Other States

SAD-BSP alliance may not deliver in Punjab Assembly polls

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The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) recently decided to jointly contest the Punjab Assembly elections, due early next year. The announcement has set the tone for the upcoming polls, even as keen political observers feel the alliance may not yield the “desired” results for either party.

In Punjab, which has the highest percentage of Dalit population among the States at close to 32%, the BSP used the Dalit vote as a political plank for the first time in 1992. However, since then, the party has received a declining response in the State. In 1992, it secured over 16% votes winning nine seats in Punjab, but that dropped to around 4% in the 2012 Assembly polls. In 2017, the BSP’s vote share percentage hit a further low of 1.5%. Now, with the new alliance, the BSP is attempting to remain “relevant” in State politics.

On the other hand, the SAD has faced wrath of farming community, its key support base, which is demanding the repeal of the the three farm laws. The party is hoping to neutralise its negative political impact through the newly formed alliance, hoping to win over the votes of the Scheduled Castes.

Parties are aware of the importance of Dalit votes and have been making all efforts to garner it. The newly formed alliance is being seen as critical for the SAD, especially after it broke its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the farm laws issue. The SAD has already announced it would appoint a Dalit as Deputy Chief Minister if it forms the next government.

Ashutosh Kumar, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University and author of Electoral Politics in Punjab: Factors and Phases believes that the SAD-BSP alliance is nothing more than a poll optic, which is going to be insignificant in the upcoming polls. “This alliance is not going to have a major impact on the electoral outcome. The BSP has an almost negligible base in the State. It has been losing its support base. Its last win was one Assembly seat in 1997. SCs are divided on not only caste lines but also on religious lines. The BSP hardly has a base that the Akali Dal could capitalise on,” he told The Hindu.

“On the other hand, the SAD is in trouble of even losing the traditional support base surrounding the 2015 Bargari sacrilege and subsequent police firing incident. Akalis supporting Jats (the farming community) is unlikely to go for Dalit candidates. Eventually, there would hardly be any significant gain for either of the two parties,” added Mr. Kumar.

On June 6, the SAD-BSP inked an electoral alliance for the 2022 Assembly polls, in which the SAD will contest 97 seats and the BSP 20 — including eight seats in the Doaba region, seven in Malwa and five in Majha region of the State. There are a total of 117 Assembly constituencies in Punjab.

Ronki Ram, Shaheed Bhaghat Singh Chair Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, pointed out that both the SAD and the BSP are currently entangled within their respective adverse political circumstances. “If the SAD is finding it difficult to maintain its heritage status — being a Panthic party of the Sikhs — for not defending the interests of the farmers of the State, who mostly happen to be Jat Sikhs, the BSP has been struggling hard at least to keep itself alive in its birth place,” he said.

“Moreover, given the divisive factor of the caste divide in the state, it seems quite unlikely that the SC votes would be transferred to the SAD. Besides, the SCs of Punjab, like their counterparts in other parts of the country, are not a homogeneous category. They are sharply divided into 39 castes among themselves and got further fragmented into different religions and syncretic faiths, which metamorphosed into deras. The SAD-BSP alliance may not fetch SC votes for SAD across the socio-religious divisions within Dalits. Similarly, the BSP may also have to pay the price for signing the alliance with the SAD. Those SC affiliates of the BSP who were not comfortable with the SAD may like to dissociate themselves from the former for its political marriage of convenience,” said Mr. Ram.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 10:43:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/sad-bsp-alliance-may-not-deliver-in-punjab-assembly-polls/article34822583.ece

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