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Coalition woes: After Karnataka now in Punjab?
Vijay Dabur in Chandigarh | October 14, 2007 21:10 IST
Close on the heels of developments in Karnataka, an uneasy relationship prevails in Punjab where the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and its ally Bharatiya Janata Party appear to be in sombre mood over certain contentious issues, including the recent proposed hike in power tariff by the state government.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is heading a state government on the critical support from saffron party, which bagged 19 seats in its kitty out of 23 it contested, much to the surprise of the political pundits.
Though since the formation of the new government in Punjab, Akalis had been facing continous political pressure from its ally, Badal and other Akalis had maintained that the two parties enjoy a solid relationship.
Initially, it was the demand for post of deputy chief minister by the BJP that created ripples between the two partners later the proposed hike in power tariff brought the differences between the two parties wide open in the public.
Punjab BJP chief Rajinder Bhandari, who is a staunch RSS man, had been clear that the BJP was still serious on its demand of the post for the deputy chief minister.
After the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission proposed a power tariff hike of around eight per cent across the board for various consumers, the trouble broke out between the parties.
While SAD leader Sukhbir Singh Badal claimed that the government took its ally in confidence before proposing hike in power tariff, senior BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia who is also second in the Badal cabinet categorically refuted the Akali leader's claim.
"BJP was never taken into confidence before putting the issue of power tariff hike in the cabinet meeting and the party came to know about the proposal only when the issue was listed in the agenda of cabinet meeting," Kalia asserted much to the dismay of Akalis.
The BJP was determined to oppose the proposed hike in power tariff and the party had already conveyed its decision to the chief minister, he said.
Even as the SAD sought to downplay the issue by claiming that it had kept the Bill on power tariff hike pending keeping in mind the concerns of the BJP, the rift between the two partners came into public when BJP's Punjab affairs incharge Balbir Punj accused the senior partner of 'neglecting' the presence of his party while taking important decisions.
Expressing resentment, he said that the SAD should discuss such issues at party level rather than to bring them into the state cabinet. The BJP had decided to boycott the future meeting of the state cabinet if the SAD again introduces the tariff hike bill, he added.
Kalia told PTI in Chandigarh that 'the issues (hike in power tariff and post of deputy Chief Minister) had been taken up with senior BJP leaders L K Advani and Rajnath Singh.'
"We will never allow the SAD to take steps that are against the interests of the state...we are always ready to raise issues concerning the people," Kalia said, adding that 'both the demand for the post of deputy chief minister and revision of power tariff hike still persisted and the party has not changes its stance on these issues.'
However, Akalis exuded confidence that these issues would be sorted out at the party level.
The main opposition Congress led by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal failed to take advantage of the situation.
In the state Congress, there are several groups, including one led by former chief minister Amarinder Singh that finds it difficult to digest that Bhattal has been given an important assignment when the party is struggling against Akalis 'politics of vendetta.'
Badal reiterated that the relations between the SAD and BJP were 'cordial' and there were no chances that the two parties could part way.