The Shiromani Akali Dal, a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the centre, will not contest Delhi Assembly polls, the party confirmed today, after disagreements with the BJP over seat-sharing. The Akalis also said their refusal to accept the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act in its present form and the National Registry of Citizens, is also a factor in the decision.
Addressing reporters at a press conference in the national capital this evening, Delhi Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa said that while his party "welcomed CAA, we never pitched for anyone to be excluded" and that "excluding someone on the basis of religion was wrong".
Asserting that his party had "core principles" that could not be compromised, Mr Sirsa said: "Our stand is clear... the nation can't be divided over religion. We will prefer not contesting polls rather than changing our stand. NRC should also not be introduced... the nation belongs to all."
The Akali Dal's stand on the CAA had brought forth a jibe from Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, with the Congress leader asking the Akalis to quit the NDA if they felt so strongly about the CAA.
"Akali Dal has been in an alliance with the BJP for a long time... but, over the past few days, after (party chief) Sukhbir Badal took a stand on CAA, The BJP repeatedly said we should reconsider our stand. But SAD has clearly stated there can be no re-think on this," Mr Sirsa said today,
Rifts between the Akali Dal and the BJP emerged last month after Naresh Gujral, the SAD's Rajya Sabha MP, told NDTV: "We feel the Muslim community should be included in the citizenship law".
Mr Gujral had also issued a veiled warning to the BJP at the time, saying several parties in the BJP-led front were unhappy with the way they had been treated. While he did not expressly talk about the Akali Dal leaving the NDA, Mr Gujral told the BJP his party could rethink support if "amends" were not made.
The strain on the Akali-BJP ties increased over the use of election symbols - specifically the symbol under which Akali Dal candidates would have contested the election.
The BJP wanted the Akali Dal candidates to contest under its symbol - the lotus - instead of the SAD's weighing scales. The two parties used the same strategy in the 2015 Delhi election, when two of four candidates contested under the lotus.
"We supported them on Article 370, passing of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and other crisis. Yet they don't follow coalition dharma," a SAD MP close to veteran Parkash Singh Badal said on this issue.
The BJP has now opted to go with Bihar's ruling Janata Dal United (JDU) and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) as allies for February's Assembly polls in Delhi, according to news agency ANI; they will be given two and one seats, respectively, with the BJP keeping the remaining 67 for itself.
The BJP has already released a first list of 57 candidates for the Delhi election.
This will be the second time, after Haryana, that seat-sharing talks between the SAD and the BJP have failed. During elections in Haryana last year, the BJP was accused of strong-arming sitting Akali Dal MLA Balkaur Singh into joining the party.
Voting in Delhi will take place on February 8 and results will be declared three days later.
The controversial citizenship law is the first time Indian citizenship will be awarded on the basis of religion. The government says it will help non-Muslim refugees from three Muslim-dominated neighbouring countries if they fled to India because of religious persecution. Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and violates secular tenets of the Constitution.
With input from ANI