Why Akali Dal is angry with its oldest ally BJP
Why is the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) angry with its oldest ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? What caused the party to vent publicly by skipping the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) January 31 pre-Budget meeting?
For record, the SAD, through its leader and Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral, cited as the ignition point the Maharashtra government’s alleged interference in Sikh affairs.
The conferment of Padma awards on SS Dhindsa and HS Phoolka also took the SAD by surprise.
Dhindsa was once the secretary-general of the SAD and Phoolka was until recently a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party. They both aren’t on the best of terms with the Badal family, especially former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal and his wife Harsimrat Kaur, who is a Union minister.
The SAD’s unease was compounded when the Padma list was released close on the heels of a critical statement by Dhindsa; the Badals later diplomatically complimented him for the honour. For his part, Phoolka has plans to open a broader front with a campaign to free the SAD-controlled Shriomani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) from the “clutches” of politicians. As a lawyer who for years worked for justice for the victims of the 1984 riots, he is held in high esteem by the Sikh community across the country.
The SAD is also miffed with the BJP for not being consulted in the formulation of farm-related policies.
Sukhbir Badal was kept waiting despite two requests for a meeting with Amit Shah (the BJP president reached out to him only when the SAD stayed away from the NDA meet).
Shah is believed to have promised Sukhbir Badal that he will make the Devendra Fadnavis regime in Maharashtra withdraw the contentious amendment to the Takht Sri Nanded Board Act.
The Akalis are particularly angry with the changes that vest the state government with the power to appoint the president of the shrine’s board.
This happened in 2015, after which the BJP installed one of its legislators, Tara Singh, at the helm in the board of the Takht Hazur Sabih, where Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last. The matter came to a head with the completion of the incumbent’s tenure last October.
The Akalis perceived Tara Singh as a nominee of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has a record of interfering in the Sikhs’ religious affairs the SAD considers its exclusive domain.
In the year 2000, there was a major controversy when the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan said the Sikhs were a part of Hinduism, and their faith was originally crafted to defend Hindus against the tyranny of Mughal rulers. The comments, made at a meeting of an RSS affiliate, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, caused a furore in the community.
It eventually led to the Sangh accepting Sikhism as a faith distinct from Hinduism in a submission to the national minorities’ commission.
In the manner of other NDA allies, such as the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party, the Akalis are discomfited by alleged attacks on other minorities by the BJP-RSS fringe. They are worried about the vicarious consequences of such incidents on their base among Muslims and Christians.
Taking a leaf out of the Shiv Sena’s book in Maharashtra, the Akalis are keen to show that they aren’t without choices other than the BJP in Punjab.
Their brinkmanship game has lately entailed flaunting the option of an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The BSP’s founder, the late Kanshi Ram, hailed from Ropar in Punjab. He first entered Lok Sabha in 1996 from Hoshiarpur while contesting in alliance with the SAD.
The pact disintegrated when the BSP aligned with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh in 1996.