Riding piggyback on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Shiromani Akali Dal goes to May 19 polls without any election manifesto – perhaps for the first time in the electoral history of the party.
As per the Election Commission guidelines issued in March this year, a party cannot release its election manifesto during the restriction period that is 48 hours before the polls. The canvassing for the polls to the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab concluded Friday.
Akali Dal is contesting 10 seats and ally BJP the remaining three, but it has failed to come up with its own election manifesto. This despite party forming a panel of who’s who in the SAD earlier this year.
In its election manifestos in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) alliance was in power with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, SAD had prominently mentioned issues of Chandigarh for Punjab, Punjabi speaking areas for Punjab, and addressing Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) link canal issue as per riparian law with Punjab not having any surplus water to share with Haryana.
In its election manifesto in 2014, the SAD had promised minimum support price for farmers’ produce on the lines of M S Swaminathan formula. In 2009, it had promised to waive off farm loans and reduce the interest rate on fresh farm loans to four per cent. It had also promised to bring back “black money” stashed abroad.
In both the manifestos, SAD had resolved to bring perpetrators of 1984 anti-Sikh riots to the book. In successive manifestos, it had been promising Chandigarh for Punjab, Punjabi speaking areas for Punjab, solving the SYL issue, and justice for 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims and punishment for the perpetrators.
In 2014, SAD had also promised to make efforts to enable devotees pay obeisance at Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan.
In January this year, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal had constituted a 17-member manifesto committee headed by Rajya Sabha member Balwinder Singh Bhunder. Former Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha Charanjit Singh Atwal was named as vice-chairman and Daljit Singh Cheema as member secretary of the manifesto committee, which included Naresh Gujral, Prem Singh Chandumajra, Tota Singh, Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal, Bikram Singh Majithia, Parminder Singh Dhindsa, Sikander Singh Maluka,Jagir Kaur, Hira Singh Gabria, Pawan Kumar Tinu Janmeja Singh Sekhon, former SGPC president Kirpal Singh Badungar and SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal’s advisor on national affairs Harcharan Bains.
Cheema said the party promises were “announced from stages during the poll campaign”. He added that “manifesto is just a formal version of what is said from the stage” during campaign. “Moreover, there would be a common minimum programme of whichever government is formed,” Cheema said, adding, “print is getting phased out and people these days take to internet to hear party views. I have not seen any manifesto of any party in print.”
A member of the manifesto panel said, “Since there is Congress government in Punjab, the party eventually decided against releasing its own manifesto. We have decided to go by the ally BJP’s manifesto in these polls.”
The focus of poll pitch of SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir and Union minister and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal centres around Modi. While senior Badal has showered heaps of prais on Modi for Balakot strike, the family has also patted its own back and that of the PM for setting the ball rolling for punishment for the perpetrators of 1984 anti-Sikh riots, invoking conviction of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar.
While cricketer-turned-politician and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu is widely credited for paving the way for proposed Kartarpur Sahib corridor by taking up the matter with Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, Badals are all praise for Modi for fulfilling long pending demand of Sikhs.