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Why Akali Dal leaving NDA marks a big fundamental shift in Indian politics

In episode 578 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta explains the reasons behind SAD's exit from NDA & why BJP chose to let it go, and pays tribute to Jaswant Singh — 'the last conservative'.

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New Delhi: The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the oldest and most loyal allies of the BJP, has exited the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), over the passage of the three controversial farm bills, following in the Shiv Sena’s footsteps, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta said in episode 578 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.

The SAD had initially thought it could get away by just withdrawing Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union Cabinet. However, it did not work because the farmers — who form the major voter base of the party — were not convinced.

Therefore, the SAD decided to withdraw from the NDA, noted Gupta.

Also read: After Akali Dal, now JD(U) wants changes to farm bills, demands MSP guarantee

Why this is important

In North India, if there was one state that stood up to the BJP and the Modi wave in 2014 as well as 2019, it was Punjab, Gupta said.

“Even in 2019 when the BJP did better than 2014, it had won only two of the three seats it contested in Punjab, whereas Akali Dal contested the remaining 10 and won only two.”

After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it was clear that the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal were BJP’s ‘essential allies’. But Modi junked the Shiv Sena, and therefore, it could be anticipated, even in 2014, that the Akali Dal was next.

“A pattern could be seen emerging, BJP’s Hindu voter base and Akali Dal’s Jat Sikh votes were not getting transferred to each other. This is why the BJP-Akali Dal combination did poorly in the 2014 and 2019 election as well as in the assembly elections in 2017,” noted Gupta.

In the 2012 assembly elections, the SAD-BJP alliance had won with a slim majority. However, the elections were “curious” because the Akali Dal — which is a ‘Panthic Sikh’ party — had got more Hindus elected on its ticket than Sikhs. It was not able to transfer its votes to the BJP, Gupta said.

If the Akali Dal had managed to transfer its vote, he added, the BJP would not have had to suffer the humiliation of losing Amritsar in 2014 and 2019 general elections despite fielding two of its high profile ministers — Arun Jaitley (2014) and Hardeep Singh Puri (2019).

SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal was given food processing ministry in the cabinet. Given that Prakash Singh Badal himself had held higher positions in the opposition coalitions earlier, this was a fall for the Akali Dal from their position.

“They were chafing because a lot of their demands were not being met. And you could see why because they were not so important for Narendra Modi and BJP anymore. They were seen as dispensable,” Gupta said.

In 2014, BJP got 31.34 per cent votes and the total NDA vote percentage was 38.5 per cent. In 2019, NDA’s vote went up to 45 per cent but the BJP’s vote percentage went from 31.34 to 37.4 per cent.

The increased vote share of the NDA came from the BJP and it is now in a situation that in the states where it wins, that is all of the Hindi heartland, Maharashtra, Gujarat and others, it is “maxed out”, according to Gupta.

Therefore, the BJP now has to look at the vote share at the constituencies of its allies as well. What happened with Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, could be sobering for other NDA allies, particularly for the JD(U) in Bihar.

Also read: Akalis could look at BSP for alliance, and BJP at a new SAD, as curtains fall on old ties

Essential allies

The concept of essential allies is rooted in a theory put forth by veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, recalled Gupta.

“He said that BJP should be open to embracing anybody but five parties — Congress, Samajwadi Party, RJD, the Left front and the Muslim League. The reason he gave for excluding these parties was that they think that the BJP and RSS are anti-national.”

Therefore, the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal became essential allies of the BJP because they were parties that appealed to the voters of one particular religion and did not pretend to be secular.

However, the Shiv Sena joined the Congress in 2019. And according to Gupta, Shiv Sena’s decision to break away from the NDA was because of the shifting centres of Hindutva politics from Shiv Sena to BJP, genuine insecurities and fears.

The break-up in Punjab, however, is more a case of the BJP not seeing any benefits in continuing with the alliance, he added.

Also read: After Arun Jaitley, no one in BJP understands psyche of Punjab, says SAD MP Naresh Gujral

Can Akali Dal join Congress?

No political party has been more anti-Congress in the last 100 years of Indian political history than the SAD.

However, normally it would seem like an impossible situation but after the Shiv Sena joined the Congress, nothing can be said with any surety, noted Gupta.

The politics in Punjab has also become more complicated with the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab, which is essentially riding on “dissatisfied Sikhs, radical, semi-radical, or a middle ground voter base disillusioned with the Akali Dal” — which is also a family-based party.

So there is a three-party situation in Punjab now — Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and Akali Dal. AAP and Akali Dal will fight for the same voter base, BJP will have the urban Hindus as its voter base, which will leave Punjab divided.

Tribute to Jaswant Singh

With the departure of former Union minister Jaswant Singh, one more “big wicket” from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-era has gone, Gupta said.

The Vajpayee-Advani-Jaswant Singh era of the NDA is over.

“If I may sum up my own understanding of Jaswant Singh in one sentence, it would be that he was the ‘last Indian liberal-conservative’”, added Gupta.

Singh brought in a Hindu sensibility, a sensibility of Indian culture but he was also liberal enough to embrace and learn from everybody and not interfere or intervene in anybody’s way of life and thinking, and allowed a healthy debate, he noted.

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