closely involved with the party’s Delhi campaign.
The party’s calculation was that the Akalis may help split the Panthic Sikh vote in Sikh dominated areas. However, the Akalis decision not to contest at all has poured water over these calculations.
On the other hand, the party has fielded half a dozen Sikh candidates and hopes it would help win the votes of “non-ideological” Sikhs.
There was another fear for the BJP. AAP had given a lot of representation to Sikhs in 2013 and 2015 but this time, it has replaced its Sikh MLAs with Hindu candidates in Sikh dominated seats like Hari Nagar and Kalkaji.
The BJP was afraid that if it gives these seats to Sikh candidates from Akali Dali, AAP may end up capturing much of the Hindu votes in these seats.
Not a Punjabi Party Any Longer
BJP, historically, enjoyed a great deal of support among Delhi’s Sikhs, mainly due to the latter’s aversion to the Congress following the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom.
BJP was also dominated by Punjabi Hindu leaders like Madan Lal Khurana and OP Babbar who had good ties with Sikhs, especially in West Delhi. Harsharan Singh Balli emerged as one of BJP’s most prominent Sikh faces in the area.
But the sidelining of Khurana and Balli from the party led to a erosion of BJP’s support among Sikhs. According to Dr Sanjay Kumar of CSDS, the 1998 Assembly elections saw a massive 13 percentage point swing of Sikh votes from BJP to the Congress.
To make up for this, BJP began taking the Akali Dal’s help 2008 onwards.
But now there’s a sense in the BJP that Akali Dal has outlived its utility in Delhi. Also the leadership of the Delhi BJP has moved away from Punjabis and into the hands of Baniyas and Poorvanchalis.
The fact that BJP has given two seats in Delhi to Janata Dal (United) and one seat to Lok Janshakti Party – both its allies in Bihar – but not to the Akali Dali, is symbolic of its shift from a Punjabi-dominated party to one that wants to focus on Poorvanchalis.
A Sign of Things to Come in Punjab?
The comparison between the Akalis on the one hand and JD(U) and LJP on the other, is important in another respect. It could be seen as indicative of BJP’s strategy in two other states.
Elections in Bihar are due later this year. So, by accommodating the JD(U) and LJP in Delhi, BJP might be sending the signal that it is keen on fighting as an alliance in Bihar as well.
On the other hand, Akalis have been dumped despite being much older and steadfast allies of the BJP compared to JD(U) and LJP.
This could mean that the BJP may want to do it alone or demand more seats in the 2022 Assembly elections in Punjab.
It is interesting that the BJP’s decision not to align with Akalis has come at a time when one of its poll in-charges for Delhi is a Sikh – Union Minister Hardeep Puri.
It appears that BJP wants to establish its hold over Sikhs independent of Akalis.
This is happening at two levels. At the political level, BJP is known to be tacitly promoting Akali rebels like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa. He was given a Padma Bhushan award last year, despite rebelling against BJP’s ally.
Then at the social level, it is happening through the RSS affiliate Rashtriya Sikh Sangat as well as a number of Deras that the BJP is actively wooing.
The BJP and more importantly RSS’ thinking is that the alliance with Akalis hasn’t really helped bring Sikhs closer to Hindutva. On the other hand, anti-Hindutva voices among Sikhs have only grown stronger. Now even the Jathedar of Sikhs’ highest temporal body, the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, has become a trenchant critic of Hindutva, even calling for the ban on RSS.
The RSS hasn’t taken kindly to this and blames the Akalis for not reining in such voices.
It won’t be surprising if BJP may want to play a much more active role among Sikhs and in Punjab than the Akalis may be willing to concede. The break-up in Delhi is just the beginning.