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The burden of being Sukhbir Singh Badal

Manjinder Singh Sirsa’s move to quit Akali Dal and switch to BJP is yet another pointer to the crises gripping the party leadership which has been struggling to put its house in order in the run-up to the Assembly elections

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
December 4, 2021 6:06:14 am
In a written statement released on Thursday, the SAD president said, “The win on the borders of Delhi was a win for the entire farming community of the country. (File)

Fissures have again surfaced in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) with the desertion of more leaders causing a fresh setback to its prospects while dealing another blow to party president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s leadership in the run-up to the Punjab Assembly polls scheduled for early 2022.

Senior Akali leader and a close aide of Badal, Manjinder Singh Sirsa’s move to quit the party and switch to the BJP is yet another pointer to the crises gripping the SAD leadership which has been struggling to put its house in order ahead of the crucial, high-stakes polls.

A member of the SAD Core Committee, Sirsa has been a prominent face in Delhi of his party that severed its relations with the BJP and walked out of the ruling NDA in September last year over the Centre’s three farm legislations which were repealed a few days ago. The SAD was the BJP’s oldest ally. Subsequently, it forged an alliance with the Mayawati-led BSP.

Sirsa met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda and joined the BJP in the presence of Union ministers, Dharmendra Pradhan and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, on December 1.

Just before quitting the Akali Dal, Sirsa also quit as president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), which was among the outfits that supported the farm agitation and organised langar at the protest sites at Delhi borders.

Sirsa’s move was perceived by several farm leaders as a BJP’s bid to reach out to Sikh voters ahead of the Punjab polls.

Hitting out at Sirsa, the SAD said he betrayed the “Khalsa Panth” and switched to the BJP as cases were registered against him.

Badal alleged that Sirsa was arm-twisted by the BJP to join its fold as he faced several cases and that the latter “succumbed to pressure tactics of BJP”, an allegation that was also leveled by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh.

Reeling under a wave of setbacks, Badal has been grappling with the formidable challenge to put up a fight in the Punjab polls, which has turned into a four-cornered battle, with the other three contenders including the ruling Congress, the AAP, and former Congress leader and ex-chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress, which is likely to tie up with the BJP.

The Congress still seems to be a formidable player in the electoral fray, with new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi — the first Dalit to hold the post in Punjab that accounts for a substantial Scheduled Caste (SC) population — and state party president Navjot Singh Sidhu leading its charge.
By all accounts, the Punjab elections will be crucial for Badal’s political future.

The SAD was relegated to the third position in the Punjab Assembly polls in 2017, winning only 15 of the total 117 seats. The then fledgling AAP edged it out, emerging as the principal Opposition party in the state.

In the wake of the SAD’s 2017 electoral debacle, veteran Akali leaders, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Ranjit Singh Brahampura and late Sewa Singh Sekhwan, had blamed Badal for “worst ever political performance of the party”.

Brahampura, Ajnala and Sekhwan were expelled by the SAD in November 2018 and went on to form their own outfit – Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali).

Dhindsa, a Rajya Sabha MP who had been unrelenting in questioning Badal’s leadership, too was expelled along with his son and Lehragaga MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa in February 2020. Parminder had earlier quit as SAD legislative party chief in the Vidhan Sabha in December 2019.

Dhindsa subsequently formed Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic), which later merged with the SAD (Taksali) to form SAD (Sanyukt). The new outfit is headed by Dhindsa.

SAD (Sanyukt), as per Dhindsa is open for an electoral alliance but not with the Congress or Akali dal.
Parminder Singh Brar, who headed SAD’s IT wing earlier before joining the Congress, also joined the BJP on December 1. Brar, grandson of late Akali leader Hari Singh Zira, had sought ticket from Ludhiana in 2019 parliamentary elections but was denied.

Following the revolt by veteran leaders, Badal worked hard to keep the flock together. Sirsa’s exit, however, has caused major embarrassment to Badal who had been counting heavily on party’s Sikh face in Delhi.
The SAD-controlled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had nominated Sirsa to be co-opted as member of new House of DSGMC after he lost to Harvinder Singh Sarna of SAD (Delhi) in the gurdwara elections held in August this year. The Directorate of Gurdwara Elections, New Delhi, had disqualified Sirsa from being co-opted in the new DSGMC House on the premise that he stood disqualified for not being well versed with Gurmukhi.

Commenting on Sirsa’s exit, a senior Akali leader said, “This is a setback for Sukhbir Badal’s leadership as SAD chief, especially when he had worked hard to keep the flock together after earlier revolts by senior party leaders.”

The development poses a new challenge to Badal, who was credited with scripting the back-to-back victory of the then SAD-BJP alliance in the 2012 Punjab Assembly elections, but was equally blamed for his party’s worst-ever debacle in 2017 polls.

90 of 97 candidates announced, SAD workers want Sr Badal in Poll fray

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which is contesting the 2022 Punjab election in alliance with the BSP, has already announced candidates for 90 of its share of 97 seats – BSP will contest the remaining 20 seats.

All the seats have been announced by Sukhbir Badal, who himself ill contest from Jalalabad, which falls in Ferozepur Lok Sabha constituency which he represents. Aam Aadmi Party is the only other outfit to have announced candidates on 10 seats – all represented by its MLAs. Of the seven seats on which Akali Dal is yet to name candidates is Lambi, the constituency currently represented by party patron Parkash Singh Badal. The Senior Badal, a five-time chief minister who will turn 94 on December 8, has become politically active after a long hibernation post 2017-poll debacle of SAD and subsequent Covid pandemic.

According to senior Akali leaders from Malwa region Sikander Singh Maluka (candidate from Rampura Phul), and Sarup Chand Singla (candidate from Bathinda), party workers want Senior Badal to contest again from Lambi.

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