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Punjab

Crisis-hit SAD struggles to regain lost ground in Punjab

March 31, 2019 07:25 AM

COURTESY TOI MARCH 31

Crisis-hit SAD struggles to regain lost ground in Punjab
HAVING HIT ROCK BOTTOM IN 2017 POLLS, AKALI DAL HOPES FOR COMEBACK IN 2019
Sanjeev.Verma@timesgroup.com

Chandigarh:

Founded on December 14, 1920, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is nine months short of completing a century. However, ahead of the 17th Lok Sabha elections in May, the oldest regional party of the country is struggling to keep its flock together as senior party leaders are upset over the Badal family “running the party like its fiefdom”. In the present circumstances, it has also become tough for the Akali Dal to defend its claims of being the sole custodian of Sikh community’s religious, political and cultural interests.


Of the total 10 seats it contested in the 2014 parliamentary polls, SAD had won four — Bathinda (Harsimrat Kaur Badal), Anandpur Sahib (Prem Singh Chandumajra), Khadoor Sahib (Ranjit Singh Brahmpura) and Ferozepur (Sher Singh Ghubaya). The number has been halved with Brahmpura and Ghubaya parting ways with SAD before the 2019 general elections, reflecting the resentment of Taksali Akalis (old guard).

Khadoor Sahib MP Brahmpura, often called ‘Majhe Da Jarnail’, floated his own outfit SAD (Taksali) on December 16, 2018, along with former MP from SAD Rattan Singh Ajnala and former cabinet minister in the SADBJP government Sewa Singh Sekhwan. A two-time cabinet minister and four-time MLA, Brahmpura was earlier expecting a ministerial berth in the Union Cabinet when the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014. But SAD picked patriarch Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter-in-law and SAD president Sukhbir Singh’s wife, Harsimrat Kaur, a twotime MP. She was inducted as Union food processing industries minister.

Ghubaya joined the Congress on March 5. His son, Davinder Singh Ghubaya, had won the state assembly elections in 2017 on a Congress ticket from Fazilka by defeating SAD’s alliance partner BJP’s minister Surjit Kumar Jyani.

SAD’s old guard had redflagged deterioration within the party several times and fumed over the top leadership sidelining them. Senior Akali leader and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa had resigned from all party posts in September last year. Dhindsa had on January 25, 2019, also demanded Sukhbir’s removal as the party president. Interestingly, the Union government conferred the Padma Bhushan on Dhindsa the same day. Dhindsa had recently advised son Parminder Singh, who is SAD MLA from Lehragaga, not to contest Lok Sabha polls on SAD ticket.

The Akali Dal, whose efforts through the Punjabi Suba Movement bore fruit in 1966, in the shape of a Sikh majority state, was born to help the Singh Sabha Movement to set free all gurdwaras from the clutches of ‘mahants’ so as to bring them under the community’s direct management. It was due to the Akali Dal’s efforts that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) came into existence and the Gurdwara Act was enacted in 1925.

Though SAD had been drawing power from its religion-based politics and has controlled the SGPC since its inception, it is now being accused by other political parties in Punjab of undermining the supremacy of two important pillars of Sikhism – the Akal Takht and the SGPC — for the party’s vested interests. Padma awardee H S Phoolka had even resigned from the primary membership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to launch a movement to “free SGPC from the Akalis” and to ensure conduct of its elections due since December 2016.

JOURNEY OF WEAKENING

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the SAD-BJP coalition was at the helm of affairs in Punjab, SAD’s vote share was 33.85%. But in the 2014 parliamentary polls, during SAD-BJP government’s second consecutive term in Punjab, it fell to 26.3%.

The very next year in 2015, SAD’s boat entered choppy waters with a number of sacrilege cases of Guru Granth Sahib in the state. The October 2015 police firing on Sikhs protesting against sacrilege incidents at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan, where two Sikh youth died in firing, shook the very foundation of the party.

After ruling the Punjab continuously for a decade (2007-2017), SAD faced its worst defeat in the 2017 assembly polls, when it was relegated to the third place and could only win 15 seats of Punjab’s total 117. Political experts are of the view that the party failed on the governance front.

Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, which probed the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015, had recorded in its report submitted to the state government last year that then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal knew everything about police firing incidents at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan. The commission also found that in most of the sacrilege cases, investigations were halfheartedly done and the home department was being headed by then deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir.

SAD, mainly party patron Badal and his son Sukhbir, also had to face the backlash for allegedly facilitating pardon to the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda’s head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a case related to imitating Guru Gobind Singh in 2007. The Akal Takht had then passed the hukamnama (edict) to excommunicate him and to boycott the dera. But in September 2015, the Akal Takht pardoned the dera head, now a rape convict sentenced to 20 years in jail. The top clergy withdrew the pardon after a month in the face of mounting resentment among Sikhs.

OLDEST ALLIANCE

The SAD, which once used to be known as the party of Sikhs, had in 1996 passed the ‘Moga Declaration’ announcing its conceptual shift and projected itself as the representative of all religious people in Punjab so as to woo the non-Sikh vote bank. It was then that the SAD, while eyeing the Hindu and urban vote bank, had entered into alliance with the BJP to contest elections together in 1997 and the SADBJP together won 93 of the 117 assembly seats.

The SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab is generally seen as an ‘alliance of convenience’ since both the parties differ on various issues. Recently, to show its resentment on the interference in Hazur Sahib Gurdwara management affairs by the Maharashtra BJP government, SAD had on January 31 skipped NDA’s meeting convened at New Delhi for discussing strategy of parliament budget session. Earlier in June 2018, SAD leaders had also raised the issue with BJP national president Amit Shah during his Chandigarh visit, that the BJP had not been giving fair treatment to the Akalis.

UNDER SUKHBIR

Sukhbir had taken over the baton from his father and then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in 2008, resulting in strengthening the Badal family’s grip over the party. A year later, the SAD decided to induct then Faridkot MP as the deputy chief minister of Punjab, annoying its coalition partner BJP. It was for the first time in India’s history that the father-son duo occupied the top two powerful posts in any state.

After 2008, the Akali Dal contested two parliamentary elections and two state assembly polls under Sukhbir’s leadership. Though the party had bagged eight Lok Sabha seats in the 2004 parliamentary polls, it was reduced to half in 2009 elections and just succeeded in retaining the four seats in the 2014 polls. Whereas in the 2017 assembly elections, the SAD had to face the worst ever defeat where it could only win from 15 segments as many of its cabinet ministers lost their seats and the party even lost the chance to become the principal opposition party in the state assembly. AAP, by clinching 20 seats, became the main opposition party. In the 2012 assembly polls, the SAD had managed to win 56 seats.

PARTY CHIEF CONFIDENT

SAD president Sukhbir claims that his party is going to win at least eight out of the 10 parliamentary seats it is going to contest. “I have visited over 85 places in Punjab in the last over one month and met our party leaders as well as workers. The Akali cadre is united. It is just that the Congress is indulging in vendetta politics and false propaganda to hide their government’s failures,” said Sukhbir. He feels the SAD (Taksali) has been constituted by those leaders who have miserably failed to deliver and there is no future of Sukhpal Singh Khaira-led Punjab Ekta Party as well as AAP in which various factions are sparring.

 

 
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