The rise of the Sukhbir Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) after virtually sweeping the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), routing the Congress-led Paramjit Sarna group, may appear to be good news for the BJP ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections, but may also caution the BJP strategists against a more demanding ally.
Certain sections in the BJP believe that if Sukhbir Badal bags the Moga Assembly seat of Punjab in the 23 February by-elections, the SAD will, on its own, reach the magical number of 59 in the 117-member Assembly for the first time ever since the Akali Dal and BJP and its earlier incarnations formed an alliance during the 1970s.
The BJP’s headache will be that Sukhbir will demand 15 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections due to the fact that Sikhs are decisive voters on those seats. Akalis in the past were given a maximum of four seats by the BJP. Not only this, he may demand at least one Lok Sabha seat in Delhi.
With both SAD patron and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir dreaming of a bigger role at a time when their brand of regional politics is gaining ground ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they may demand seats during the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections also this year itself due to a large number of Sikhs being in these states. BJP is a major party in both these states.
Haryana is the only state in which Akalis have some presence outside Punjab with one seat in alliance with the Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
The assertion of Sukhbir could be due to the fact that his government will not be dependent on the BJP if the party wins the Moga byelection. Sukbir may also offer fewer seats to the BJP in the next Assembly or Lok Sabha elections.
If Badal bags the Moga Assembly seat in the 23 February elections, SAD will on its own reach the ‘magical number’ in the Assembly.
Parkash Singh Badal has already made his complete sway over Sikhs clear in a statement saying, “Now it is clear that Shiromani Akali Dal is the only force having complete backing of Sikhs in religious and political affairs.”A section of the BJP had already been growing wary of Sukhbir as he has been building inroads in cities and amongst Hindus, both BJP constituencies. During the Assembly elections, Sukhbir fielded a large number of Hindu candidates. The SAD also captured most of the municipal bodies to the chagrin of the BJP.
Sukhbir has tried to endear the national leadership by saying, “The Akali Dal will support any Prime Ministerial candidate that the BJP may put up, including Narendra Modi.” Analysts feel even this statement is meant to increase the bargaining power of the younger Badal.