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Changing dynamics of Punjab politics and the Sikhs

November 23, 2014 | By

For past few decades the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) led by Parkash Singh Badal was able to capture the space of Sikh politics in Punjab with the backing of the Indian state. Both Congress and BJP backed Badals in Punjab to get the space of Sikh politics occupied by their confident men.

Parkash Singh Badal held his say in ‘the Center’. Both Congress and BJP led NDA, when seated in the Center, used to listen Parkash Singh Badal’s ‘concerns’. As a result Parkash Singh Badal’s stature in Punjab attained such a height that the traditional ‘Akali leadership’ had no other option then to gathered around him.

Senior Badal was in process of getting his son seated to his own positions in an attempt to win over the phase of generation change. Sukhbir Badal replaced his father as President of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and he was deputy to his father in the government. An impression was built that Sukhbir Badal had an ‘unmatched’ election management skills. The impression particularly grow stronger after second consecutive election victory of Badal Dal in 2009 state assembly elections.

For all these years the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) remained reduced to the role of ‘junior partner’ in state’s power alliance with Badal Dal.

But now the things have changed a lot. After sweeping Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year the BJP seems determined to the change the equations. Soon after attaining power in the Center on it’s own, the BJP stopped accommodating Parkash Singh Badal.

Image used for representational purpose only

Image used for representational purpose only

Badal faced first major blow when India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley turned down Badal’s request for financial package for the state. Instead of entertaining Parkash Singh Badal’s confident demand, Arun Jaitley ‘advised’ Badal to set right the financial affairs of the state. Arun Jaitley shot Badal a letter reminding him that the state government headed by Badal “got more than its share of central assistance” from the erstwhile UPA government.

Recently, Parkash Singh Badal and his government had to plead hard on paddy procurement by Central agencies and it’s payment.

Besides official affairs Parkash Singh Badal also faced embarrassment on personal level. The BJP leaders bluntly ignored Parkash Singh Badal’s attendance in the presence of BJP top brass during the oath taking ceremony of BJP’s first Chief Minister in Haryana

Not only in their relations with the Center, Badals are facing consistent and extensive harassment by BJP’s state leadership. Leave aside the salvos of Sidhu couple, many other senior state BJP leaders are now openly slamming Badals and their ‘governance’ in Punjab.

The situation is such that Parkash Singh Badal had to say that it was for the BJP to continue the alliance or not.

On the other hand the results of last Lok Sabha elections exposed the impression of Sukhbir Badal’s ‘perfect election management’. Sukhbir Badal’s handpicks lost elections from Fatehgarh Sahib, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Patiala. Even his wife Harsimrat Badal barely managed to retain her seat from Bathinda.

The success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab during last Lok Sabha elections is yet another important factor. The support gained by AAP in rural areas in general and from the Sikh electorate in particular, has showed that the people of Punjab, or to be more specific the Sikh voters, could vote in favor of any viable ‘alternative’.

The politics of Punjab is likely witness major changes and many think that it would be a titanic shift capable to determining the future course of political discourse and practice in the the state. One thing is quite clear that the ‘Akali Dal’ and ‘Akali or the Sikh politics’ is at the verge of a massive change. Even Parkash Singh Badal’s life time political experience will not be able to maintain or enforce status quo in ‘Akali Dal’ (SAD-B), leave aside the ‘Sikh politics’.

Sensing the change in political dynamics of the state and realizing that there is considerable space in the Sikh politics over which the Badal Dal is loosing it’s grip, different groups have already intensified their efforts. Few groups from the Sikh circles had already started to flex their mussels for forming some election contesting platform before the announcement of last Lok Sabha elections and few others joined the run after the results of Lok Sabha elections in Punjab signaled the possibility of grabbing some political space. But the dramatic overturn in Badal-BJP relations has created such a situation that many more groups have joined the race to form platforms to contest elections.

Former Punjab DGP Shashi Kant recently announced his own political outfit named ‘Insaaf’. Kant had raised the issue of ‘drugs abuse’ and ‘drugs trade’ in Punjab. He had joined AAP before Lok Sabha elections and was engaged with different Sikh groups in their socio-political activities.

United Sikh Movement (USM) headed by former Damdami Taksal leader Bhai Mohkam Singh was making regular efforts to form a political platform, or to be more specific – an ‘Akali Dal’ which would take up ‘traditional’ regional issues of Punjab. Gurdeep Singh Bathinda and an elderly leader of the Sikh Students Federation is also part of these efforts. The focus of the activity is to contest elections with in Indian electoral system and seek resolution of long pending issues related to the Sikhs and Punjab.

Sikh Historian Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon is also making efforts to make an Akali Dal which would work on Sikh and Punjab issues with in constitutional framework of India. There were reports that both these groups held joint meetings in last few days, but they (USM and Dr. Dhillon) held separate meetings on November 22 in Amritsar and Chandigarh.

The Untied Sikh Movement transform the group into a political party named “United Akali Dal”. According to Bhai Mohkam Singh the UAD leadership has formalized ‘Punjab Agenda’ and ‘Sikh Agenda’ which would form basis of party activity. He said that UAD was open to hold talks with other parties on the basis of agenda declared by the party.

Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon said that preliminary talks are over with Nov. 22 meeting at Chandigarh and he would soon float a political party.

There are at-least two former Jathedars of Sikh Takhts who are active in Public domain and hold considerable following among the Sikh masses.

BJP has also focused it’s attention on the Sikh segment. BJP seems confident to bag Hindu votes in Punjab but the party can not rely only on consolidation of Hindu vote bank in the Sikh majority state. The saffron party is working on a multi-fold plan. BJP has already started work to find out possibilities of taking a chunk out of it’s ally’s leadership. Former Punjab DGP and Badal Dal leader P. S. Gill has already joined the BJP. The saffron party has reportedly entered a ‘settlement’ with Anandpur Sahib MP and Badal Dal leader Prof. Prem Singh Chandumajra. Party also held talks with leaders of it’s ally including Tota Singh. BJP is also approaching local Sikh leaders out the fold of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) to induce them to join BJP.

But this may not fully serve the purpose of BJP. As going alone in Punjab will be a major task for the party that has only marginal base in rural areas. The experience of Lok Sabha as well as the recently held assembly elections of Haryana and Maharashtra shows that BJP was able to capture political power with limited portion of votes when opposition was divided.

If BJP decides to part it’s ways from the Badal Dal it’s interest would be in dividing the Sikh vote bank of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal). BJP’s decision to break up alliance with Badal Dal could trigger a split in Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal). In such a situation the BJP’s interest would be in intensifying the split. BJP may indirectly patronize the splinter group/s to divide the vote-bank of Badal Dal.

RSS has revived Rashtriya Sikh Sangat to strengthen it’s efforts to consolidate Sikh votes directly under the BJP’s fold to the possible extent.

With the rise of Hindutva forces in India the challenges for the Sikhs are tough than ever before.

As the state politics is heading for a decisive change the Sikh groups have more space to grab but it won’t be an easy task. There are countable Sikh personalities who have retained their potential and credibility. Issues of Punjab, as well as the Sikh issues, demand determined leadership that could address them and struggle for a decisive conclusion.

In this situation the most important task before sincere Sikh sections is to bring forward a credible leadership with clear vision, pragmatic wisdom and determination to pursue the struggle on a single platform.

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