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Friday, August 19, 2022

Akali post-poll panel sees calls for overhaul of party, changes at top

Party workers seek end of ‘family rule’; feel there is anger over ‘corruption’ by Badals, paid the price in Punjab polls

Sukhbir Badal at a public rally in Dera Baba Nanak ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls earlier this year. (File Photo/Twitter)

A COMMITTEE formed by the Akali Dal to analyse reasons for its rout in the recent Assembly elections has received overwhelming feedback for a complete overhaul of the organisational structure and changes in the top leadership. Sukhbir Singh Badal is currently the Akali Dal president.

The panel had formed a sub-committee of 13 members, further divided into two groups, to expedite the process. The members told The Indian Express that across constituencies, cadre had sought “badlaav (change)” in leadership to revive the Akali Dal.

The panel, set up on March 24, is likely to submit its report within a fortnight.

The party suffered a massive defeat in its second successive Assembly election, for which results were declared on March 10, with its tally sliding from a low of 15 to mere three in the 117-member House. In just its second Assembly election in the state, the Aam Aadmi Party won with a brute majority of 92 MLAs, in what was seen as a vote for change and against old, entrenched parties and leaders.

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This appears to have been the response received by the Akali Dal sub-committee too. Members said workers talked of the need for democracy in the party and “collective leadership”, instead of “family (read Badals) rule”. The allegations of corruption against the Badals were dragging the party down, the workers said.

A member of the sub-committee said many told them that AAP’s promise to give Rs 1,000 to every woman aged 18 or above had split Akali supporters, “with women family members of staunch Akali workers voting for AAP”.

While one group of the sub-committee interacted with party workers from Majha and Doaba regions, the second covered the Malwa region. Members said they had covered more than 90% of the constituencies in the feedback exercise.

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Among the issues identified by workers as reasons for the Akali loss were incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, the death of two anti-sacrilege protesters in police firing in 2015, the pardon granted to Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Akal Takht (the chief of which is appointed by the Akali Dal-controlled SGPC), and the reinstatement of the controversial Sumedh Singh Saini as DGP (removed following the firing on anti-sacrilege protesters). All these had hurt the Akali Dal which counts heavily on its Panthic credentials, the workers felt.

A member said there was resentment among party workers that they had to pay the price for the Badal family “monopolising the transport business”. Giving the example of Hoshiarpur, the member said: “Voters were miffed that the Badals took over the Rajdhani bus service while expanding their fleet of transport buses.”

Akali leader and chairman of the sub-committee Iqbal Singh Jhundan said, “We will submit the report on the basis of the feedback we have received. It will focus on the party’s and Punjab’s interests. We will not hide anything.” On whether the workers wanted changes at the top, Jhundan said: “At this stage, we cannot say that. The report will be finalised after discussions. But, people want to see the Akali Dal return to its basic ideology, to represent Punjab and Panthic issues in right earnest. These were the main things which emerged during the (feedback) exercise. People are ready to support the Akali Dal again if it returns to its old traditions. We will address the shortcomings and present the Akali Dal in a new avatar.”

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Among the things appreciated by the workers across constituencies, said a member of the sub-committee, was the “development” carried out under the Sukhbir Badal-led Akali government. “No development work was done by the Congress government that followed,” said the member.

The member also felt that it was wrong to pin all decisions on one man or family. “All the decisions were taken by the party’s core committee.”

The members of the original 12-member panel were senior leaders like Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Charanjit Singh Atwal, Jagir Kaur, Prem Singh Chandumajra, Maheshinder Singh Grewal, Daljit Singh Cheema, Sikander Singh Maluka, Hira Singh Gabria, Gulzar Singh Ranike, Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, Janmeja Singh Sekhon and Surjit Singh Rakhra.

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The 13-member sub-committee comprises, apart from head Jhundan, Ravi Kiran Singh Kahlon, Harinderpal Singh Chandumajra, Gurpartap Singh Wadala, sitting MLAs Manpreet Singh Ayali and Sukhwinder Singh Sukhi, N K Sharma, Parambans Singh Bunty Romana, Gurpreet Singh Raju Khanna, Virsa Singh Valtoha, Pawan Kumar Tinu, Robin Brar and Tirath Singh Mahla.

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Many of the members in both the committees are considered very close to Sukhbir Badal.

Earlier, following the 2017 Assembly election loss, there had been voices of revolt against Sukhbir, with veterans like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa leaving the Akali Dal.

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In the February 20 election this time, not just Sukhbir but also Parkash Singh Badal lost, making it only the second-ever poll defeat for the patriarch, who fought for the first time in 1957.

As per one Akali leader, “The landlords (read the voters) were for a change in the kirayedar (tenant). And they achieved it. Let’s see how things unfold now.”

First published on: 30-04-2022 at 03:08:21 am
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