The Shiromani Akali Dal’s decision to part ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party over the farm reform legislations has set Punjab’s politics adrift in choppy waters. For the Akalis, the prospect of loss of face and festering anger of the party’s core constituents left it with little choice. The BJP has put up a brave face that the breakup finally offers it a chance to invest its ideological capital in the state, but the longstanding coalition offered more than just political dividends. Its delicate chemistry ensured that the discourse seldom strayed into issues that had the potential to reignite communal friction. As the contentious legislations force former partners to take antithetical positions, both need to keep a leash on the vocabulary of discord. In this is a message for all the parties in the state: protest, but vehemently guard against a divisive agenda and violence.
Coalition dharma has for long been considered the Congress’ weak spot; now, the BJP is being questioned for its commitment to the craft that it mastered and showcased. First the Shiv Sena, then the SAD, the oldest partners have deserted the NDA ship. Resplendent in its over-arching presence, the BJP does not seem much perturbed, but allowing dismantling of a platform for contesting ideas only suppresses voices that confident rulers should not be wary of listening to, and gaining from. In the absence of a collaborative arrangement, the polity is the loser.
Even as the farmers’ agitation gains momentum, the President has been quick in according assent to the Bills. The Prime Minister, in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’, has given no indication of any rethink or reshaping of the legislations. The haste shown to push these through, without any convincing attempt to address the concerns or try to evolve a broad consensus on the need and efficacy of change, is unlikely to result in any quick resolution. The sight of farmers, the intended beneficiaries, protesting on the streets and railway tracks only widens the trust deficit. That helps no one’s cause.