Road to 2014: will Modi make the cut for allies?

Which way will the Akali Dal go if the BJP names Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? The question needs to be examined in the backdrop of the Akali leadership stand on its relationship with the BJP and the NDA. The chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has repeatedly declared that his party and the BJP are bound in ‘life-long ties’ and that the Akali Dal being an inseparable constituent of the NDA will back its decisions.  

Badal’s stand on his party’s relationship with the BJP and NDA is understandable. It is driven by the Akali leadership’s ambition to be a ruling partner at the Centre and also for capturing power in Punjab. It cannot fulfill its ambition without being a constituent of an anti-Congress front – presently the NDA – at national level. In Punjab also, it will be impossible for the party to capture power, at least in the near future, without the BJP’s support.

No doubt, Sukhbir Singh, the chief minister’s Deputy Chief Minister son who is also president of the Akali Dal has been trying to end his party’s dependence on the BJP in Punjab by expanding his own party’s base in the BJP’s Hindu-dominated urban support base. He has succeeded to some extent as indicated by the victory of a number of Hindu candidates who contested the election on Akali ticket. However, even if the party makes more inroads into the BJP’s support base, it is not likely to part company with its ally, at least till the senior Badal is around. The Akali Dal will need allies to counter the Congress, its main challenger in the state which is now seeking an alliance with secular forces, particularly Manpreet Singh Badal’s Punjab People Party and the Left parties. The Akali Dal’s stand on its relations with the BJP and the NDA is logical. But it has its inherent contradictions, which will get exposed if the BJP makes Modi as its prime ministerial candidate as indicated by recent developments. The BJP has elevated Modi as a member of the party’s highest policy-making committees. This coupled with Rajnath Singh’s declaration at the BJP’s foundation day celebrations in Ahmedabad on 6 April eulogising Modi raises the possibility of the party’s new hero being nominated as its prime ministerial candidate. Modi’s latest utterances also expose his ambitions. At a book release function last week he said that ‘after repaying his debt to Gujarat, it was time for him to repay his debt to Mother India’.

Making predictions in politics is always hazardous. Despite the optimistic utterances about Modi being named as PM candidate, the Akali leadership will find it extremely difficult to lend support to Modi. This is despite the fact that the party has ‘unbreakable ties’ with the BJP and Parkash Singh Badal’s rapport with Modi. Badal had flown to Gujarat when Modi launched his sadbhavna yatra before the state Assembly elections. He also made it a point to attend Modi’s oath taking ceremony after the BJP won the elections.

There are factors which will make it improbable for the Akali leaders to back Modi if he is chosen as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. A few years ago Badal had supported the move for unity among the country’s minorities. But on the Modi’s role in the 2002 killings of Muslims in Gujarat, the Akali leadership criticism of Modi lacked punch. This was in sharp contrast to its justified condemnation of the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Its conflicting approach on the two issues exposed the hollowness of the Akali leadership’s stand on safeguarding minorities interests and forging their unity. Another factor which may influence the Akali leadership’s decision on Modi’s possible nomination as prime ministerial candidate will be the expected opposition by some of the key constituents of the NDA, particularly the JD(U) with which the BJP shares power in the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government. JD(U) has a sizable support base among the Muslims. It cannot afford to be seen being aligned with the NDA’s dominant constituent one of whose prominent leaders responsible for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat is named as prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections.

Besides, some of the BJP’s NDA and non-NDA allies must also be apprehensive that Modi’s elevation to the party’s highest decision-making bodies might lead to the resurrection of BJP’s Hindutva agenda which will alienate their support bases among the minorities, particularly Muslims.   

Though the BJP is NDA’s dominant partner, the regional parties are the conglomerate’s mainstay. In this coalition era, a party cannot hope to capture power in Delhi without their support. As the situation stands today, the saffron party will have to think twice before naming Modi as its prime ministerial candidate without a nod from NDA’s partners including Akali Dal.

Another factor which will check the Akali leadership from lending support to Modi will be the attitude of the Sikhs who had been a victim of minority syndrome. It will be a Herculean task even for Parkash Singh Badal who enjoys unchallenged mass base in the state to convince the Sikhs about its stand.

It is in the light of the foregoing perceived scenario that the Akali Dal’s post-2014 Lok Sabha polls national level political relationships will be keenly watched. (IPA)
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