HAS SIDHU FORCED BJP TO RE-ASSESS ALLIANCE WITH AKALIS IN PUNJAB?
Navjot Sidhu with Kangna Ranut in ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’
CHANDIGARH: The Punjab elections are about a year off but the ruling alliance is jittery, and worried about the growing popularity of the Aam Aadmi Party in the state. And even while the Akali Dal remains in denial mode, the Bharatiya Janata Party is now seriously reviewing the alliance and examining the possibility of going it alone in the border state.
Relations between the Akali Dal and the BJP have improved slightly from the new lows that these had plunged to over the last few months. Hostile responses, largely from Akali Dal leaders, were sought to be papered over at the start of the new year with both allies pledging cooperation to a fight against terrorism. Even as the local BJP leaders continued to whisper about the Akali Dal’s alleged relations with the extremist elements in the state.
There are no two views that the Akali Dal first family of the Badals has alienated the voters dramatically in Punjab. Corruption and non-governance has eaten into the popularity this regional party had enjoyed and despite the loud statements from the Chief Minister and his powerful family members, others in the party admit that they are staring defeat in the face at this moment. Sources told The Citizen that there is little sign of a course reversal within the party, with the Badals holding the reins and unwilling to undergo a postmortem at this stage.
The dilemma before the BJP is whether it should drop the alliance, and contest the forthcoming Assembly elections on its own. Has the Akali Dal become an albatross around its neck? Will the sinking Akali ship take down the BJP with it? Is the BJP better off on its own?
This has become the focus of debate within the BJP with the party president Ajit Shah and Union Finance Ministry spending three hours on Saturday with Punjab party leaders to get their views on the alliance. The meeting was held at the Finance Minister’s residence with MPs and MLAs from the state attending.
Kamal Sharma, president of the Punjab unit of BJP told reporters later in New Delhi, ‘the alliance has been in existence since 1997 and there is only one year left to go for elections, therefore it is natural that a call will be taken on the future (of the alliance),
Till date the BJP leadership had been sanguine about the alliance, and had refused to respond to the often critical remarks by the Akali Dal top brass in recent months. This is the first time that the BJP has officially admitted to reviewing the Punjab alliance, more so as the majority view according to sources here, is against going ahead into the polls with the Akali Dal.
The jitters are being caused by the surging popularity of AAP with the buzz placing it in the winning seat at this point in time. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has officially launched the AAP campaign with reports from across the state suggesting huge attendance at all AAP meetings, and increasing support. Interestingly, the BJPs celebrity face in the state, cricketer and TV celebrity Navjot Sidhu has become central to the BJP vs AAP face off in Punjab. Ad perhaps even a determining factor in the BJPs decision to review the alliance.
Sidhu, sources said, is said indicated that he was prepared to leave the BJP as his ambition of becoming Chief Minister would not be realised as long as the party remained in alliance with the Akali Dal. As the Chief Minister would remain with the regional party.
AAP, despite the popularity, is without a Sikh face. And has been in the search for a credible leader, given the convention in Punjab that has ensured that the Chief Minister of the state is from the Sikh community. AAP leaders openly invited Sidhu to join the party, and sources said that back channel meetings to effect the deal as it were also took place.
Sidhu is key to the BJP image in the state as well, being the Sikh face propped up by the party to cut into allegations that it does not have a support base in the community. Sources said state and central leaders urged Sidhu not to take the drastic step, and wait for developments. The review meeting on Saturday is expected to assure Sidhu that he could still become the Chief Minister without leaving the BJP, becoming its ‘leader’ for the top post if it decides to go it alone as seems to be the current indication.
Sources said Sidhu is holding his horses as it were for now, and has let it be known that he is not in a hurry to join AAP as there he is not sure he will have his way.
However, while Sidhu is clearly an important factor for the BJP, it still has to take a final assessment whether de-linking with the Akali Dal will work well for it in the elections. And whether Sidhu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to re-work the old magic, and bring the electorate out from under the AAP spell in Punjab?