Shiromani Akali Dal: Are the curtains drawn on a once glorious past?

The big old party Punjabis in general and the Sikhs in particular, i.e. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD,) are going through a serious crisis of their political survival in contemporary times. Many keen observers of politics in Punjab are of the opinion that although the party has seen many turbulent times since its inception in 1920, the current crisis is unprecedented.

There is a serious challenge to the current party leadership (mainly the Badal family) which many believe is not in a strong position to handle this crisis at the moment. the the organizational structure of the SAD has weakened and the legitimacy of its leadership is at stake. This development raises serious questions about the capacity of key party leaders.

This process began with the poor performance of the SAD in the 2017 Punjab Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Assembly by-elections as well as elections for urban and semi-urban civic bodies, samiti and zila parishad, even though she had an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

SAD’s poor performance exposed the weak management skills of its key leaders. In recent years, the party’s problems have deepened due to its support for three central farm bills in parliament.

First, SAD advocated and supported legislation being part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the Center. Later, its only representative in the Narendra Modi government, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had to resign and the party withdrew its support for the NDA following pressure from the farmers’ protest movement.

It can be recalled that Akali Dal was one of the oldest allies of Jan Sangh and later of the BJP. But now, things have gone so far that SAD leaders, like leaders of other mainstream parties, are avoiding going to rural and semi-urban areas to rally support in the upcoming Assembly elections, fearing the wrath of farmers and others.

SAD suffered a serious setback when a number of its prominent leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, Sewa Singh Sekhwan, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and others left the party either to form their own party or to join d other parties. The continued exodus of leaders has compounded senior management problems.

The genesis of the current SAD crisis can be traced return to 2007 when Sukhbir Singh Badal, the chairman of the party, was handed over to the leadership of the party by his father Parkash Singh Badal, ignoring many seniors and taksali (seasoned) party leaders. This development annoyed many veterans of the party like Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Rattan Singh Ajnala (former members of Lok Sabha), Manpreet Singh Badal, a distant cousin of Sukhbir Badal then Minister of Finance in the Badal government. and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, MP, Rajya Sabha.

The departure of these leaders was followed by the resignation of a number of middle-ranking party leaders. Most of these leaders have recently joined BJP. Although some of the former guards cited health and old age as reasons for retiring from active political life, the reality was something else. Most of them found no future in the SAD in the coming days as the party was harshly rejected by the people in the 2017 assembly elections and other elections afterwards. It was only able to win 15 seats and was replaced by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the main opposition party in the house.

The continued decline of the SAD and its structure has been fully exposed on all levels. It is also a first in the 100-year history of the party that a son has been entrusted with the reins of the party by his father.

Over the years, the Badal family has strengthened its grip on the party and the government through the large-scale induction of new people who pledge complete loyalty to the top leadership. This was done to keep the taksali direction at bay. The leadership of the young brigade was entrusted to Bikramjit Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Singh Badal, who himself became active during the 2007 elections.

This process resulted in the total marginalization of the party’s top leaders and healthiest cadres, who were replaced by people with dubious credentials. The SAD’s victory in the 2012 Assembly elections postponed the leadership crisis, as the new leadership was credited with managerial skills both for winning those elections and for managing the party. This victory led to the complete control of the Badals over the machinery of government and the party, which ultimately led to the centralization of power in a few hands and the decentralization of terror by new party recruits at all levels.

The fundamental spirit of the party faded as a new culture of hooliganism replaced sobriety. SAD was once a party of principles with a glorious history of sacrifice. It is one of the oldest regional political parties in India which came into being in 1920. The very origin of the party lies in the struggle against repressive and authoritarian British rule and similar princely states in pre-India. independent. The party is bitten against the repressive regime of Indira Gandhi during the 1975 state of emergency is unprecedented in contemporary times.

What image does the current leadership of the SAD now give to the people?

