Chandigarh: Even as it avoided taking a clear stand against the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the Badal faction of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which has an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has firmly cast its lot with the Opposition in the trust vote due on 22 July in Parliament.
Punjab’s ruling party did so by delinking the nuclear deal from the trust vote, which it argued was a verdict on the failure of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, to contain surging inflation.
Numbers game: A file photo of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal (right) with son Sukhbir Singh Badal
In another setback to the UPA, a Congress member of Parliament, or MP, from Haryana, Kuldeep Bishnoi, also said he will oppose the ruling coalition. Son of former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal, Bishnoi is also chief of the Haryana Janhit Congress. An MP from Bhiwani, Bishnoi said his decision is final even if it means losing membership of the Lok Sabha.
Punjab chief minister and party patron Parkash Singh Badal brushed aside suggestions that his party could ever support the UPA “on any issue”.
“The nuclear deal is not the issue at stake,” Badal told reporters in Chandigarh on Tuesday. He also dismissed suggestions from various Sikh organizations that the Akali Dal should support the UPA government because it is headed by Manmohan Singh, who is a practising Sikh.
“We cannot allow India to be run on communal considerations,” Badal said, and posed a counter-question: “If the PM is a Hindu, does it mean that all Hindus should support the PM and if he is a Muslim, does that imply that all Muslims should support him?”
Left parties this month withdrew the support of their 59 MPs to the UPA in protest against the Union government’s decision to move forward on the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement.
The government has made up part of this shortfall by managing to win the support of the Samajwadi Party, which has 39 MPs.
Given the present strength of the Lok Sabha, the UPA will need 272 votes to win a confidence vote. Abstentions would reduce the majority tally.
Amid demands from various sections in Punjab as well as the Sikh diaspora that his party should not be responsible for the possible downfall of the Manmohan Singh government, Badal said a parochial mindset should be discarded.
He, however, praised Manmohan Singh, saying the Prime Minister is both very competent and a nice human being, but added, “The nice PM belongs to a political party that has never done justice to Punjab.”
Badal also said the support of the Akali Dal to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance should never be in question.
The Punjab chief minister avoided taking any clear stand on the nuclear issue itself, apart from noting that those who supported the UPA earlier are opposing it now, implying that the deal may not be in the interests of the country. The UPA government has neither briefed the Akali Dal nor sought its support for the nuclear deal, he said.
Badal rejected a suggestion that if approached by the UPA, the Akalis could support the nuclear deal. “Fire and water cannot go together,” he said.
Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, president of the Chandigarh-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and a commentator on Punjab affairs, says the Akali Dal’s decision to vote against the UPA on the grounds of inflation mirrors the stance of the BJP and Left parties.
Ahluwalia questions the demand by sections of the Punjab Congress that the Akali Dal support the UPA. “It is paradoxical that while the Congress accuses the Akali Dal of being a communal party, it has been appealing to the Akali Dal to adopt a communal approach by suggesting that they should support Manmohan Singh because he is a Sikh,” he said.