After its worst drubbing in the Punjab assembly elections, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) seems to be clawing its way back into hardcore Panthic politics. But the party’s latest attempts to take the lead on the premature release of Sikh political prisoners seems to have hit a roadblock.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had recently formed an 11-member committee to take up the cause of the release of Sikh political prisoners. The committee members, include SAD leader Sukhbir Badal and his fierce adversary in the past and party’s (Amritsar) president, known for his controversial extremist ideology, Simranjit Singh Mann.
For Sukhbir after being jolted by the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) sweep in the Punjab election, both the Sikh prisoners’ issue and joining hands with Mann was seen as an attempt to regain relevance in the state polity by picking up hardcore Panthic issues. Even for the by-poll to the Sangrur parliamentary constituency, Badal had called upon all Panthic organisations to put up a joint candidate.
Ironically, it was the SAD government in 2015 that had cracked down on Sikh leaders, including Simranjit Mann for organising Sarbat Khalsa (assembly of Sikhs) on the outskirts of Amritsar. “He knew raking up Panthic issues would be the only way to claw back into a political arena which has thrown his party out,” said a SAD leader.
According to sources, Sukhbir was facing challenges not just from outside but from within the party over his leadership. It is perhaps why he chose to “indulge” with controversial religious organisations.
But even before he could succeed, differences have emerged. Sukhbir’s inclusion in the 11-member panel has been opposed by Haryana State Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC) president Baljit Singh Daduwal.
More importantly, after the initial “bonhomie”, differences have emerged between Mann and Badal. Ignoring pleas for a joint candidate, Mann decided to file his nomination papers for the Sangrur polls forcing SAD to give the mandate to Kamaldeep Kaur, the foster sister of death row prisoner Balwant Singh Rajoana, to contest as the SAD-BSP candidate.
Observers say though Sukhbir was desperate to rake up the Panthic issues to stay politically relevant, it would take much more than optics to stave off the tsunami of anger against his party in the state.