BJP treated allies like spare tyres, has no minority support now, says SAD chief Sukhbir Badal
Chandigarh: The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president and former Punjab deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Monday said the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were treated like “spare tyres or stepneys to be used only when required”.
In a free-wheeling telephonic interview with ThePrint, Sukhbir said the BJP never consulted its allies before taking any significant decision. “They went ahead and did what was on their agenda and the allies were expected to fall in line,” he said.
The SAD had Saturday night announced its decision to leave the NDA over the three farm legislations, breaking a 24-year-old alliance with the BJP.
“In the form that the farmer bills have been brought in, they are not in favour of farmers. We pressed for changes and raised objections at various stages but when we were not even heard, we decided it was time to leave,” Sukhbir said, explaining the decision.
“My father has great respect for Modiji … I have great respect, but we cannot allow our political compulsions to take precedence over the plight of the 20 lakh farmers toiling in Punjab’s fields.”
‘BJP has lost its last vestige of secularism’
When pointed out that SAD with just two MPs leaving has not made any difference to the NDA, Sukhbir said, “Our departure from NDA has taken away from the BJP its last vestige of secularism. When a Shiv Sena leaves the NDA, it is a Hindu party leaving another but when the Akali Dal leaves the NDA, it means they are losing their secular face. Now they have no minority with them.”
“If you think that making one Sikh a minister or one Muslim minister will get you the votes of these minorities, you are wrong. This is not going to help improve your credentials,” he added. “The Akali Dal represents Sikhs all over the country. The committees of the five Sikh Takhts (temporal seats) are constitutionally controlled by the SAD. We are the only party that has been standing up for Sikh causes. The NDA has lost the support of Sikhs not just in India but across the world.”
He further said that the BJP never took his party into confidence even on issues related to Punjab and Punjabis.
“The kind of disrespect the BJP has shown to the Punjabi language by removing it from the list of official languages in J&K is also unacceptable,” he said. “We are a Punjab party; we are allies. The least they could have done is asked us. It’s unfortunate that on many occasions, they have instead been depending on the views of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, an offshoot of the RSS that has absolutely no base in Punjab, to take decisions about our state.”
He also denied suggestions that the SAD decision was based on political considerations. “The issue of Punjab farmers is vital but it is not that we have suddenly woken up to the farmers issue because it brings us back to the centre stage of Punjab politics,” he said. “I was the only one from among the NDA allies to speak up in Parliament opposing the deletion of the word Muslims from the Citizenship Amendment Act. On Article 370, we were not consulted at all. We did not even know that it’s going to happen until the afternoon it was brought into Parliament. That is how they have been treating allies.”
‘BJP needed us more than we did them in Punjab’
The former Punjab deputy chief minister also told ThePrint that it is the BJP that always depended on his party to gain power in the state.
“In Punjab, it is the BJP that needed us to come to power but not the other way around. Of the 94 seats we contested in Punjab (in the 117-member assembly), there are about 70-75 seats where the BJP does not even have an elected municipal councillor,” he said. “Maybe on a couple of seats, they have 2,000 to 5,000 supporters. On the other hand, of the 23 seats that the BJP contested in Punjab, the Akali Dal has a voter base of about 30 to 40 per cent.”
“And let me tell you, Punjab’s Hindu and Muslim voters trust the Akali Dal. This is because we represent the moderate, secular Sikhs who believe in respecting every religion,” he said. “Ever since I took over the party, we have had Hindu and Muslim MLAs and their number is only going to increase.”
On whether the BJP can broaden its base and go beyond urban areas in Punjab for the 2022 elections, he cited examples to suggest that it was unlikely to happen.
“Once when our alliance was in power, the BJP decided that it wanted to contest the panchayat elections. We asked them to focus their energies on urban areas but they insisted,” he said. “It was then decided that if they contest in rural areas, we would contest in urban areas. Of the over 13,000 panchayats, the Akali’s won in 70 to 80 per cent and the rest were won by the Congress. The BJP registered a zero.”
He further claimed that there was a repeat of this electoral performance in the urban areas as well. “A few months later, elections were held to the municipal committees. We fought on our symbols,” he said. “Of the 1,350 councillors elected, 850 were of the Akalis, 300 of the Congress and only a 100 were of the BJP. While the BJP in Punjab has no following in villages, even in the urban areas they are limited to only specific pockets.”
On the competitive politics going between SAD and the Congress over the farmers issue, Sukhbir said, “The Congress might be in power and the state machinery at their disposal. But they cannot compare with the Akali Dal cadre when it comes to morchas (protests).”
“I challenge Captain Amarinder Singh to sit on a dharna for the whole day in the sun or even hold a day-long hunger protest. He will not be able to do it. I am already travelling across the state, meeting party workers and soon you will see us everywhere. The Congress is not even to be seen anywhere,” he added.
On whether like the Shiv Sena, SAD would tie up with the Congress ever, he said, “Never. In fact, Congress is the only party we will never ever think of joining hands with. The party that sent in tanks to the Golden Temple (Operation Bluestar) can never be forgiven.”