Punjab: SAD’s sad saga

Even the 91-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is finding it difficult to turn the tide before the 2019 elections

Punjab: SAD’s sad saga
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Rajeev Khanna

A churn was expected among the Shiro-mani Akali Dal (SAD) ranks immediately after the humiliating defeat that relegated it to the third place in the Punjab Assembly polls last year. It has eventually come at a wrong time for the country’s oldest regional political force. The party stands embroiled in an unprecedented crisis just ahead of the 2019 polls.

Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal has been compelled to take the party reins in his hands once more at the grand old age of 91. This is because his son and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the president of the party, stands cornered and discredited. The party is witnessing a vertical split with the old guard – the traditional Akalis referred to as Taksali Akalis—expressing their unhappiness over the state of affairs and some of them even quitting party positions.

For once, the Badals and the SAD have been put on the mat on the Panthic issues pertaining to religious affairs. It needs to be pointed that the Akalis have always taken pride in their ideology of religion and politics going hand in hand and religious affairs have always been their stronghold. They have dominated institutions like the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and their men have been the Jathedars at the religious seats or takhts.

But the twin issues of instances of sacrilege of religious texts that started in 2015 when the Akalis were in power and episode of granting pardon to Dera Saccha Sauda chief Ram Rahim for blasphemy have put the Badals in the dock.

The report of Justice (retired) Ranjit Singh Commission on instances of sacrilege of religious texts over the last three years that was tabled in the state Assembly in August has put the SAD on the defensive, particularly in context of the instances of sacrilege and the firing on protestors at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in 2015 by the police that had led to two deaths. Reports quoting the Ranjit Singh Commission say that Badal knew of the police action at Kotkapura.

There has been a turmoil that saw senior leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura quitting party posts

On the other hand, the issue of the party-dominated SGPC and the Akal Takht in granting apology to Ram Rahim continues to haunt the party as several Dera followers have reportedly been held for sacrilege. Ram Rahim is presently in jail for rape. He had been accused of blasphemy in 2007 for allegedly wearing attire similar to Guru Gobind Singh. Former SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar had reportedly put the onus on Sukhbir for the apology in 2015 that was subsequently withdrawn following a public outcry. To make matters worse, Sukhbir stood accused of ‘running away’ from the debate on the Commission report in the Assembly by a section of senior Akali leaders.

There has been a turmoil that saw senior leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura quitting party posts. Others like Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Dr Rattan Singh Ajnala too have expressed disgust at the state of affairs. The situation in the Akali-controlled Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee is also uncertain.

The Badals have unsuccessfully being trying to portray the Akalis as the true representatives of the Panth but things continue to slip out of their grasp. All eyes are now on the senior Badal to once again rescue the party from oblivion as he has done several times in the past. But can he do so in time before the coming Lok Sabha polls?

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