Thursday, October 23, 2014

SAD-BJP Relations: Boys will be boys, but they better be men (HT Article)

BJP, and the Punjab factor
       by Harcharan Bains*
The BJP is on song these days. Almost anything the party touches turns to gold, thanks largely to the presence of a modern Midas in its ranks. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, Prime Minister Narinder Modi seems to have  built an impressive political edifice virtually on the ruins of  a party which not too long ago wore the look of eternity in Indian politics.
   What is most significant here is that the agenda on which India’s new political icon steered his party to the national cameos is a well  crafted ensemble of modern political ideas. Its colours were drawn not from saffron factories- harsh and abrasive -  but from the rainbow –natural, soft and inclusive.   It was based politically on liberal  and open democracy, socially on the ideal of a tolerant and secular state and economically on a futuristic development  model driven by the idea of  transparent and responsive  corporate with compassion and conscience. The entire Modi campaign saw a marked departure from the  trade mark BJP rabble.
  Herein lies what is at once an opportunity and a challenge, both for him personally and for the country. And nowhere will this opportunity and challenge emerge sharper than in Punjab.
      And the anvil on which this challenge and opportunity will be tested and moulded will undoubtedly be the relations between two of the principal political players in the state: the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bhartiya Janata Party.   At stake are not political ascendency, individual egos or spoils of power  for either of the two parties. At stake is peace and communal harmony not only in the sensitive border state of Punjab but to an extent in the entire  country. And at test will the ability of leaders of the two parties to  look beyond the immediate and work for  future goals for the country.

  In  a country which, despite its increasing unitarism,  remains federal in spirit and character, the dynamics of relations between a strong national  majority party,  and one of the strongest regional political organizations in India have to be seen in a context much larger than partisan politics.
    Punjab is the only major state where the national majority is a provincial minority. Further, the Sikhs are a national minority but a provincial majority in Punjab. No other state in the country carries this creative yet explosive paradox.
      So far, the BJP and the Akali Dal have together managed this paradox with a finesse seldom associated with India’s political class. Like it or not, the BJP is identified with India’s majority.  And yet, its most dependable and longest standing ally in the past  nearly 70 years is a party that proudly represents India’s most vocal and stridently patriotic minority community, the Sikhs. Each party has so far disallowed strident and discordant  radicalization of  conflicting identities by elements either within their own ranks or those sniping at them from the tramlines. In the process, they have salvaged the cosmopolitan spirit of Punjab and delivered what looked almost impossible at one time:  first created and then occupied a proud secular common ground.
           Not many people are aware how the Akali-BJP relations have always been the best barometer of the mood of the state in ways more than just political. The graph of health of Punjab’s social harmony runs concurrent with the graph of Akali-BJP relations. Since the reorganization of the state in 1966, the SAD and the BJP have parted ways only once – from the early 80’s to the mid 90’s. And that was the only time when Punjab saw bitter, fratricidal violence at an unprecedented scale. At one time during this phase, the destiny of the nation seemed to hang by a dangerously slender thread – all because social and religious fabric in Punjab had got badly fractured.
     It needed the present Chief Minister Sardar Parkash Singh Badal on the one hand and one of the country’s  best loved leaders  from the BJP, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee on the other to show political daring  to re-start what proved to be not only a political alliance but a veritable social cohesion for Punjab and the country. A Hindustan Times front-page picture of these two leaders hugging and laughing together in 1996 re-set the mood of the state and of the country where communal relations were concerned. Never has peace and communal harmony looked in any danger as long as these two outfits have stayed together.
  As one who has worked closely with Mr. Badal for over thirty five years now, I am fully aware of  what great risks the Akali stalwart took at that time by offering unconditional support to Mr. Vajpayee at a time when the BJP most needed it in Delhi. This was by no means a favor , nor a political gambit as the survival of the minority-BJP government led by a visionary poet –Vajpayee-  was known to be matter of time. But Badal knew how important peace and communal harmony were for his people and how important the symbolism of Akali-BJP alliance was to ensure that peace and communal harmony.
I strongly believe that apart from the Khalsa Heritage Monument at Anandpur Sahib,  history will rate Akali-BJP ties as Badal’s greatest gift to peace, communal harmony and stability in the country.
Almost two decades later, Badal and Prime Minister Modi re-worked that chemistry when the Akali leader virtually named NaMo as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate – even ahead of his own party. And the Prime Minister showed singular grace when, at Ahemadabad last year, he described Badal as “the country’s most seasoned and respected statesman and a father figure.”

   It hurts me these days when I see some people showing less than the requisite seriousness while talking about Akali-BJP relations. I know there are boys in both the parties, and that boys will be boys. But Punjab and the  country require their boys to be men now, and heed the example of Badal, Vajpayee and Narinder Modi,   and not chip away at the strong and  precious edifice of peace and communal harmony symbolized by the Akali-BJP  relations so far.  At stake once again are interests that Punjab and the country can never afford to trifle with.

( Mr Harcharan Bains is a renowned political commentator . He is at present at present Advisor to hief Minster Punjab, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal. The views expressed here are personal)

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