Having failed to dissuade the Modi Government from enacting the laws on agriculture reform, the Shiromani Akali Dal has decided to part with the BJP after a 24 year alliance. This is an obvious attempt to convince the farmers of Punjab that SAD stands by them even if it means relinquishing a share of power at the Centre. There would be nothing remarkable in this decision, as positions can be easily reversed in politics, were it not for the fact that SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced his party would fight for the rights of the farmers and ‘the Sikhs’. This is a can of worms better not opened in Punjab, which has suffered greatly in the past because of competitive Sikh politics. Despite the fact that the Khalistan movement was comprehensively defeated, both, on the ground and ideologically, enough radical groups remain, funded by foreign organisations, which would love to exploit the situation. There is an entire generation of youngsters, who not having experienced the disaster of the past remain vulnerable to fundamentalist propaganda.
Badal is in many ways misreading the situation in Punjab. Under Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, someone who is clear-minded about the imperatives of overall national and state interests, the Congress party has garnered considerable support among the Sikhs. His position on the agri-bills has been even more severe than that of the Akalis. So, if it is the intention to obtain farmers’ support on this issue, the SAD is already on a very weak wicket. It would have been much better if it had stood by the NDA, despite the farmers’ anger. Once the benefits of the reform would have begun to show, its principled stand would have been appreciated. Probably, as has been raised repetitively on social media, the Badals have enormous financial stakes in the present system and are making a last desperate bid to keep these afloat.
At the national level, it is clear that the NDA is having a tough time pushing through its ‘reform’ agenda. Its regional allies have, perforce, to keep an eye on local issues to survive. The Shiv Sena’s willingness to compromise on ideology to acquire dominance in Maharashtra is an example of this. The JD(U) experimented with changing loyalties in Bihar and had to correct course due to impending loss of relevance had it persisted. The same challenge will emerge for the SAD and Shiv Sena in their respective states – without BJP support, where will the majority votes come from in the future? Sikh and Maratha politics have their limitations, particularly in this day and age.