Shiromani Akali Dal mired in an existential crisis     

The Dhindsas have accused the Badals of compromising on principles to ensure Harsimrat Kaur’s continuance in the Union Cabinet

Shiromani Akali Dal mired in an existential crisis      

Rajeev Khanna

In its centenary year, India’s oldest regional political force Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) finds itself in complete disarray. Desperately trying to regain a foothold in its home turf of Punjab, the party is going through an existential crisis.

The party’s two-and-a-half decade old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now proving to be counterproductive. SAD was at the forefront of securing federal rights for the states and also standing up for the minorities besides being the champion of the Panth.

Faced with a revolt led by party veteran Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the Badals have reacted by expelling Dhindsa and his son from the party. Dhindsa was accusing Badals for promoting their dynasty and continuing with their stranglehold over Sikh religious institutions.

The party is also facing mounting anger of the Sikhs for its stand on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) and National Population Register (NPR) along with the party’s role in Delhi assembly polls and the BJP dictating the narrative in the alliance.

Akalis have begun to face a crisis of credibility on various issues. The first among this is the Delhi assembly poll. After a snub by its ally BJP, the party leadership decided not to contest the Delhi assembly polls because of differences over the CAA. The Akalis have been saying that Muslims be included in the CAA among other persecuted communities who are to be offered Indian citizenship. This has been their stand in public but it did not oppose it in Parliament and did not support the resolution of the Amarinder Singh led Congress government in the state assembly calling for repealing the CAA.

After having decided not to contest the Delhi assembly polls over differences on CAA, the party then went on to give total support to BJP candidates and Sukhbir Singh Badal was quoted in the media as saying, “The alliance is not just a political one. It is bound by emotions, for peace, the future, and interests of Punjab and the country.”

It needs to be pointed out that BJP had not contested in Haryana in alliance with SAD although apologists point out that SAD had in the past been an ally of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in the state.

Observers also point out that while BJP snubbed Akalis for their reservations about CAA, it never did the same to its other allies like Janata Dal (United) under Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has also opposed CAA and NRC.

Dal Khalsa, a group known for radical politics, came out with a strong statement, attacking SAD and said, “The so-called saviours of the Panth have turned out to be saviours of selfish political interests.”

Party leader Kanwar Pal Singh said, “The Akalis have failed the Sikhs as they have mortgaged Sikh interests to the Hindutva government. The irony of the situation is that despite baying for each other’s blood, warring Akalis agreed to work under BJP’s command.”

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh has accused the Akalis of bartering away Constitutional principles to promote their political interest, with their latest U-turn over supporting the BJP in Delhi polls. He said the Akali flip-flops have nailed the Akali lies on their stand on CAA. Senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Bhagwant Mann has stated that the Badals had taken a U-turn to protect the ministerial berth of Harsimrat Kaur.

The Akalis have also been under fire for supporting the BJP led central government’s move on bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir that was been followed by a clampdown. This was a big deviation from their politics of championing the cause of federalism and standing up for the minorities.

Badals however took the battle to Sangrur, the home turf of Dhindsa, on Sunday. At a well attended rally, which was supposed to rile against the Congress government in the state, got converted into a Dhindsa bashing event.

Party veteran Parkash Singh Badal said brave Akali workers would never let Dhindsa and other deserters succeed in their mission to break the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

He said the Congress party felt it could succeed in weakening the SAD by taking over the SGPC by proxy. “I appeal to all Akali workers to take an oath to defeat this conspiracy,” he said while underlining that it is unfortunate that Akali deserters like Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura have betrayed their mother party.

“If I have respected anyone in my life it is Dhindsa and Brahmpura. Even Sukhbir (Singh Badal) used to touch their feet. Both of them exercised total control over Sangrur and Khadoor Sahib constituencies. I trusted them for not just political but even critical personal and family issues. I even consulted Brahmpura Sahib when I was proposing to arrive at a matrimonial alliance with the Kairon family for my daughter. I even took his consent for the marriage since he was from the same area,” he recalled.

In his speeches Sukhbir has been calling the rebels as ‘Jaali leaders’ working in league with the Congress party.

The SAD had suspended Dhindsa and his son Parminder with immediate effect last month for anti party activities while resolving to issue them a charge sheet to explain their conduct.

Another issue that has backfired on Sukhbir is the politics on power tariffs. There has been public anger over the recent hike in the already high power tariff in the state.

At the centre of this are the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) that the previous SAD-BJP regime had signed with private thermal plants. Sukhbir tried to take an aggressive stance on the issue by challenging Amarinder to cancel the PPAs with immediate effect if there was anything wrong in the agreements which he claimed were drafted by Dr Manmohan Singh’s government.

He recently alleged that money had changed hands and private players had been benefitted by the Congress government which practiced deliberate laxity in pursuing disputes involving Rs 2,500 crore on account of coal washing charges and Rs 1,602 crore Tribunal award.

Amarinder has found a way out by countering the SAD charges and announcing that his government will bring out a White Paper in the monsoon session of the state assembly to expose the ‘fraud’ committed by the Akalis with regard to the controversial PPAs signed with private players.

Amarinder said the White Paper will reveal all the documents signed by the previous SAD-BJP government in the state, as well as the power plants set up by them, which had caused undue burden on the state.

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