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After Haryana and Maharashtra, will BJP play the stake alone in Punjab?

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By Jaideep Sarin

Chandigarh: After every few months, Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance undergoes a self-imposed test to check whether or not its political bond is strong.

In recent weeks, the ties between the allies have again undergone a reaffirming test from top leaders after actions and utterances of state leaders of both sides clearly pointed to differences.

File Photo.
File Photo.

The BJP leadership, by occasionally raking up differences, is certainly testing the political waters to check if it can go alone in the 2017 assembly polls. Leaders of both the parties know for sure that they cannot encroach on each other’s votebank as the Akali Dal is strong in the Sikh-dominated rural Punjab and the BJP has its hold on the Hindu-dominated urban areas.

Some bonhomie was witnessed this week in Amritsar with union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and union Urban Development Minister M. Venkiaih Naidu sharing the stage with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal (of the Akali Dal) and other leaders of the two parties.

Badal senior and Jaitley had to even categorically say that the alliance was strong and would continue.

The chief minister, at a recent media interaction, was even more specific in stating that the allies would contest the assembly polls together.

But at periodical intervals, top leaders of both sides have to reaffirm that the alliance is strong enough and is likely to continue.

Having been in power in the frontier state of Punjab since 2007, including the alliance returning to power in the 2012 assembly polls, there have been occasions when their leaders have differed on certain issues.

A recent provocation was the Punjab government openly favouring Khalistan-linked activists and convicted terrorists and seeking that they be shifted to prisons in Punjab. The BJP, which has made its stand clear on dealing with terrorism and terrorists, was clearly upset.

Even on other state-level issues, differences have cropped up between ministers and legislators of both sides.

Industry Minister Madan Mohan Mittal, a BJP man, has made his displeasure known about the manner in which decisions regarding his key portfolio were being taken by Badal junior. These are especially related to policy issues, announcements and new plans.

Another BJP minister, Anil Joshi, has had run-ins with Akali Dal leaders and ministers in the past.

At times, leaders from both sides have taken a stand on issues and given vent to feelings through the media. But then, the senior leaders from both sides, after watching matters for some time, intervened to stop things from aggravating. Badal senior had to recently say that the relations between the two sides were not “strained”.

Even after the photo-ops and camaraderie of leaders of both sides, issues will keep cropping up at the state heads closer to the elections to the 117 assembly seats. The BJP, which has been the smaller partner to the Akali Dal so far, is likely to seek a bigger role or even decide to go it alone like it did in Maharashtra and Haryana last October.

(IANS)

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BJP Offers Christians a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Is Religious Pilgrimage A New Playground For The Political Parties?

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community

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In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
  • The political parties (BJP and Congress ) are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in the coming local elections of the eastern states of India
  • The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively
  • After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022

The Campaign promises during the elections times are quite bizarre nowadays, from “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”

In the coming local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India the agenda by the rival BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress parties are unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Yes, you read it right. The political parties are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage. The offer has been put up by the Prime Minister Modi- led BJP for the upcoming elections. Even the local partners of the Congress party are treading up the same path.

Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons
Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons

The BJP has not made it clear yet if it is offering the scheme to all of India’s Christians, or only to Christians in the northeast, or only to Christians in Nagaland. The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively. Nagaland is one of smallest states of India, with the population of just under two million people.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

As per the Tourism Ministry figures, around 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.

The elections are scheduled for the February 27 in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – later this month.

The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also tweeted on the double standard of the government and lashed out at the government for its discriminatory decision, ending Haj subsidy but allowing subsidies to continue for Hindu pilgrimages like the Mansarovar Yatra.

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community. But recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. The government cited the reason for the subsidy withdrawal as they wanted to utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy for the education of minorities, particularly girls. After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022.

Also Read: Government ends Haj subsidy as part of a new policy

The scheme is a clear cut example of hypocrisy and opportunism, especially considering the cancellation of Haj subsidies. It seems quite contrary, on the one hand, the government is cutting down the benefit scheme for one section of the society and on the other hand, some other community is been offered the same thing. Such moves bring out the double standards of the political parties just for the sake of vote bank. In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented.

In 2011, Nigeria also did something same as that of India. For many years, their government financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country. But with the change in the government, subsidies have been cut considerably and now a 12-day pilgrimage costs around 2000 dollars. The change in stance has resulted in 78% decrease from 2011.