After their exit from the NDA and the NDA Government, the Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal and earlier led by his father Parkash Singh Badal, has thought of forming a front of regional parties to fight for the federal structure of the state and maintain the autonomy of the states.
The Akali Dal has formed a three-member committee consisting of Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Prem Singh Chandumajra and Sikander Singh Maluka to meet the leaders of the regional parties of the country and hold a joint meeting in the near future (Third week of December).
With the concentration of power by the Centre, there has been a talk of more powers to the states in past as well. The Centre has always consolidated its position with the centralization of power and ignoring the powers of the state with the result that the states have become solely dependent on the center, even for very small assistance. Congress followed this practice, and now the Modi government has made this position more stringent. How far the Akali Dal will succeed in its mission only time will tell?
This writer who has been in the profession of journalism for the past sixty years has followed the talk of more powers to the states or more autonomy to the states for the last more than forty years.
After the formation of the Punjabi Suba in 1966, it was Justice Gurnam Singh retired judge of the Punjab High Court who became the Chief Minister of the first non-Congress Government in Punjab raised the issue of more autonomy to the states.
Since he was a legal luminary, he could study the situation better and initiated the moves in this direction. As a first step, he invited the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu DMK leader M Karunanidhi to Ludhiana to discuss the strategy to seek more autonomy for the states. Karunanidhi met Gurnam Singh and later Gurnam Singh also visited Tamil Nadu at the invitation of Karunanidhi.
Justice Gurnam Singh as Chief Minister had the first confrontation with the Centre when his proposal to set up a thermal plant at Bathinda was not sanctioned by the Indira Gandhi government. Justice Gurnam Singh did not bother about the rejection of the proposal. He went ahead with his program of setting up the thermal plant at Bathinda and laid the foundation stone of the same himself.
Justice Gurnam Singh and Karunanidhi could not make headway as Gurnam Singh died in a plane crash while returning from Madras (now Chennai).
After the death of Justice Gurnam Singh, Parkash Singh Badal became Chief Minister of Punjab but his tenure was shortlived as his government was dismissed by Indira Gandhi and in 1972, Giani Zail Singh became Chief Minister of a Congress government.
In June 1974, Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in the country after her disqualification by the Allahabad High Court following irregularities in her election on the basis of a petition filed by Raj Narain of the Socialist party.
The Shiromani Akali Dal launched a morcha against the emergency which continued for eighteen months till the last day of the emergency. The success of the morcha raised the prestige of the Akali Dal in national politics because Akali Dal was the only party that could sustain the morcha without interruption. The Morcha was headed by Sant Harchand Singh Longowal who was brought to the scene to head the morcha.
Thus morcha brought a new face in the Akali Dal in the person of Sant Longowal. After the lifting of the emergency, general elections were announced in the country and a new political party took birth on the call given by Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Narayan who had been heading the agitation against the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi before the imposition of emergency. New Party known as Janata Party – consisting of various political outfits including Jansangh, Socialist Party, and such parties came on the political scene of the country.
In the general elections, Indira Gandhi was defeated and the Janata Party emerged victorious. It may be mentioned here that the Akali Dal did not merge in the Janata Party and retained its independent political entity thanks to the strong stand taken by Jagdev Singh Talwandi was acting President of the Akali Dal at the time.
However, the Akali Dal became an ally of the Janata Party and also joined the Janata Government was headed by Morarji Desai as Prime Minister of the first non-Congress government in the country. Parkash Singh Badal was inducted as Agriculture Minister in the Morarji government but he could not bear the pressure of the central government functioning and returned to Punjab politics. He was replaced by Surjit Singh Barnala who proved a successful agriculture minister.
In the Vidhan Sabha election in June 1977, Akali Dal and Janata Party coalition government came into being and Parkash Singh Badal became the Chief Minister.
Since Parkash Singh Badal had remained in jail for eighteen months of emergency and he was bitter against the Congress and authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi, he raised the slogan of more powers or autonomy to the states. He was not clear whether he was talking of more political powers to the states or more financial autonomy to the states.
