Navjot Singh Sidhu’s resignation from the Rajya Sabha has created such problem for the BJP which is much bigger than mere fighting Assembly polls in Punjab and keeping its alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) intact. The surprise move from the cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-politician has, in fact, put paid to now for the BJP’s plans to free itself from the apron-strings of a much-discredited alliance partner. The strained relationship between the two allies was evident at the meeting of the Inter-State Council, where Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal targeted the Centre on issues of federalism.
Sidhu would have been important for the BJP in case it planned a split with the Akali Dal. He is a Jat Sikh with an urban appeal, which would have suited BJP’s plans if it decided to go all alone in the Assembly polls scheduled for March next year. Sidhu has no love lost for the Akali Dal leadership and had said that he would not campaign for the BJP if it continued with the alliance with the Akali Dal.
During the last Lok Sabha polls too, when he was replaced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as party’s candidate from Amritsar, he had refused to manage his polls in cohorts with Akali leaders. Jaitley thus in 2014 suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Capt. Amrinder Singh, who is now Congress’s face for the upcoming election.
With Sidhu leaving its ranks, though he is yet to officially resign from the BJP, the saffron party would be left completely at the whims and fancies of its ally. With the entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a visible resurgence of the Congress, there is also a mixed feeling among the Akali leaders about the utility of the BJP as alliance partner. They instead see a better proposition in having an alliance with a Dalit party rather than an urban party to survive 2017 electoral challenge.
The Dalit presence in Punjab is bigger than what it is in Bahujan Samaj Party’s stronghold of Uttar Pradesh. At 32 percent, Punjab has the highest proportion of Dalit population in the country, and the BSP got more than 4 percent votes in the last two Assembly polls in the state as compared to BJP’s share of about 8 percent. The SAD is said to be in touch with the BSP, which could help it keep control in rural areas of the state.
The BJP’s base is mostly limited to urban pockets, where it will have to face the AAP, besides the Congress. The SAD is contesting 94 out of 117 Assembly seats, leaving just 23 for the BJP. Going by the tenor of Sukhbir Singh Badal’s address at the ISC, if the Akali Dal decided to break the alliance, the BJP has nobody to fall back upon to lead it in the next polls.