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Punjab elections: ‘Hardliners’ on its side, AAP eyes Akali bastion of Majha

SAD leadership’s stand against Sikh hardliners has pushed party candidates on a slippery ground.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: February 3, 2017 3:08:50 am
bhindranwale, blue star, jarnail singh bhindrawali, sikh extremist, SAD MLA, khem karan, shiromani akali dal, punjab elections, punjab polls 2017, punjab general elections 2017, punjab assembly polls 2017, virsa singh valtoha, sukhbir singh badal, sikh militants, bhagwant mann, aam punjab, arvind kejriwal A picture posted on Facebook by Virsa Singh Valtoha showing him with Bhindranwale.

Virsa Singh Valtoha, sitting SAD MLA from Khem Karan who is seeking re-election from the same constituency, is never known to hide his ties with Sikh extremist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and would even attend death anniversaries of Sikh militants every year. A vocal defender of his party in news channel debates, Valtoha now struggles to defend the recent statements of his party president Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal against Akahnd Kirtni Jatha president R P Singh, who they termed as terrorist to launch an attack on Aam Aadami Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal, who is first Hindu leader in a long time to enter deep circles of Sikh politics. “I cannot say anything about it. Sukhbir Badal is also the home minister of the state and he must have some inputs that I don’t have to make that statement,” says Valtoha. Majha region in Punjab had the maximum support for Sikh militancy. It was also one of the reasons why SAD was always strong in this part of Punjab, having won all the four Assembly seats of Tarn Taran district.

Watch: Punjab Polls 2017: Sukhbir Badal Accuses Kejriwal Of Joining Hands With Sikh Radicals For Votes

The stand taken by top SAD leadership against Sikh hardliners has pushed Valtoha and other party candidates in Majha on a slippery wicket, especially in his constituency from where even Congress candidate Sukhpal Bhullar is known to attend death anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s assassins. Congress did not refuse ticket to Bhullar despite a complaint by his father, Gurchet Bhullar, on his attending the controversial event.

SAD had also targeted Khalistani elements during the five ‘Sadbhawna’ rallies held across the state in 2015 to counter the Sarbat Khalsa event. At that time, the party, however, attacked only organisers of Sarbat Khalsa. Besides, the SAD leadership in Majha itself had made special arrangements to fetch the crowd and attended the Operation Blue Star anniversary in June 2016 after instructions from Sukhbir Badal.

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Despite making repeated claim about alleged links of Sarbat Khalsa organisers with Pakistan’s ISI and booking then under sedition charges, the Punjab police have failed to submit any relevant evidence in court in the last one-anda-half years.

Gurdeep Singh, a United Akali Dal leader and one of the Sarbat Khalsa organisers, says, “We have clearly mentioned in our constitution that we have shunned the demand of Khalistan. But SAD wants to tag us as Khalistani to polarise communities in Punjab. We are here for peace and harmony, but the government propaganda projects us as terrorists. If we are terrorists, why don’t they jail us?”

Meanwhile, Kejriwal has been received warmly my many Sikh hardliner groups. Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh says, “Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal should remain mentally prepared to get the tag of ISI agent after being awarded the title of CIA agent by Akali MP Prem Singh Chandumajra.”

“It would be an eye-opener for Kejriwal and others to see how difficult it’s to talk about Sikh issues. The political establishment and its media have been portraying Sikhs as anti-national and Pakistan’s agents ever since they refused to follow the dictates of New Delhi,” he says.

“Khalistani groups have no truck with AAP. We are ideologically poles apart. AAP is a pro-India party having nationalistic character. But what is wrong if Kejriwal is going to Sikh leaders to ask for votes? Either you should put all of them in jail or allow politicians to visit them without making any controversy,” Kanwar Pal Singh says.

Village Varpal in Attari Assembly constituency has a small memorial for those natives who died during Operation Blue Star. The village is a traditional SAD stronghold which gave a lead to Attari candidate Gulzar Singh Ranike, who went on to become minister, in the 2012 Assembly polls.

This time, however, truck drivers from the region who worked in Dubai organised a special rally of AAP MP Bhagwant Mann in the village, in a clear shift of their loyalties.

“It has been happening all over Majha. The SAD is losing its support to AAP. The party has lost its path and hence we have been pushing our parents to support AAP. We cannot go for Congress as they are responsible for Operation Blue Star,” says Gurinder Singh, who runs a transport business in Dubai and is funding the AAP campaign in Attari.

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