Parkash Singh Badal chalked out a program of convening a Chief Ministers conference on the advice of CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet and invitation letters were sent to the Chief Ministers to discuss the issue of state autonomy or the federal structure of the states.
Harkishan Surjeet was considered as ‘Brain Trust’ of the Akali Dal till the time of the holding of the 18th All India Akali Conference at Ludhiana in the month of October 1978 as amendments in the Anandpur Sahib resolution was made on the suggestions of Surjeet.
After this conference, Badal tried to go near the Janata Party leaders (Jan Sangh) and wanted to get rid of the traditional Jathedar of the Akali Dal who were more dependent on Harkishan Surjeet for every political advice. Janata Party ministers resigned from the coalition government following differences on the language issue.
Meanwhile, Parkash Singh Badal also had to give up the idea of having Chief Ministers’ conference on the issue of state autonomy because Morarji Desai did not approve of the same. Morarji Desain was another authoritarian leader and he would not allow anyone to raise his head in his government. So, Badal had to swallow humiliation.
Since there were differences among the leaders of the Janata Party and they could not pull on, Morarji Desai resigned and Charan Singh became the Prime Minister who also could not hold the reins of the government and midterm polls for the Lok Sabha were held in 1980 in which Indira Gandhi bounced back and became Prime Minister. She dismissed Badal government after assuming prime ministership. In the fresh Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections in June 1980, Congress came into power under Darbara Singh as Chief Minister.
But soon, Punjab state was in turmoil as militancy was ushered in with the murder of Lala Jagat Narain of the Punjab Kesari on September 9, 1981. Darbara Singh’s government was also dismissed by Giani Zail Singh who was the home minister then in October 1983. Punjab remained in the grip of militancy for a period of twelve years till February 1992 when Beant Singh became Chief Minister in the Vidhan Sabha election with polling of five percent. He was blown up in a bomb blast on August 31, 1995.
It was in 1997, that the Akali Dal and BJP formed a new alliance and Punjab got SAD-BJP Government in 1997 Vidhan sabha poll with the blessing of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This was for the first time that Parkash Badal completed his full term of five years. SAD-BJP coalition got further two terms from 2007 to 2017 for ten years.
During this period Parkash Singh Badal inducted his son Sukhbir Singh Badal first as President of the Akali Dal and then as Deputy Chief Minister. By this time father-son duo had a complete grip over the politics of Punjab and they ruled the state according to their whims. There was nobody to check them and they were the sole rulers of the Punjab state notwithstanding the fact that BJP was a partner in the Government.
The independent political observers ask Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir why there was no talk of political autonomy of state federalism for fifteen years of their rule. It is also worth mentioning, Harsimrat Badal had also been inducted in the Modi Government in 2014. Did they themselves maintain the autonomy of the religious and educational institutions during their rule?
How the Akal Takhat was misused by them when they got pardon to Gurmeet Ram Raheem head of Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa for his act of blasphemy when he attired himself in the dress of Guru Gobind Singh. How the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib happened at Gurdwara Burj Jawahar Singh Wala in Faridkot district and no culprit was arrested during their regime. The autonomy of the SGPC was eroded brazenly.
Now, when the – Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal has quit the NDA and his wife is out of the Modi government following the passage of three farm laws for which the Kisan unions of Punjab and other states of India are agitating, they have thought of uniting the regional parties of the country to fight for the federalism of the state. The Akali Dal leadership stands isolated as a number of senior Akali leaders have left Parkash Singh Badal and refused to accept the leadership of Sukhbir.
Prem Singh Chandumajra who is meeting the leaders of the regional parties of the country told this writer that they had met TMC leader Mamta Banerjee, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena Chief Minister Udhav Thackrey, BJD leaders of Orissa, DMK leader TR Balu and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and are meeting more leaders. He is confident that they would – unite the regional parties against the onslaught of Narendra Modi. Asked if this conference will restore the lost credibility of the Akali Dal led by Sukhbir had no satisfactory answer.
KS Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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