Sensing an opportunity in the political divide developing within the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the dissident group of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been quick to give a call to all Akalis disenchanted with the leadership of Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Majithia to join hands with them for the October 7 protest march at Kotkapura and “save the panth”.
The open invitation extended by former Leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Khaira, comes in the backdrop of several recent statements of his wherein he has lauded the Akali Dal’s glorious past and its role as a ‘Panthic party’. However, even as he has seemingly appealed to the Akali voters, he has been conscious to attack the Badal family in his speeches for ruining the Akali Dal.
In a message put out in the social media Monday, Khaira said, “I urge all self respecting Akalis to shun the Badals who have denigrated the glorious institutions of Akal Takht, SGPC and SAD founded after sacrifices and struggles. I request, Dhindsa, Brahmpura, Sekhwan and Ajnala to attend the Kotkapura rally on October 7, instead of Patiala if they want to save the panth”.
When asked if he was trying to woo the Panthic constituency of the SAD in a repeat of what AAP had done in the run-up to the assembly elections of 2017, Khaira said, “No, I was trying to see the turn of events as they are coming. There is a lot of resentment against the leadership of Sukhbir and Bikram Majithia. Though the Akali leadership has done some damage control, a crack is a crack. Now, one SGPC member from Mansa has also quit. Their fort (Akalis) will crumble. That is why I am asking them to join our protest.”
The spokesperson for the dissident AAP MLAs and Kharar MLA, Kanwar Sandhu, said that they were watching the events unfold carefully. “We are watching the situation very closely. As of now we are only asking them to join our march from Kotkapura to Bargari. In fact, we welcome not only Akalis but people from all parties. We did not invite the Akalis for our all party meet because we felt that they were hand in glove. However, since these Akali leaders have now expressed their views we have extended an invitation to them,” he said. Sandhu added that if anyone from the Akali leadership wanted to join ranks with them or shows the inclination of join them, the final decision will be taken in the Political Affairs Committee (PAC).
A senior leader of the AAP faction, however, sounded a word of caution regarding joining hands with Akalis disenchanted with their own party. “We will have to be very careful. We cannot shake hands with those Akalis leaders who were part of the system for ten years and did not have the guts to come out against their leadership. This will go against our ideology and will upset our cadres as well. However, if their ground level workers wish to join us, we will welcome them. After all they will increase our voter base,” he said, requesting not to be named.
Commenting on the developments, a senior Congress leader said that the rebel AAP MLAs know they have no future in AAP as it is a rag-tag party and are therefore looking to create political space for themselves. “If the Akali Dal does not get revived, there is a perception there will be a third front in 2022 assembly polls which will be anti-Akali and anti-Congress and in which people from all parties who are sidelined will join hands….These permutations and combinations fall together only when the elections are close at hand,” he said.