Will Akali Dal join INDIA alliance? Badal's 'many options' remark fuels speculations
SAD leader Balwinder Singh Bhunder, however, said he doesn’t see the possibility of joining an alliance that has both Congress as well as AAP
Political circles in Punjab are abuzz with the speculations following media reports of INDIA alliance leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar extending an invitation to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to join the coalition bloc ahead of their crucial meeting in Mumbai.
SAD chief Sukhbir Badal’s statement on Wednesday (August 30) fuelled these speculations. Responding to media queries on the issue, Badal said the party has many options ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elections and it will join the alliance that will benefit Punjab. “We will hold deliberations in the party organisation before taking a final call,” said Badal.
SAD had been one of the oldest allies of the BJP before walking out of the NDA alliance in wake of the three controversial farm laws that were opposed tooth and nail by Punjab’s farming community. However, it won’t be easy for the Akali Dal to be a part of the INDIA alliance which has constituents like the Congress and the AAP. Most of the Akali Dal’s history has witnessed the party fighting direct electoral contests with the Congress, which turned intensely bitter in the aftermath of the 1984 Operation Bluestar and anti-Sikh riots.
No possibility: Bhunder
The Akali leaders have time and again raked up the 1984 issue to target the Congress in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab and therefore it won’t be politically wise for the party to join hands with the INDIA alliance in which the Congress is playing the central role. However, the fact that the SAD has always been a strong votary of federalism does make it a potential INDIA ally.
Talking to The Federal, SAD general secretary and former Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder said, “Our party’s history is replete with struggles for protecting federalism in the country. We’re a minority party committed to protecting interests of Punjab. We will join the platform which protects the interests of the minorities and the principles of federalism. However, I don’t see the possibility of Akali Dal joining an alliance that has both the Congress as well as the AAP.” However, at the same time, he said they share cordial ties with the INDIA alliance leaders like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and Mamata Banerjee and they have been coordinating with these regional parties over different issues in the past.
Interestingly, Bhunder also ruled out the possibility of the SAD returning to the NDA fold, contending that the BJP too is now treading on the same path as the Congress while referring to an increase in attack on the minorities. He stated that they will rather form a “Punjab Bachao Morcha” with like-minded parties to carry forward their struggle for the state’s interests in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The Akali Dal had won merely two out of 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019 with party chief Sukhbir Badal winning Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal retaining Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency.
Former Akali minister Dr Daljit Singh Cheema echoed similar sentiments while confirming that the party has not received a formal invitation to join the INDIA alliance so far. “We already have an alliance with BSP. There was no plan to forge another alliance with any political party,” he added.
Political observers also feel that the Akali Dal won’t resort to a big gamble by joining the INDIA alliance, particularly after its dismal performance in the 2022 state elections, in which its tally was reduced to mere 3 in the 117-member Punjab assembly. “The Akali Dal will be finished, if they end up joining hands with the Opposition bloc led by the Congress, as they’ve been fighting all the elections on the anti-Congress plank, bashing the national party for mounting a military attack on the holiest shrine of Sikhs and then resorting to genocide of Sikhs after the assassination of former PM Indira Gandhi,” said political analyst Bakhtaur Singh Dhillon while speaking to The Federal.
Discomfort in Congress, AAP
Meanwhile, the rumours about SAD joining INDIA alliance has led to a lot of discomfort in both the Congress and the AAP camps.
“As far as this particular regional party is concerned, let me tell you, there is no conversation. And there will be no conversation regarding their induction and that is my full and final statement,” AAP MP Raghav Chadha said on a question on the possibility of the Akali Dal joining the INDIA bloc.
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring also hit out at the Akali Dal for “trying to associate with the INDIA alliance to maintain its existence” in the state.
Warring’s statement came after the SAD chief told reporters that his party “has many options” while replying to a query on speculations of his party joining hands with INDIA. Making it clear that the Congress would never mull an alliance with the SAD, Warring said, “The Akali Dal has been spreading false rumours to retain its lost political ground in the state. It’s a do-or-die situation for the party as the BJP had already ruled out any alliance with it. SAD’s attempt to associate with INDIA is merely for survival. There can never be an alliance with the Akali Dal, never ever.” He also slammed the SAD leadership for “betraying the farmers by supporting the three contentious farm laws.”
In another development, there are speculations that INDIA bloc leaders were keen that the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) from neighbouring Haryana should also join the alliance. Incidentally, INLD and SAD have decades-old close ties, as OP Chautala and the late Parkash Singh Badal were close friends. The INLD leadership, however, is tight-lipped on joining INDIA. Chautalas have already said they won’t approach any party for an alliance.