Storm brewing in 99 years old SAD

The discontent in the party, which was in power for 10 years from 2007 to 2017, is reportedly hampering its attack on the ruling Congress in Punjab, writes Rajendra Khatry

Not all is well in the almost 100 years-old faction ridden Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). In fact a storm has been brewing in the party for quite some time. There is a simmering discontent in one of the oldest political parties in the country headed by Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The discontent in the party, which was in power for 10 years from 2007 to 2017, is reported to be hampering its all out attack on the ruling Congress in Punjab under Capt Amarinder Singh.

Political analysts feel that there are clear indications that a storm is gathering on the horizon and it may pose a serious challenge to the leadership of Sukhbir Badal. Factional feud in the SAD is nothing new. In the past also Sukhbir Badal has faced opposition and challenge to his leadership. Last year 81-years-old senior vice president of SAD and MP from Khadoor Sahib, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura revolted against the leadership of Sukhbir. When the issue was failed to be resolved, he quit from all posts and citing old age and health concerns he also announced that he will not contest any poll in future. Later he also resigned from SAD.

The Taksali leader, (traditional Akali) Brahmpura had said that he was upset with the way sacrilege incidents were handled by the previous SAD-BJP government. He had also expressed anguish over the previous government’s pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head  Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, in a blasphemy case in the year 2015. Later Gurmeet Rm Rahim was jailed in rape cases. Later another Taksali leader Sewa Singh Sekhwan, Vice president of SAD and former minister had also resigned from all party posts as well as member of the Core Committee of SAD, upset as he was with the functioning in the party. He also quit SAD.

Later both Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and Sewa Singh Sekhwan floated a new party-Taksali Akali, but they failed to create any impact in the state. But now the latest to raise the banner of revolt is Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, veteran Member of Parliament. What makes it more saddening is the fact that the ageing Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has been a lifelong associate of SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal.

It is not as if Dhindsa has suddenly risen in revolt. There had been tell tale sign of it in the past as well. In fact for the last one year, Dhindsa has been firing salvos at Sukhbir Singh Badal. His objection is mainly to the style of functioning of Badal. But it is only recently that Dhindsa has come out so openly against Sukhbir Badal. What fuelled the fire was the fact that 57-years-old Sukhbir Badal was recently unanimously re-elected president of SAD for another five years, the third time in a row.

This was too much for his detractors to digest. Dhindsa has therefore raised a banner of revolt. He seems to be going the Brahmpura and Sekhon way. There is speculation that Dhindsa is in touch with these leaders. Around 600 party delegates gave their approval, mandating Sukhbir Singh Badal to lead the party for another five years. Sukhbir Singh got the fresh mandate to lead the party on a day it was founded in 1920. The election coincided the function held to celebrate the 99th foundation day by the party.

In his recent speeches after his re-election, Sukhbir Singh Badal, has been hitting back at Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa. “My father once said ‘Taksalis’ are those who are loyal and not those who hanker for posts and positions. There are many forces who are out to weaken the SAD and SGPC,” he said and asserted that the SAD has always emerged stronger out of similar challenges.

Incidentally, after Sukhbir Singh Badal’s re-election, the SAD also passed a resolution, dubbing ‘Taksali’ Akalis as desperate and frustrated elements”, acting as “puppets in the Congress hands after selling their conscience and Sikh pride”.

The resolution said ‘Taksali’ Akalis have “become agents of the Congress in exchange for petty government favours”. They humiliated the respected Panthic term’Taksalis’ when they eceived honours on Guru Nanak Dev ji’s 550 ‘Parkash Utsav’ from the Congress stage. This is a shameful truth behind their misuse of the name ‘Taksali’,” the resolution read.

The resolution also said that “They are so devoid of the honour that although they oppose SAD, they do not have the courage to dissociate themselves from this party and its name. The Sikh masses and the Punjabis will teach them the lesson which they have always taught to all such opportunists who betrayed Shiromani Akali Dal in the past, it added.

Another resolution passed at the delegates’ session said, The SAD stands for greater fiscal and political autonomy to all states as strong states mean a strong country. The party also called for making the election manifestos of political parties a legally enforceable document.

Dhindsa’s antipathy to Sukhbir Singh Badal is well known. He criticises Badal for hobnobbing with the Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeeet Ram Rahim Singh in the past. He also holds him responsible for granting pardon to Dera Chief in order to get votes in the elections by influencing the Akal Takht Jathedars.

Incidentally, Dhindsa resigned from all party posts in September last year, but continues to be a primary member of the SAD. He is expected to leave SAD in favour of Taksalis or some other group. He has been holding meetings with his supporters and SAD workers. Dhindsa has been appealing to all the people unhappy with the style of functioning of Sukhbir Badal to come to him. So far he has been telling people that he wants to reform by staying in it. He has also appealed to his supporters to bring as many people as people to him.

Earlier some senior SAD leaders, including Jathedar Tota Singh, Balwinder Singh Bhundar  and Professor Prem Singh Chandumajra appealed to Dhindsa not to sabotage the party, but he did not heed their advice. Incidentally, a function was recently organised by splinter Akali groups, led by the SAD (Taksali). Dhindsa, in fact defended other veteran SAD (Taksali) leaders who had in the past openly challenged Sukhbir Singh’s leadership when they were in SAD. Dhindsa asked what was their fault? They were shown the door just because they raised their voice for party’s good. Unfortunately whosoever raised his voice, was shown the door, said the aged leader commented Dhinsa, adding under Sikhbir Badal SAD had `deviated’ from the principles on which it was formed, he asserted.

Despite his differences with the party leadership, Dhindsa has refrained from resigning. He says he has worked hard for the SAD for so many years now and the leadership should understand that threats would not work. According  to Dhindsa SAD party workers are a dejected lot. “These workers want restoration of democracy in the party,” he says. All this upheaval in the 99-years-old party is not good for it. SAD leaders are hoping things will improve soon so that the centenary celebrations can be held in a grand manner next year.