With Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the lone Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) MP, resigning from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, the Bharatiya Janata Party is on a sticky wicket. The SAD, now threatening to walk out of the National Democratic Alliance over the contentious farm bills, is its oldest and most consistent ally in the National Democratic Alliance.
Last year, the saffron party had to part ways with one of its strongest allies, Shiv Sena, with whom its relationship has only gotten bitter since. However, unlike Maharashtra, where BJP has been able to build its own standing, its position in Punjab is different.
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For long, the SAD-BJP alliance, despite multiple internal rumblings between the two parties, stood strong. Both parties depended on each other to form a winning combination. While the BJP could pool in support from Hindu voters, especially the trading community in urban areas, the SAD as the vanguard of Sikh panthic politics has dominated the rural, agriculturally-rich regions of Punjab.
With its strong support in rural Punjab, the SAD from time to time took up all important farmers’ issues not merely as a matter of politics but also of faith. The BJP-SAD combination, together, was a formidable one.
Although the Congress has always had statewide presence in Punjab, for it to come to power, the party either needed a perceptible anti-incumbency stir against the SAD – and a strong sense of fatigue against the regime of the Badals – or an aggressive push from a Jat Sikh leader like Captain Amarinder Singh.
However, political equations have substantially changed since 2014 in the state, much of which has landed an electoral advantage to the Congress.
Punjab is the only state which in two successive parliamentary elections beat the so-called “Modi wave”. Although much of the northern parts of India was swept by BJP, the NDA performed rather poorly in Punjab.
While most political observers credited the BJP’s success to the leadership of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah, the duo’s Hindutva push has had an opposite effect in the Sikh-majority state.
Since 2014, the BJP has attempted to sideline the SAD from the larger scheme of politics and has snubbed its efforts to emerge as a party in its own right.
While doing so, it gave renewed push to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s belief that Sikhism is but a sect of Hinduism. This has made Sikhs extremely wary.
The Punjab BJP, until 2014, could hardly be classified as a Hindutva party, although much of its support came from the Hindus. However, Modi-Shah’s pushback against minorities across India also alerted Sikhs against BJP, which reduced SAD – considered to be the heftier party in the state alliance – as a minor player in national politics. This marked a paradigmatic shift in the manner in which the SAD-BJP alliance was perceived in Punjab.