Despite successive electoral defeats of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) under his leadership — in the 2019 general elections and the 2022 Assembly polls, both by huge margins — and having battled a series of revolts against his style of functioning, president Sukhbir Singh Badal continues to be in the saddle to lead the over 100-year-old party with a revamped organisational structure, largely comprising leaders owing allegiance to Badal Jr.
On Wednesday, Sukhbir got himself a nine-member advisory board to assist him, a majority of whom are considered close to him. Even the newly constituted 25-member SAD core committee — the party’s highest decision-making body — bears his imprint. Among those included in the core committee is Iqbal Singh Jhundan, who headed the SAD committee that looked into its 2022 poll debacle, along with a member of that committee, Gurpartap Singh Wadala.
The Jhundan committee report has not been made public, but sources in the Akali Dal say it recommended sweeping changes in the party organisation, after SAD was reduced to a humiliating three seats in the February elections, from the 15 it had won in 2017 in the 117-member Punjab Vidhan Sabha. The report blamed incidents of sacrilege and police firing during the Akali regime in 2015 for the party’s debacle in the elections, apart from party cadre feedback over the party monopolising the transport business. It recommended unconditional apology of the Akali Dal over incidents of sacrilege that occurred during the previous tenure of the party over Punjab.
After the Jhundan committee report was submitted, Sukhbir dissolved the entire organisational structure of the party in July. The appointment of the new core committee completes the process for now.
Having wrested control over SAD, the challenge Sukhbir, 60, faces right now is from disgruntled leader Jagmeet Singh Brar, who had quit the Congress to join SAD and contested unsuccessfully from Maur in 2022, is going all out to strengthen the “unity co-ordination panel” to “revive Akali Dal”.
Brar has convened a meeting in this regard on December 9. He minced no words to say that SAD was at its lowest ebb after the “party finished fifth in the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypoll”. He added that the 44 recommendations made by the Jhundan-led committee to revive SAD should have been made public. “Akali Dal is a great regional party. Unfortunately, there is no inclusive roadmap or programme to revive it.
A former SAD core committee member who was issued a show cause notice for anti-party activities in October, Brar added, “We won’t float a new outfit any longer, but will raise our voice within the party.”
He added, “In 100 constituencies where the Jhundan-led committee members collected feedback, Akali members called for change in leadership. In only a few constituencies did the local leadership not allow committee members to gather feedback, saying “everything was okay and the party cadre was satisfied with the current leadership”.” The SAD disciplinary committee on Friday issued a notice to Brar for anti-party utterances.
The SAD core committee re-constituted by Badal Jr. has a mixture of experience and youthfulness. About half the members have been retained, while staunch Sukhbir supporters such as former Rajya Sabha member Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Maheshinder Singh Grewal, Gulzar Singh Ranike, Janmeja Singh Sekhon, party spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema, Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, Surjit Singh Rakhra, Hira Singh Gabria, Iqbal Singh Jhundan, Sukhwinder Sukhi, Pawan Kumar Tinu, Virsa Singh Valtoha, Gurbachan Singh Babbehali and Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal have been included.
It also includes former Lok Sabha MP Prem Singh Chandumajra, one of the party’s senior-most leaders who, SAD sources said, the Sukhbir camp wanted to “placate”, sensing that he had the “potential to assert himself openly and spell further trouble for the SAD chief”. There is also Sikander Singh Maluka, a staunch Badal family loyalist who was upset at not being fielded from Maur in the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections, as well as BJP import Anil Joshi.
Also present is the SAD heavyweight from the Majha region of Punjab, Bikram Singh Majithia, who has been very proactive of late, re-emerging as a key face of the party since emerging from jail on bail in a drugs-related case.
The SAD core committee will also have Backward Classes leader Sunita Chaudhary, the daughter-in-law of late Akali MLA Chaudhary Nand Lal. She contested unsuccessfully as a SAD nominee from Balachaur in the Punjab Assembly elections earlier this year. The revamped core committee also includes chiefs of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Istri Akali Dal and Youth Akali Dal. Former Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral, was appointed as a special invitee, along with former Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee chief Paramjit Singh Sarna, who in October merged his party SAD Delhi with the Akali Dal.
Among new entrants are three Dalit and BC leaders — Sukhwinder Sukhi, Pawan Kumar Tinu and Sunita Chaudhary; and former legislators Jhundan, N K Sharma, Anil Joshi, Wadala, Valtoha, Babbehali and Lodhinangal.
The advisory board comprises Charanjit Singh Atwal, Upinderjit Kaur and Baldev Singh Mann. The trio were also members of the previous SAD core committee. Other members of the advisory board are former SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar, BJP import into Akali Dal Madan Mohan Mittal, Parkash Chand Garg, Vir Singh Lopoke, Varinder Singh Bajwa and Jarnail Singh Wahid — all Sukhbir loyalists.
Three-time Akali Dal MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali, the party’s chief in the Vidhan Sabha, is a notable omission in the reorganised set up. Ayali had opposed the SAD move to support the BJP nominee for the presidential election of Droupadi Murmu, and had abstained from voting.
SAD also named Akali patriarch and five-time CM Parkash Singh Badal as its chief patron and veteran leader Ranjit Singh Brahampura — who had revolted against Sukhbir but subsequently returned to the Akali fold — as patrons of the party.