Hasmirat Kaur’s resignation from Cabinet hints that BJP & Akalis are headed for a split

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·5-min read

Hasmirat Kaur Badal, wife of Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, has resigned from the post of Union Minister of Food Processing Industries, in protest against the farm bills tabled in the Parliament.

Hasmirat asserted that she had opposed these bills when ordinances to this effect were brought a few months ago, as part of structural reforms to tackle COVID-19 and expressed her concerns to the minister for agriculture.

Shiromani Akali Dal is one of the oldest allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Although Hasmirat has quit the Cabinet, the party is still part of the National Democratic Alliance. If it too leaves the NDA, it will be a big setback for the BJP, after the Shiv Sena walked out last year.

Sukhbir Singh Badal said the proposed laws will ‘destroy’ 50 years of hard work put in by successive Punjab governments and farmers to build the agriculture sector. He added that the three bills are going to affect 20 lakh farmers and 15-20 lakh farm labourers in Punjab alone.

The Akalis are fighting an existential crisis in Punjab, after a big loss in 2017 elections. The party finished a poor third with AAP occupying the Leader of Opposition chair.

The Badals were forced to take this decision as the Congress cornered them calling out their double standards, protesting these bills and at the same time enjoying fruits of power in the Modi government.

The Congress government in Punjab and the farming community has been up in arms against the ordinance/acts, claiming this would make farmers slaves of the corporate sector.

They highlight that mandis have been functioning efficiently in the state which produces almost half of the total grains produced in the country. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder has warned that enactment of farm bills will lead to unrest in the state.

This has turned out to be a political slugfest between the Akali Dal and the Congress. Akalis accuse the Congress of shedding tears now and doublespeak as the party had proposed abolishment of the APMC Act in its manifesto for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

On the other hand, the Punjab Congress demanded proof from Hasmirat that she had opposed the three farm sector ordinances.

The Congress alleges that she has resigned protesting against the bills because otherwise Badals would find it difficult to return to power in Punjab.

On the other hand, the SAD-BJP relations have also been on shaky ground for a while now. They have had differences over the CAA and NPR, and now the farm bills. The BJP state unit has been demanding that the party contest state elections on its own in2022.

The SAD has been hit hard by rebellion which is allegedly fuelled by the BJP. Some senior leaders have left the party challenging the leadership of the Badals and formed Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali). The latest to join their ranks is Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and his son.

The sacrilege issue, burning of the holy Guru Granth Sahib and the consequent firing during their tenure has put SAD on the backfoot. The SIT has taken over the investigation from the CBI in which Sukhbir Badal is accused of preventing large-scale desecration and failing to arrest the culprits.

The SAD, which has been almost the sole articulator of Punjab’s regional interests and the Sikh community’s political aspirations, is feeling the heat. The exit of top SAD leaders has made the task of reviving the party much more difficult.

The party could win only 2 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Ferozepur and Bathinda.

Prakash Singh Badal is staying away from public appearances. The party has been struggling to enthuse its core base: the panthic voters.

SAD is fast losing its core constituency of rural Sikhs as from once being a cadre-based, ideologically rooted party, it has now become a family dynasty party. Many people hold it responsible for destroying the autonomy of Akal Takht and the SGPC.

The BJP has been in alliance with SAD for more than two decades. The SAD is one of the oldest constituents of NDA. The formula for distribution of seats in the state has been BJP 23 and SAD 94. The BJP contests mostly the Hindu-dominated urban seats, and is planning to contest alone in the 2022 state elections, if reports are to be believed.

Such posturing has been seen before the last few elections as well. The BJP doesn’t have cadre and leaders across the state. It is seen as a Hindu party, while the state has never been led by a Hindu chief minister.

Piggybacking on SAD for past so many years has meant that BJP has not been able to develop its own cadre base in the state.

Both the parties could be feeling that the other is becoming a burden on its prospects. The BJP should, however, keep in mind that Punjab is one of the few states, apart from states in South India, where BJP has not been able to perform well comparatively, both, in 2014 and in 2019 general elections.

In 2014, the NDA could win 6 out of 13 Lok Sabha seats, which declined to 4 in 2019. Modi magic did not work here.

While there is political space for a viable third alternative, the BJP has to compete with the Aam Aadmi Party. Strong nationalism hasn’t won’t worked here, like in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when Punjab along with Kerala were the only outliers.

Punjab is a border state, people have paid the price of wars, so hysteria doesn’t work here.

For SAD, if it splits with the BJP, it won’t be easy in the polls, as Hindus account for 38.5% of the population. They have been voting for the BJP and the Congress over the years.

The BJP also has a good presence in urban areas in Punjab, while SAD has mostly rural base. Their strengths complement each other. However, recent events hint at an imminent split.