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4-min read

BJP Right to Drop Akalis, JJP as Allies as Sikhs and Jats Can’t Flip Seats in Delhi Anymore

Given the city’s changed demography and electoral profile, parties closely identified with Sikh and Jat identities are fast becoming irrelevant.

Sidharth Mishra |

Updated:January 25, 2020, 12:41 PM IST
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BJP Right to Drop Akalis, JJP as Allies as Sikhs and Jats Can’t Flip Seats in Delhi Anymore
Home Minister Amit Shah waves at supporters during a Nukkad Sabha for the Delhi polls at Mustafabad in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI Photo)

With winter chill ebbing and weather improving, the campaign for the Delhi assembly elections has started to gain pace. As the first week of the campaign ends, nobody seems to have missed the absence of the two allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, the Akali Dal and the Jannayak Janata Party (the more powerful outfit of the Chautala clan) respectively.

In the run-up to allotment of party tickets and the filing of the nomination papers, a hue and cry was raised about the BJP failing to enter into an alliance with the two parties, though it agreed to give seats to its Bihar ally Janata Dal (United). Given the city’s changed demography and electoral profile, parties closely identified with Sikh and Jat identities are fast becoming irrelevant.

It’s also a matter of debate whether the Sikhs and Jats of the national capital, even when the migrant voters were still to dominate the electoral scene, did ever identify with the Akali Dal or the Indian National Lok Dal (the united outfit of Chautala clan). It would be interesting to note that the only Sikh to have ever been elected as a Member of Lok Sabha from any of the seats of the national Capital was a Congressman Charanjit Singh from New Delhi in 1980.

The Sikhs of Delhi, unlike Punjab, are not from peasantry but business class and their participation in politics is not as aggressive as the neighbouring state. The Sikhs were cultivated as a vote bank by late BJP leader Madanlal Khurana, after the community was betrayed by the Congress in 1984 and subjected to a pogrom following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Khurana, who for a very long time remained at the helm of party affairs in the national capital, came from the migrant Punjabi community and used his common diasporic traits to identify with Sikhs. This was the phase that the Sikhs drifted away from the Congress and went with the BJP, not even sparing Dr Manmohan Singh, who was defeated from South Delhi seat in 1999.

However, Khurana’s ousting as Delhi chief minister after his name figured in the Jain Hawala case led to a suicidal factional feud in the BJP. Sahib Singh Verma, who came from the Jat community, replaced Khurana as CM and faced his wrath. In the 1998 assembly polls, when Khurana was denied a second innings as BJP leader and Sushma Swaraj was brought in instead, the wily Punjabi leader forced an alliance with the INLD on five seats, which they all lost.

This he did to cut stature of Sahib Singh Verma, who was emerging as a strong leader from Jat community, which so far was not known to identify with the BJP. Till his emergence, the BJP had largely remained an urban Baniya-Punjabi-Upper Caste party in the north Indian states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and western UP.

Given Chaudhary Charan Singh, and later Chaudhary Devi Lal’s influence, the Jats went with the Janata outfits whenever they decided to desert the Congress. It was only after the rise of Sahib Singh that the Jats and other OBC communities of Delhi like Gujjars came to identify with the party, thus further reducing scope for any intrusion from Chautala or any other Jat clan from outside Delhi.

The interest of the Akalis in the national capital has been more focused on the Gurdwara politics than the assembly or Lok Sabha polls. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC), a very cash-rich body, is independent of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), which controls the Sikh shrines across the country.

The politics of DSGMC is as intriguing as Delhi’s cricket body - the DDCA. First Khurana and later Arun Jaitley tried to influence the Sikh voters of Delhi by patronizing the Akali leaders in the Gurdwara elections. Following the death of Jaitley, the Akalis in Delhi lost a patron within the BJP and thus not many takers were left for their bargain and blackmail.

The current BJP leadership rightly saw not much merit in the Akali Dal’s claim of influencing the Sikh votes as in 2015 the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had won all Sikh-dominated seats. It was only in the bypolls that Akali leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa won, and that too contesting on the BJP’s lotus sample.

The AAP leadership has surprisingly fielded non-Sikhs from the three Sikh seats of Hari Nagar, Rajouri Garden and Jangpura this time around, though it has fielded Prahlad Singh Sawhney from Chandni Chowk. Is it indicative of increasing irrelevance of the Sikh voters in Delhi polls? Probably yes, as the demographic profile of most of these colonies has changed over the years. So has the shape of Jat-Gujjar dominated rural Delhi, which is now dotted by unauthorized colonies occupied by migrants.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst)

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