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‘Not just a party of Jats,’ how the SAD hopes to rebrand itself with BSP alliance

The alliance's revival comes at a time when SAD is facing a backlash among Sikh farm workers in Punjab and the Mayawati-led BSP is fighting for survival in UP.

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New Delhi: After severing ties with the BJP and walking out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the farm bills, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is back with another old ally after 25 years — the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). 

Political watchers, however, say the alliance, while good for optics, will not yield much electoral equity for either of the two parties.

SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal announced the tie-up at a joint press conference, also attended by BSP MP Satish Mishra, in Chandigarh Saturday.  

“It’s a new day in Punjab politics, SAD and the Bahujan Samaj Party will fight the 2022 Punjab Legislative Assembly elections and future elections together,” Sukhbir said

“Of the 117 seats (in Punjab), the BSP will contest in 20 seats and SAD will contest in the remaining seats,” he added. 

BSP’s Rajya Sabha MP Satish Mishra seconded Badal. “This time the alliance will not be broken. It is a historic day as the alliance has been formed with Punjab’s biggest political party SAD,” Mishra said. 

The two parties had been in an alliance before partying ways in 1996.  

The revival of the alliance, however, comes at a time when SAD is facing a backlash among Sikh farm workers in Punjab and the Mayawati-led BSP is fighting for survival in UP. Both Punjab and UP are set for assembly elections next year. 

Political analysts say the tie-up is a symbolic move that looks great on paper but not practical ahead of the 2022 assembly polls. 

“BJP was a better partner (for SAD) and it made much sense. There was an urban-rural complementary relationship  as well,” Ashutosh Kumar, Professor at the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, said. “The BSP’s own vote-share has declined. We are not sure whether it will be able to transfer its vote to the alliance in the Dalit-dominant regions.”

“But now, at least Badal can say ‘assi Jato ki party nahin hain, ham to sabka dhyan rakhte hai (We are not just a Jat party, we take care of everyone)’ as he wants to retain the Dalit votes,” Kumar added. 

Reacting to the development, the Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar told ThePrint, “This is a desperate attempt on the part of Akali Dal to stay relevant in Punjab’s politics after their core voters have turned hostile. They believe in use and throw politics. Their last alliance with BSP lasted not more than three years. This time, Akali Dal would not get anything out of this.”

“BSP may have some presence in the upcoming assembly elections but Akalis will not gain anything at all,” he added.


Also read: For years this Punjab man planted trees so village could breathe. Then, his lungs gave way to Covid


BSP’s Punjab paradox

Punjab gave the BSP its first MP in 1989 when Harbhajan Lakha won from the Phillaur constituency. Party founder Kanshi Ram also hailed from the state, in which Dalits are 32 per cent of the population.

Party founder Kanshi Ram also hailed from the state, in which Dalits are 32 per cent of the population. 

But the BSP has never been a serious contender in Punjab. Its highest tally in the state came in the 1992 assembly elections, when the party won nine seats and secured 16.32 per cent of the vote share. 

Since then, it has been all downhill. 

The party managed just one seat in the 1997 elections while garnering 7.48 per cent of the vote share, according to data with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. Following this, it has not won a single seat in the state. 

In the 2002 assembly elections, it had a vote-share of 5.69 per cent, which then reduced to 4.13 per cent in 2007 and was 4.29 per cent in 2012. 

In the 2017 assembly elections, the BSP’s vote-share was a paltry 1.5 per cent.

Experts cite a number of reasons for this. 

Professor Kumar, also author of the book Electoral Politics In Punjab, said the BSP itself is to blame for this. 

“The BSP has never been serious about Punjab. They don’t have a Dalit face,” he said. “There is a lot of infighting. Above all, Punjab does not interest Mayawati.”  

Kumar also said that deras in the state filled the political void for Dalits. “The deras have a great influence on Dalits, and they never support the BSP,” he added. “They always support either the Akali Dal or the Congress.”  

Professor Ronki Ram, also of the Panjab University’s political science department, offered another reason.  

“Much like other states, Dalits in Punjab are also divided. They are divided not only on caste lines but also on religious lines. So there are around 39 caste groups among the Dalits in Punjab,” he said. “Among them, the major caste groups are Valmikis (Hindu dalits), Mazhabis (Sikh dalits), and Ravidasias and Ad-dharmis (who neither identify themselves as Hindus, nor Sikhs). The groups are politically divided. They are affiliated to different regional and national parties according to their own preferences.”

Why the tie-up

According to Professor Kumar, SAD will use the alliance to consolidate its position in the Doaba region, the Dalit heartland of Punjab.  

Doaba has 23 assembly seats, most of which are reserved. 

Kumar, however, said the tie-up will not really work. 

“This alliance will not have a positive impact on the two parties. Akali Jats will not go for Dalit candidates. So vote transfer would not take place,” he said. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)


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