"If BJP ignores the message of Delhi, it will do so at its own peril”
THE SHIROMANI AKALI DAL has expressed profound happiness at the defeat of the BJP's divisive agenda, wholeheartedly welcomed the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party, and credited Mr Arvind Kejriwal for not only delivering on the AAP's promises but also for introducing clean politics in India.
Now, people in Punjab might not have heard of the effervescent happiness of the Badals-led Shiromani Akali Dal at AAP's victory, but this is what the Akali Dal has told rest of India. And the BJP circles are understandably shocked.
In fact, after having accused Kejriwal of hobnobbing with Khalistani terrorists, the SAD has now found that Kejriwal, after all, was the messiah of clean politics. The SAD's national spokesperson went on national television channels during prime time to declare that the man set to become the chief minister of Delhi for third time in a row deserved credit "for introducing clean politics in India."
Messers Parkash Singh Badal and his established heir and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal might not have informed their own electorate in Punjab about how they interpret the victory of Kejriwal and AAP, but the unadulterated view of the Akali Dal has been conveyed to the larger Indian audiences through the National Spokesperson of SAD and Member of Parliament, Mr Naresh Gujral.
"I complement the Aam Aadmi Party and Mr (Arvind) Kejriwal for introducing clean politics in this country," Mr Gujral told national television channels while articulating the view of his party, the SAD.
"In fact, if you speak to anybody in Delhi, their (AAP's) delivery has been very good. They stuck to their promises, whether it was water, whether it was electricity, whether it was roads, hospitals, education, they have delivered. And when you deliver like this, then people vote for you," Naresh Gujral told NDTV in a detailed interview following the drubbing that the BJP received in Delhi after a no-holds barred, highly divisive campaign, led from the front by Modi and Amit Shah.
Anchor Nidhi Razdan, a little stunned by this reaction of the SAD spokesperson, naturally called his observation "significant, coming from you, for two reasons because you are in the NDA and the Aam Aadmi Party has a significant presence in Punjab," asked Naresh Gujral, "Do you consider that BJP's campaign was hateful and divisive?"
Here is the Akali Dal's official reaction to the hate speech that marked much of BJP's campaign: "I am very happy about one thing — that people of this country by and large have proved to be secular and they have not bought the divisive agenda. And I think that is very healthy for democracy."
"Does your party leadership feel the same way?" the anchor asked Naresh Gujral, reminding him that one gets a sense that its spokesman in Delhi does speak out on issues from time to time but the SAD line on the ground is often different.
But Naresh Gujral remained firm: "I think every right-thinking Indian feels the same way. Nobody wants to fragment this country, nobody wants this kind of divisiveness, nobody wants this kind of religious hatred...we are a party who are the followers of the Gurus and the essence of their teachings has always been harmony and tolerance, then how can they not follow this?"
"Then what are you doing in the NDA?"
It was a question asked most piercingly, and Akali Dal's erudite spokesman, Member of Parliament and son of a former Prime Minister, was at a complete loss for words.
Naresh Gujral often pitches a different face of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Delhi's respectable power circles than what the party projects to its electorate in Punjab.
It is a situation akin to a religion-based party going around in the Indian political space with two Constitutions
in hand -- one meant for the consumption of the Election Commission of India projecting itself as a secular party and helps it escape any action for making feverish appeals to the voters' religion, and the other that enables it to fight elections to a shrine management body and project itself as primarily a party to safeguard the interests of one particular community.
But back to the question: "Then what are you doing in the NDA?"
Naresh Gujral is not easily thrown off guard. He had laughter to fall back upon: "Ha..ha..ha.." But then quickly found his words: "Look, we have our own ideology. We stick to our ideology and from time to time, we speak out."
"Even on CAA, we made our position very clear. We voted for the CAA because we wanted the Sikhs who had come from Afghanistan and Pakistan to be given citizenship, but we did state clearly on the floor of the House that we don't want Muslims to be excluded."
