In April 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was slated to file his nomination papers for the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, a gesture of the PM had created quite a flutter on social media.
The PM had touched the feet of veteran Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leader and former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal (92), which was recorded by TV cameras for posterity.
Badal is over two decades senior to the PM both in age and politics.
The PM’s respect for the SAD’s patron had underlined the importance of the ties between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the SAD, the oldest constituent in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The BJP top brass has always been proud of its special ties with the SAD for decades.
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In May 1996, when the BJP had emerged as the single-largest party after the parliamentary polls, the SAD was the first political entity to endorse the former’s bid to form the government at the Centre.
Perhaps, SAD has been the only BJP ally, whose unflinching loyalty to the senior partner has never been in doubt through the years.
Leaders of both parties valued each other’s role in agitations, especially during the Emergency, declared by the then PM Indira Gandhi, between June 25, 1975 and March 21, 1977.
In Punjab, the SAD’s home turf, the BJP is largely seen as an urban political force, while the junior ally has deep rural connect in the agrarian state.
The SAD-BJP alliance had ruled Punjab for a decade between 2007 and 2017. This was largely because the SAD had managed to wean away a section of urban voters, who had chosen the Congress in the past.
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Leaders from both the parties on various occasions had described the alliance as unbreakable and everlasting.
The BJP was content to play second fiddle to the SAD in the latter’s bastion, despite the former calling the shots at the Centre.
The exit of the BJP’s most prominent Jat Sikh and Punjabi face, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had advocated a tougher stance against the Badals, is also attributed to the party leadership’s decision not to upset the SAD.
However, there were strains, despite a common ideological mooring to oppose the Congress.
Many felt that the Akalis had moved away from their core Panthic agenda because of the close proximity with the BJP.
The SAD, which is trying to regain its lost ground in Punjab to the ruling Congress and a new entrant the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is primed to play the role of an aggressive opposition in state politics after the BJP’s oldest ally withdrew from the NDA government on Thursday.
Union minister for food processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Modi government on Thursday in protest against the legislations aimed to liberalise trade in agricultural commodities.
The timing could not have been more opportune as the SAD’s move is aimed at tapping its huge rural constituency, where farmers’ issues have traditionally struck electoral chords.
Though the lone SAD representative in the Modi government has resigned, the party is still a part of the NDA.
Now, the decades-old ties are on the line as the Centre’s legislative push is seen to hit the SAD where it hurts the most – anti-farmers’ issues.