The 10 years of the SAD regime (2007-17) resulted in a devastating condition of farmers, a deterioration of the state economy and growing debt, a growing drug network, increasing levels of corruption, loss of the Satluj-Yamuna Link v. Haryana case before the Supreme Court, goondagardi and the arrogance of some local Akali leaders, the monopoly of public transport, the alcohol, sand and gravel mafia, the increase in religious intolerance in the form of be-adabi (discourtesy) to Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book of Sikhs) in various places has aggravated the scene for the current Akali Dal.

The reasons for the further marginalization of the SAD in the upcoming Assembly elections (February 20) are written on the wall. The people of Punjab were and are strongly of the belief that the powerful Badal family and their close relatives would have been involved in drug trafficking, mining and alcohol mafia, anti-people activities, political blood feud etc. survey conducted by Lokniti in 2017. For the first time, Parkash Singh Badal’s popularity as chief ministerial candidate was the lowest since 1997.

The people’s silent revolt against the oppressive regime has led to fierce opposition to power that the Akalis have faced after being in power for a decade. It was a wave of personal animosity against the ruling Badal clan and those involved in hooliganism at all levels. They were seen as unscrupulous politicians, who had hijacked the entire political process for their petty private ends.

The general perception of people was that SAD had been converted into a private club of close and extended family and friends to share the spoils of office. This may also have been the reason for a series of physical attacks on Badals and senior Akali leaders during the last assembly elections.

The most shocking example was a shoe attack on the CM in his own constituency of Lambi which, according to some reports, broke his glasses. The cavalcade of his son then deputy CM (Sukhbir) was stoned in his constituency in the Assembly.

In another incident, a senior Akali Dal leader and then an MP’s turban were ripped from his head and a minister and his son were injured in a horrific fight outside Takht Damdama Sahib from which they had to be rescued by the police. These are the first signs of the party’s future.

The Akalis, who have always cleverly used the Sikh religion to propel their political agenda, have also clashed with worshipers and are held responsible for the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and other incidents that have offended religious feelings. The general masses among Sikhs believe that the Akali-led government was responsible for not addressing the be-adabi question and did not respect the sentiments of the Sikh religion. Consequently, the Akalis lost their religious base among the people of Punjab.

The issue of sacrilege proved useful to Congress, which used it for political purposes to further demoralize Akali’s leadership. Later, the flight of Akali lawmakers from the special session of the Assembly to discuss Judge Ranjit Singh’s report on the issue of sacrilege publicly exposed the weakness of his leadership to even deal with House debates.

Blunder after blunder was made by the senior leadership of SAD. First, he forced the clergy to pardon Dera leader Sacha Sauda of Sirsa and then reversed his decision after public outrage damaged the image of the party and its leaders, who have been criticized for their inept handling of crucial religious issues.

These incidents showed not only the immaturity of Akali’s leadership, but also the absence of sound advice from mature leaders, such as Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, Longowal, etc.

SAD’s alliance with political brand Modi also seems to have boosted its unpopularity of late.

The current crisis at SAD and the anger against its leadership has deepened due to the arbitrary manner in which the Badals have stifled the democratic process within the organization in recent years. By controlling every decision of the Shiromani Gurudwar Prabandhak party and committee, the Badal family left no room for any party leader.

There is a lot of pent up anger among the party people against the Badals dictatorship. The SAD is still viewed with suspicion due to its close relationship with the BJP. The party that left the Modi government over the issue of the Three Farm Bills did not help him recover his lost political ground. It also lost its core panthic (community leaders) base of support due to various incidents of religious sacrilege, tearing of pages from the holy Granth, etc.

Recent developments, such as the drug-related case against Bikramjit Singh Majithia, are also creating embarrassment for SAD leaders and having a demoralizing effect on the cadres.

Overall, the current circumstances in Punjab indicate that the party will once again face major embarrassment in the upcoming elections. The SAD leadership must reflect on the decline of the party, which has a glorious past and which at one time led all regional parties in India to provide greater autonomy to the states, to restructure centre- state and to strengthen democratic and secular values. in India.

The writer is Fformer professor of political science, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (Punjab). Opinions are personal.