With senior leaders quitting the Akali Dal and the AAP in disarray, the Congress is the biggest political beneficiary in Punjab
While both Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, senior leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), cited deteriorating health as the reason for their resignation from the party, the developments indicate an internal crisis in the SAD. There are murmurs that these resignations are in fact protests against the autocratic leadership style of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s son and president of the party, Sukhbir Singh Badal (in photo). Problems for the Badals began with the fallout of the tabling of the report of the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, set up to investigate the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in October 2015, as well as the killing of two people during a firing against peaceful protesters in Behbal Kalan.
Added to this was unhappiness over the fact that former Akal Takht jathedar Gurbachan Singh granted pardon in 2015 to the controversial chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, against whom the Sikh clergy had passed an edict for his allegedly blasphemous act of imitating Guru Gobind Singh in 2007. Singh was later sentenced to jail in connection with allegations of rape. Resentment against the domination of Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bikramjit Majithia, president of the youth wing of SAD, has been growing with senior leaders feeling sidelined in the party. Mr. Parkash Badal’s decision to adopt the tag of a “Punjabi party” for SAD instead of a Sikh party may have helped in the short run but has not gone down well with the party’s supporters.
The SAD could have been inclusive, safeguarding the rights of Punjab without giving up its moorings in Sikh values. The senior Mr. Badal’s unconditional support to the Bharatiya Janata Party has also not been viewed positively by party supporters. Mr. Badal has also played the Hindu-Sikh card and spoken about threat to law and order in the State whenever he has been in trouble. This time, not only have Hindu groups backed protests against the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, but even the SAD’s ally, the BJP, realising the increasing resentment against the Badals, has suitably distanced itself from the issue. The Badals appear to be in serious trouble with dissent increasing within the party. Old-timers in the SAD who stood behind the older Mr. Badal have sensed the anger amongst the Sikhs, and are not likely to kowtow anymore to the Badal family.
With the Aam Aadmi Party in disarray and the SAD in trouble, the Congress is the biggest political beneficiary. This also means that in the long run, there may be room for a new political outfit that could take up key issues pertaining to Punjab as well as the Sikh community. The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with O.P. Jindal Global University