Close on the heels of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)’s humiliating defeat in the Sangrur parliamentary constituency bypoll, a top functionary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Sikh community’s apex elected religious body, has sought the resignation of the “current leadership” of its own party, the SAD(B).
In the Sangrur bypoll, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann emerged victorious on the home turf of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann by defeating the ruling AAP’s candidate. The SAD(B)’s candidate Kamaldeep Kaur, sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, the ex-CM Beant Singh’s assassination convict lodged in jail, lost her deposit and finished fifth.
Flagging the Sangrur outcome, the SAD(B)-controlled SGPC’s general secretary Karnail Singh Panjoli said it reflected “people’s distrust in the present Akali leadership”, asking the party leadership to submit its resignation to the Akal Takht.
Rising from his nearly two decades-long political wilderness, the 77-year-old pro-Khalistan leader and ex-IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann pulled off a stunning win, which is likely to boost Panthic politics in Punjab and may trigger its churn afresh.
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For the Sukhbir Badal-led SAD(B), the Sangrur defeat is a more serious blow as it was not caused by the parties like the AAP or the Congress over issues like development or unemployment but by another Akali Dal faction, led by Simranjit, which campaigned on the Panthic plank. It is another matter that the SAD(B) had also played the Panthic card in Sangrur by fielding Kamaldeep and making the release of the Sikh prisoners its main campaign issue.
Sukhbir replaced his father Parkash Singh Badal as the SAD(B) president on January 31, 2008. He has had a mixed track-record so far. Although under his leadership the party created a record by forming the government for the consecutive second term in 2012 along with the then ally BJP, but it could win just 4 parliamentary seats out of the state’s 13 in both the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In the 2019 general elections, only Sukhbir and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal could manage to win their seats.
The SAD(B) also suffered its second consecutive Assembly election debacle over three months ago, when its tally plunged to three seats. As part of its introspection exercise, the party leadership then formed a 12 members sub-committee to take grass roots feedback on the measures needed to strengthen the party. In its report, a part of which has been accessed by The Indian Express, the panel has made various suggestions on issues like the impact of the 2015 sacrilege and police firing incidents on Sikh psyche, dynasty politics, SGPC institutions and the religious conversions.
In its report, the panel has pointed out that the sacrilege incident and the 2015 Behbal Kalan police firing took place during the tenure of the SAD(B)-led government and that the appointment of Sumedh Saini as Punjab DGP then and the Dera Sacha Sauda’s political support in 2017 Assembly elections also “hurt” the Sikh sentiments. “These incidents still has great impact on Sikh psyche and it is hurt,” says the report.
The panel asked the SAD(B) leadership to “seek apology” for all these developments. “Sub committee has felt that such developments during SAD government has created a heavy anger among Sikhs. Committee also feel that then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his whole cabinet, then SAD(B) president Sukhbir Singh Badal and the whole party leadership, as humble Sikhs, should seek apology from the Almighty and Sikh masses,” the report states.
The party has however not taken any action on the panel’s recommendations so far.
Before the SAD(A) chief’s victory in Sangrur, the SAD(B) leadership had hoped that there was no other Akali political group leader that could challenge them on the Panthic turf. But Simranjit seemed to have turned the tables now.
Amid growing unease within the SAD(B), it would not be easy for Sukhbir to continue as the party president without effecting major changes at the party’s top levels.
The SGPC elections are also due and it will be in the hands of the Centre and the state government when these elections could be held, which, if held early, may boost the prospects of the SAD(A) or other Akali factions in wresting the body from the SAD(B)’s control, which they have been eyeing for a long time.
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