In a webinar on 100 years of politics of Shiromani Akali Dal, held at Punjab University by ISSER, Professor Ashutosh of Punjab University and Dr Amarjit Narang, former registrar and professor at IGNOU Delhi, provided a synoptic narrative of the chequered political career of the party. Professor Ashutosh, who is the chairperson of the Political Science department at PU, said, “SAD transitioned from pursuing politics of representation in colonial Punjab to pursuit of a territorial homeland for Sikh minority post partition.”
Talking about the history of the party, he said, “The pivotal role it played in shaping the politics of Punjab is recognisable. The SAD as a ‘panthic party’ was formed by a religious congregation to serve the religious and political interests of Sikhs, but the given territorial and demographic changes taking place in Punjab at the time of partition and after, the party found itself being trapped at the crossroads of region and religion, which resulted into transition.”
“The devious competitive mechanisation of the Congress to weaken the SAD and the party’s own inability to draw the bulk Sikh votes impelled it to launch Dharam Yudh Morchas, first for the creation of Punjabi Suba and then for demanding autonomy, vis-à-vis an interventionist central state. The latter had disastrous consequences for the state due to the rise of militancy and the breakdown of the constitutional order in Punjab because of rampant factionalism and meek surrender of the party’s leadership to radical elements. Post the militancy era, under the moderate leadership of Badal, SAD staged a comeback as a mainstream populist ‘electoral’ party in alliance with the BJP, with discernible shift in its ideological focus and political practices,” Professor Ashutosh analysed.
Focusing on the past two decades of the party’s politics, he said, “Claiming to represent ‘Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat’, the party has been instrumental in effecting a paradigmatic shift from contentious ethnic agenda to the agenda for peace and development in state politics. Last two decades have witnessed the party leadership decimating the autonomy of SGPC and the Akal Takht, the two important Sikh institutions. The party has also shaded its robust democratic character and is no longer an ideologically rooted, cadre-based party.”
Former registrar and professor of political science at IGNOU Delhi, Dr Amarjit Narang spoke about the dilemma of SAD to shift from an agitational party to a mainstream electoral party. He said, “As an electoral party, SAD is expected to win both the urban and rural vote bank and also has to get the non-Sikh vote. However, the party has been unable to win even the majority of Sikh vote.”
“The party has failed in addressing the farmers’ issues despite claiming to be a party of farmers. The rise of cultural agenda and Sikhs being in majority in Punjab and minority in India, puts the party in a dilemma. Moreover, the federalisation of polity and BJP emerging as a dominant party has allowed SAD to shed its anti-Centre politics and become a sharer of power with the Centre,” he added.
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