"We are against any kind of counting done in a way which would create fears in the minds of minorities or the poor," he said. The SAD has so far not held any dharna or rally to oppose the CAA, its leaders have not participated in any such protest, and not a single leader has visited or met students of JNU or Jamia who were targetted by the goons. In fact, the SAD did not back the resolution against CAA in the Punjab Assembly.
Now, however, Naresh Gujral also remembered to hail the AAP for not trying to win votes through any freebies or allurements.
"The good thing, which I think is a lesson for everybody across the country, is that you can win an election without giving any allurements, without giving alcohol, without distribution of money or gifts or or any such thing," Naresh Gujral said, adding the AAP has won solely because it actually delivered. "You can talk to anybody in Delhi," he said.
"If you stick to your promises and if you deliver, people will vote for you. What Mr Kejriwal learnt this time was that don't have a negative agenda. He did not criticize BJP, he did not criticize Mr Modi, he only stuck to positives. And this has been our experience in Punjab also that if you want voters to vote for you, you must stick to a positive agenda."
Clearly, the significance of the remarks of an ally like the SAD could not have been lost since the BJP made Shaheen Bagh its election plank and Amit Shah himself asked people to hit the EVM buttons with so much force that the current should reach the Muslim women sitting in Shaheen Bagh opposing the CAA.
But will the BJP shun all talk of Pakistan and Kashmir and stop spewing venom against a particular minority, Naresh Gujral said, "Delhi has sent a very strong message and if they ignore it, they will do so at their own peril. I do hope that better sense will prevail."
Gujral was unfortunately not asked why better sense did not prevail upon his own federalism-seeking party when it backed the BJP's moves on Art 370 and Art 35-A, and when the Central government could well have given citizenship to migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan without bringing in CAA, but he did slam the NDA for veering off the path that had brought it to power.
"The NDA was elected on an agenda which was different, which was an economic agenda, and now the economy is slipping. The entire focus of the government should move back towards economy," Gujral said.
Naresh Gujral said political parties should learn one lesson from the Delhi election outcome: "Do not make false promises because if you do not stick to your promises, people will throw you out, but if you deliver, you will be rewarded. So, I think that should be the message for everybody."
An added message for everybody should also be that the political party should speak in the same tone and tenor in Punjab as it does in Delhi and on English-language news television channels.
Unfortunately, the Akali Dal leadership, primarily made up of the father-son duo, the son's wife and her brother, trudge a muddled turf, with one narrative for the consumption of Punjab's audience and another more politically correct aimed at Delhi's and country's elite.
In Delhi, the job is performed by Naresh Gujral, who is essentially a Delhi-based wonderboy with intricate knowledge of the power corridors. He has been carrying out this task with a certain level of dexterity, pursuing a political path where he doesn't have to get his hands dirty in the so called politics of the hoi poloi.
He is Akali Dal's television MP: seen only on screen, mouthing politically correct stances, spinning a narrative which is at a marked variance with the fulminations of a Sukhbir or Harsimrat Badal in Punjab. Or taking a stance more in line with Delhi establishment than even his own party, as in the case of demand for commuting the death sentence of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar where he opposed the official SAD stance.
But since he is the national spokesperson of the party in the national capital, we thought you would like to know what the rest of India does about the Akali Dal’s reaction. For the SAD's Punjab-specific official reaction to the Delhi results, here is the ever-suave spokesperson, former state minister and SAD secretary Daljit Singh Cheema: "If the BJP had better co-ordination with us, the results could have been different.” Cheema was speaking in Punjabi.
Incidentally, the Akali Dal did not even object to the BJP fielding a man like Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga and eventually asked Delhi's voters, including the 12 lakh plus Sikh voters, to vote for the BJP. Not one Akali Dal leader issued not one statement on even a single instance of venom like "Goli Maro” or "Shaheen Bagh” being the hub of anti-nationals, but then, that is a duty of one man called Naresh Gujral who can speak about such issues only in a language which certainly can never be Punjabi.
So, Angrezi mein bolo, Khalsa ji, "Kejriwal, I love you..." After all, Kejriwal has said the same, and in the same language.
Happy Valentine Day.
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