BJP happy to play second fiddle in Punjab, Haryana

By Jaideep Sarin and Alkesh Sharma, IANS,

Chandigarh : Unable to create a statewide mass base for itself, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is forced to be in the shadow of regional parties in Punjab and Haryana.

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In Punjab the BJP is an alliance partner in the government led by the Akali Dal, while in Haryana it has joined hands again with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

There has never been a BJP-led government in either state, unlike in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh where the party is now in power.

The BJP has been given three Lok Sabha seats to contest in Punjab by the Akalis out of the state’s 13. In Haryana the party is better placed, contesting five seats of the total 10. The other five have been taken by the INLD.

Despite differences with the Akalis and the INLD, the BJP is compelled to partner these parties for its own survival. But BJP leaders, on the face of it, refuse to admit their party is playing second fiddle to regional forces.

“The BJP’s alliance with the Akali Dal is of immense significance as it would facilitate development in the region. Both the parties enjoy a harmonious relationship and we expect this bond to grow further,” Rajender Bhandari, the Punjab BJP president, told IANS.

“The BJP has equal participation with the Akali Dal in the decision making process in Punjab. We have formed a special coordination committee to look after the interests of the BJP,” Bhandari added, denying his party was forced to play second fiddle to the Akalis.

Notably, the BJP, which criticises the dynastic politics of the Nehru-Gandhi family, sees nothing amiss in Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal promoting his own family in the state government and the party.

Badal got his son, Sukhbir Badal, inducted as Punjab’s deputy chief minister in January this year – giving India its first father-son pair as chief minister and deputy chief minister.

The BJP did not object even when Badal got his son to head the Akali Dal as president, ignoring the claims of several senior Akali leaders.

In Badal’s government, the father and son are not the only ones from the family. Nephew Manpreet Badal is Punjab’s finance minister. Son-in-law Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon is food and supplies minister. Another relative, Janmeja Singh Sekhon, is also a cabinet minister. Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia quit the Badal ministry in January to pave the way for Badal junior in the cabinet.

The state BJP and the Akalis have had confrontations on some issues. The BJP, which earlier used to demand the post of deputy chief minister for itself, kept quiet when Badal junior was inducted. BJP leaders say their central leadership, especially L.K. Advani, who is considered close to Badal senior, directed the state BJP not to rake up the issue.

The BJP, which has five ministers in the Badal government, almost came to quitting the government when its workers were beaten up by the Akalis at several places during local elections.

The Akalis also realise they cannot be in power without the BJP’s help. The Akalis have 48 legislators in the 117-seat assembly while the BJP has 19. The Akalis need 59 seats to be in power on their own.

In Haryana, the BJP parted ways with the INLD five years ago, complaining that the then Chautala government ignored the BJP during its six-year (1999-2005) rule.

Both sides contested the 2005 assembly elections separately and were routed by the Congress. The INLD won only nine seats in the assembly, with Chautala losing one of his two seats.

Despite opposition from its state unit, the BJP central leadership again forged an alliance with the INLD this time. The INLD is not part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Forced into the alliance, BJP leaders have no choice but to defend it.

“The Congress is very afraid of the BJP-INLD alliance. Both the parties compliment each other and nobody is dictating things here,” state BJP president Atam Prakash Manchanda told IANS.

He added: “The USP of our coalition is that the BJP and the INLD have common interests. If we add their expected vote percentage, then the Congress stands nowhere in the state. Our alliance is sure to win all 10 Lok Sabha seats from Haryana.”