The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) decision to fight the next Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Haryana on its own rather than in partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) poses a huge challenge for it. It is indeed a big gamble for SAD and an ordeal of fire for the party president Sukhbir Singh Badal in particular.
Already, the party had snapped links with its long-time ally the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and announced to go it alone in Haryana Assembly polls 2019. The challenge for Sukhbir is now doubly great.
The Akali-BJP ties in Punjab have endured for 30 years and the two parties shared power since 2007 until last year when the Congress trounced the combine. In 2014, too when the BJP stormed to power at the Centre riding on a Narendra Modi wave, the two parties were in alliance in Punjab but not in Haryana where the BJP came to power in conjunction with the Haryana Janhit Congress led by Kuldeep Bishnoi while the Akalis fought with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and were mauled.
This time around, even the INLD crutch would not be available to the Akalis. To add to its woes, the Haryana State Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (HSGPC-ad hoc) has snapped links with the main Akal Takht SGPC unit of Amritsar to which the Punjab Akali Dal is still aligned. A section of the Haryanvi Sikhs wants a separate identity for themselves and want to have nothing to do with the SGPC and the Akalis.
At the core of the controversy are the massive finances of the SGPC on which the Haryanvis feel they are denied their legitimate share.
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A case related to the long pending demand of a separate Sikh body to govern gurdwaras in Haryana is in the final stage in the Supreme Court. While the judgment is being keenly awaited, it is inconceivable that the Haryana Sikhs would let go of their hold over the part of the finances of the ad hoc body.
Haryana Akali president Sharanjeet Singh Sahota said recently, “We think there is no need for a separate body as the Sikhs in Haryana want to remain connected with the Akal Takht. However, we will raise our demand for a SGPC sub-office in Haryana. We will also urge the SGPC that donations collected from gurdwaras in Haryana should be spent here only.”
To woo voters in Haryana, Sukhbir Badal said at a rally in Pipli on Sunday to announce that the Akalis would go it alone in Haryana that if SAD was voted to power in the state, it would implement a free power policy for the agriculture sector. He announced free piped irrigation water to all fields, 400 units free power per month to Dalits besides a slew of facilities for all sections of the society.
How far all this would go in attracting Sikh voters to vote for the Akalis in Haryana is anybody’s guess but it appears unlikely that the Akali Dal would manage to make it big in Haryana, especially with the parting of ways between the Akal Takht and the Haryana Sikh committee and the sustained loyalty of a substantial section of Sikhs to the Akal Takht, the ultimate seat of spiritual power.
At the Pipli rally, Sukhbir made it clear that the SAD would take on the Congress aggressively in Haryana and assured the gathering that his party would continue the struggle for justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims as long as the perpetrators were not jailed. He claimed that the Punjabi community was discriminated against by the Congress party “be it during the Emergency or later during the period of militancy”.
The former Punjab deputy chief minister whose party is part of the National Democratic Alliance in Delhi is soft on the BJP though not in alliance with it in Haryana. A post-poll arrangement between them cannot be ruled out.