SAD’s break and fall is now clearly written on the wall

Amid rising dissent and rebellion, the oldest regional party of the country stares at a split as breakaway group announces the new political entity

The inevitable has happened. Tehelka Cover Story (December 1-15, 2018) “Crises make SAD SAD ahead of its 100th anniversary?” hinted at a split that the oldest regional party of the country, Akali Dal later renamed as the Shiromani Akali Dal was staring at. The party formed on December 14, 1920, is now on the verge of a split on its foundation day that is December 14.

The announcement of a new political party by a rebelling section of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) trio Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Dr Rattan Singh Ajnala have caused much political upheaval in Punjab. The development is bound to shake up the grand old party of Punjab.

Badal’s viral video

It has happened when Assembly election results from five states have come and are being debated. The results are being considered a semi-final to 2019 general elections. It has also happened when Badal family is trying to atone for its sins. The Badal family members Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal along with Bikram Singh Majithia and other senior party leaders have started ‘sewa’ at Golden Temple to atone their mistakes made during 10 years of their rule in Punjab.

They are accused of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, protecting the culprits of sacrilege and forcing Sikh high priests to pardon the dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh. In one of the pictures that have gone viral on social media, even Parkash Singh Badal is seen polishing sports shoes. The social media is mocking the Badal family for spoiling sports shoes. The opposition parties have described the exercise a political drama. The political rivals have said that pardon can for mistakes and not for sins committed by Badal family.

Khadoor Sahib MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura has announced the formation of a new political party, less than a month after the Shiromani Akali Dal expelled him and two other Taksalis leaders Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Dr Rattan Singh Ajnala. The trio said the future line of action would be announced on December 14, which happens to be the foundation day of SAD. Brahmpura said the new “parallel party” would be based on Akali Dal’s “original ideology” of 1920, though adapted to suit the “present circumstances and prevailing situation”.

The party, he added, would retain the words ‘Shiromani Akali Dal’, but the suffix would be announced soon. He said all “like-minded” party leaders had been approached to join, “we welcome even non-Akali parties who can adhere to our ideology. The Bains brothers and AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who have old Akali connections, too have been apprised of our vision.” Sekhwan and Dr Ajnala admitted that they had committed a blunder by not raising their voice at the “appropriate platform”.

“With folded hands, we seek an apology from the entire Punjabi community that though we had opposed Badal-Majithia over anti-Panthic policies within the party, we should have placed the issues in the people’s court then.”

Flip-flop trigger

Citing the flip-flop decision to pardon the Dera Sacha Sauda chief for blasphemy, the series of sacrilege incidents at Bargari and police firing in Behbal Kalan, the leaders have accused SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia of causing irreparable damage to SAD. Brahmpura said that “their ill-conceived moves have dented the core image of SAD and reduced it to a dynasty.

This was the reason it had to contend with just 15 seats in the Vidhan Sabha. These circumstances necessitated floating a parallel party based on Akal Dal’s original 1920 Constitution.”

The veteran leaders, along with Brahmpura’s son Ravinder Singh Brahmpura and Ajnala’s son Amarpal Singh ‘Bonny’ Ajnala, were expelled from the primary membership of the party for six years for indulging in anti-party activities on November 11. The decision to form a new front was taken during a meeting of the trio at Brahmpura’s residence in Amritsar. In a joint statement, Khadoor Sahib MP Brahmpura, former MP Ajnala, former minister Sekhwan, Ajnala’s son Bonny and former MLA Manmohan Singh Sathiala said:

“On the demand of Sikhs living in Punjab and abroad, we have decided to float a new party on December 14, the day when the Shiromani Akali Dal was formed in 1920.” Sekhwan, Brahmpura, Ajnala and some other Taksali leaders (old guard) had raised a banner of revolt against party president Sukhbir Singh Badal and former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, accusing them of deviating from the Panthic agenda and causing irreparable damage to the SAD and its cause.

The veteran leaders had expressed their dismay at the “sad state of affairs” at the party in a joint press conference on October 1. The trio then boycotted the party’s October 7 Patiala rally. On October 23, Brahmpura resigned from all party posts and Sekhwan followed suit on November 3. On November 4, Brahmpura held a show of strength at historic Chohla Sahib village in Tarn Taran and held Sukhbir and Majithia responsible for granting pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case, Kotakpura and Behbal Kalan police firing and the Bargari sacrilege incidents.

“The motive behind floating the new party is to free the SAD from the clutches of Sukhbir and Majithia,” said Sekhwan, adding that the new outfit will contest Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. They claimed that Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa is also in their contact. Dhindsa had tendered his resignation from all party posts on September 29 on health grounds.

Talking about the Kartarpur corridor, Brahmpura said credit for the project should go to local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is his good friend and decided to honour Sidhu’s wish. “It was the long-pending demand of Sikhs. Though government of both nations made efforts for the corridor on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the credit goes to Sidhu.”

Future imperfect

The coming together of the three leaders against the party they belonged to makes the revolt very serious. If we look back into history, the SAD has faced many a revolt in the past. However, all the rebels including the powerful Gurcharan Singh Tohra faded into the oblivion of political marginalization. Tohra was President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for a record 27 years and was one of the most influential and unparalleled Sikh leaders of the 20th century.

What would be the fate of a powerful trio and the Shiromani Akali Dal is yet to be seen, the political leadership of the SAD has taken the challenge seriously, it seems. The decision to do “sewa” at the Golden Temple and atone for sins committed “knowingly or unknowingly” shows that Badals have decided to take the challenge head-on. The party needs to do serious introspection and take remedial measures to carry the cadre along.