The BJP on Sunday said the party is ready to contest all 117 seats in the Punjab Assembly in the 2022 state elections after its oldest ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over differences on the three controversial farm sector bills passed by Parliament.
Senior BJP leader Madan Mohan Mittal even claimed that several Akali leaders are in touch them and want to jump ship to the BJP. "The SAD would not get a majority if they contest alone," Mittal told the media.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP had contested 23 seats, while the remaining 94 were fought by the SAD. Out of the 13 parliamentary seats in Punjab, the Akalis contested 10 in the 2019 general elections, while the BJP fought on the remaining three.
Former minister Mittal has been quite vocal against the SAD for quite some time now, and had been saying that the BJP should part ways with the Akalis with which the saffron party had an alliance for three decades.
The relations between the old allies came under strain first in December last when Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal slammed the BJP during the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) debate in Parliament.
On Saturday night, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal announced the decision to snap ties with the NDA, amid stepped up agitation by farmers in Punjab over the three legislations which were recently passed by Parliament amid opposition protests.
Badal's wife and SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had on September 17 quit the Union Cabinet after he strongly opposed the bills in Lok Sabha, claiming these legislations will "destroy" the agriculture sector in Punjab. Parliament had recently passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill; Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; and Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill. These are yet to get the assent of the president.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh termed Akali Dal's decision “as nothing more than a desperate case of political compulsion” for the Badals. Referring to his earlier statement, in which he had pointed out that the NDA would throw the Akalis out if the latter did not leave gracefully, Amarinder Singh said there was no moral high ground involved in SAD's decision.
"The Akalis had no choice before them since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had already made it clear that it held SAD responsible for failing to convince the farmers about the goodness of the farm Bills. The SAD decision to quit the NDA was just the culmination of their saga of lies and deception, which eventually led to them being cornered on the issue of the Bills," said the Chief Minister, adding that Sukhbir Singh Badal was virtually caught between the devil and the deep sea after his initial unprincipled stand on the farm ordinances, followed by the sudden U-turn in the face of farmers' protests.
The Chief Minister said that with the BJP-led ruling coalition at the Centre exposing SAD's web of lies, fabrications and double-speak, the Akalis could not have done anything but the NDA. “But far from helping them save face, which they probably hoped to do, the Akalis will now find themselves in a bigger political mess, having been left with no place either in Punjab or at the Centre,” he added.
Dissident Akali leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, too, said the party snapped ties with the NDA out of compulsion as farmers were angry with it over the farm bills. “They (SAD) have done it out of compulsion as farmers are upset with them,” Dhindsa, a Rajya Sabha member, said. He said the Akali Dal initially supported the bills with even party stalwart Parkash Singh Badal speaking in its favour.
“They then took a U-turn, saying it is not in the interest of farmers. Were these bills not bad for farmers earlier?” the dissident Akali leader said. “They have lost support at the ground level in the state,” he alleged.
Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, along with his son and former state finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, was expelled from the SAD in February this year over anti-party activities.