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Punjab

Poll pact with INLD in Haryana may cost SAD dear in Punjab

October 10, 2019 04:53 AM

COURTESY HT OCT 10

Vinod Sharma

New Delhi : Why does the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) field candidates in Haryana, which has no Sikh-dominated assembly seat? Why is that it never ventures to Rajasthan with relatively larger Sikh population or puts up a fight in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit, where the community it claims to represent, has a presence of more than 4%? Valid questions these at a time the SAD decided to fight five constituencies in Haryana in alliance with OP Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal but failed to find candidates for two of those. The question’s doubly relevant because the Dal’s presence in the poll fray is only in name; the three contestants fighting on its symbol on reserved seats are widely seen as nominees of the INLD, rather than those of the SAD.


The situation, in fact, is a repeat of the 2014 assembly polls when, too, the Dal had lent its symbol to contestants chosen by the INLD. The sole SAD legislator in Haryana, Balkaur Singh, has since defected to the BJP and is its candidate against the SAD for the Kalanwali seat.

In retaliation, the Dal-INLD have fielded a BJP defector, Rajinder Singh Desujodha, against Balkaur Singh. The Akalis’ grouse is that the saffron party departed from the coalition dharma by co-opting an SAD defector in the middle of talks for an alliance in Haryana.

That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the Dal going on a rebound to the INLD with which it had had to break the alliance — forged before the previous assembly elections — on the water-sharing dispute between Haryana and Punjab. The problem that arose when Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966 is unlikely to be resolved any time soon like most riparian logjams.


What’s politically confounding for SAD old-timers is that the leadership embraced the INLD within days of the latter’s top functionaries protesting and courting arrest to demand the opening of the disputed canal for carrying water from Punjab. The bifurcated states have fought many legal-political tussles since the 1981 Indira Gandhi Award (that mooted the construction of the SYL canal) and the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi-Harchand Singh Langowal pact. Haryana has finished construction of the canal (on its territory) for sharing Ravi-Beas waters but Punjab hasn’t kept its part of the accord. In fact, the Congress and the SAD, the two main political players in Punjab, have competed with each other to show themselves as bigger defenders of the state’s water resources. The slugfest invariably accentuates during election time as water is a sensitive issue in the agrarian states.

The SAD’s alliance with the INLD is unlikely to go down well in Punjab. It was particularly avoidable for two reasons: the political vulnerability of the Sukhbir Badal-led Dal on account of internal rebellion; and the challenge posed by the breakaway Taksali faction.

More importantly, it gives the BJP a valid reason to expand its footprint in Punjab. A seasoned observer of Akali politics wondered: “What’ll the SAD gain by antagonizing the BJP for an alliance that isn’t sustainable in Haryana and justifiable in their home base of Punjab? They could’ve served the community better by persuading the BJP to field Sikh candidates rather than becoming a party to the contest.”


The political fallout of the disingenuous move may bring heavy costs for the Badals. In Haryana, the Congress might be restrained, but will certainly exploit the dichotomy in Punjab to show Capt. Amarinder Singh as championing better the state’s cause in the water dispute.

Conscious of the Badals’ declining stock, the BJP’s already busy building an independent base on SAD’s communal turf. It hopes to occupy the vacuum caused by the Dal’s shrinking appeal by earning the Sikh community’s goodwill through its Kartarpur corridor initiative, grant of amnesty to Khalistanis detenus in Indian jails and lifting the travel ban on their counterparts settled abroad.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com

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