Akalis, BJP build on new, secular identity (Punjab Newsletter)
Chandigarh, April 14 (IANS) The 2012 assembly elections in Punjab brought out a new dimension in the politics of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both parties, hitherto identified with their strong Sikh and Hindu ideology respectively, have now successfully experimented with something more secular.
The Akali Dal fielded 11 Hindu candidates in the Jan 30 elections and nine of them won. The Akali Dal had fielded candidates for 94 seats in the 117-member assembly.
The BJP, which put up candidates in the remaining 23 assembly constituencies, won in 12. It had fielded three Sikh candidates and two of them, including Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of cricketer-turned-politician and Amritsar MP Navjot Sidhu, won.
"Inside the house (assembly), if you see, there are more Hindu faces on the Akali Dal benches than on the Congress side," Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is the Punjab deputy chief minister, remarked recently.
Sukhbir, who has been credited with creating history in Punjab politics by ensuring that an incumbent government returned to power for a second consecutive term in over 45 years, is known to run the party more on corporate lines rather than being a party of ageing leaders with flowing grey beards.
That is not all.
Out of the 21 chief parliamentary secretaries (CPS) inducted in the Parkash Singh Badal-led government, the Akali Dal had 17 legislators and the BJP had four legislators. Of them, the Hindu legislators in the Akali Dal list were six while two of the BJP legislators inducted as CPS are Sikhs.
The Hindu legislators from the Akali Dal inducted as CPS included Parkash Chand Garg (Sangrur), businessman Sarup Chand Singla (Bathinda urban), Nand Lal from Balachaur, realtor N.K. Sharma (Dera Bassi), Pawan Kumar Teenu (Jalandhar) and Avinash Chander (Phillaur).
The Sikh CPS from the BJP included Navjot Kaur Sidhu and Amarjit Singh Sahi.
"The Akali Dal has traditionally been identified as a party associated with Sikh peasantry. But in this election, the party has successfully broken out of that identity. The Akali Dal and the BJP have shown better secular credentials in Punjab," Jalandhar-based entrepreneur Rajbir Singh said.
Akali Dal sources say Sukhbir Badal did his homework extensively while selecting candidates for the party. Ludhiana-based Hindu leader Prem Mittal was fielded for the Mansa seat while Delhi-based liquor baron Deep Malhotra was fielded from Faridkot. Both candidates won in Congress strongholds.
"The Akali Dal is going through a makeover in its image. Being the second oldest party (after the Congress (Akali Dal was set up in 1920) in the country, it can have a bigger role to play in national politics. A good beginning has been made this time and things can be taken forward from here," a newly elected Akali Dal legislator told IANS.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)
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