Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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Shiromani Akali Dal’s U-turn on separate identity of Sikhs – by KS Chawla

Faced with a humiliating defeat in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in Punjab, the Shiromini Akali Dal (Badal) led by Sukhbir Singh Badal has made a U turn and has started the campaign for the abrogation of article 25B of the Constitution in which Sikhs, Jains and Bodhis are bracketed as members of Hindu family.

The Shiromini Akali Dal has again decided to adopt the Panthic agenda to win back the Sikhs who voted against it in the vidhan sabha polls. In the 2017 vidhan sabha elections even the committed Sikhs and particularly ruralites did not vote for the Akali Dal and voted for either the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It was because of this resentment among the Sikhs that the Akali Dal has been relegated to third position and failed to emerge as the leading opposition party in the vidhan sabha. The new entrant in the Punjab politics, AAP managed to secure 32 seats against 15 of the Akali Dal and became the main opposition party in the Vidhan Sabha.

KS ChawlaThe Shiromini Akali Dal which ruled the state of Punjab for fifteen years out of 20 years starting from 1997 to 2017 with the exception of one term Congress rule led by Amarinder Singh in 2002-2007. The Akali Dal lost 2002-2007 vidhan sabha poll courtesy Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra with whom Parkash Singh Badal had separated and Tohra faction had formed a separate Akali Dal known as Sarbhind AkaliDal and it had put up its candidates against the Badal Akali Dal. Although Sarb Hind Akali Dal put up its candidates on all the seats of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha but failed to open its account. But it caused harm to the Badal Akali Dal and Congress came out victorious. At least 35 seats of the Badal Akali Dal were affected by Tohra Candidates.

The alienation of the Sikhs from the Badal started in 1997 although it won majority seats and its alliance partner BJP also got 18 seats… and SAD-BJP Government came into power.
In February 1996, the Shiromini Akali Dal led by Parkash Singh Badal held conference at Moga and gave the slogan of Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiat. The membership of the Akali Dal was also opened to other communities including Hindus and Muslims.

Meanwhile, the BJP also extended its hand for friendship after the operation blue star. A big Akali conference was held at Ludhiana in December, 1996 in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madan Lal Khurana, the then Chief Minister of Delhi also participated and there was a show of bonhomie between the two parties. Parkash Singh Badal wanted to have alliance with the BJP to create an atmosphere of communal peace in Punjab after containment of militancy by Beant Singh. As a matter of fact, Badal also wanted to be free from the shackles of the Taksali Akali leaders like Tohra and Jagdev Singh Talwandi.

After 2007, the Shiromini Akali Dal won the next two vidhan sabha elections and Sukhbir Singh Badal who had been installed as president of the Akali Dal announced that SAD would rule for 25 years and the Akali leadership forgot about the 25B (article of the constitution). Sukhbir Badal gave tickets to a number Hindus to contest the vidhan sabha elections in 2012. Many of them won and nine Hindus became legislators on the Akali Dal tickets. Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal emerged as unchallenged leaders of the Akali Dal particularly after the death of Jathedar Tohra. Unlimited political power went to the head of the leadership.

The emergence of AAP party in Punjab politics gave new stir and AAP won four lok sabha seats for the first time.

In 2017, Vidhan Sabha poll, there was a big political hype in favour of AAP candidates. But the mismanagement by the AAP leadership failed it and the Congress came into power with 77 seats. There has been a propaganda in Punjab that the Akali Dal and Congress had joined hands to defeat the AAP and Akali Dal extended support to the Congress when it found that Akali Dal had lost the confidence of the people of Punjab –notwithstanding the fact both Congress and Akali Dal deny this charge. Thus the dream of 25 years rule was dashed to the ground.

There was another development in Punjab politics when it opened its membership to non-Sikhs. A petition was filed before the Election Commission India by Balwant Singh Khaira a Socialist leader that Akali Dal was not a secular party and it claimed to be representative of the Sikhs and had two constitutions-one for the Sikhs as a religious party and other for non-Sikhs as a secular party. Sources close to the Akali Dal told this writer that the Akali Dal filed an affidavit before the Election Commission that it had opened its membership for the non-Sikhs as well. However, Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, Spokesman of the Shiromini Akali Dal has denied the allegation and said that no affidavit was filed with the Election Commission.
Cheema revealed that in June 2000 during the NDA Government, Venkatachaliah Commission was setup to make a review of the constitution and all political parties were asked to file their representation to the Commission. The Akali Dal had also filed its petition seeking separation of the Sikhs as a separate identity. The Commission had accepted the Akali Dal view point and had agreed to declare Sikhs as a separate identity. But the Akali Dal never raised this issue for the past more than thirty years. It was only when the Akali Dal faced a major drubbing in 2017, it got reminder of Sikhs as separate identity.

Parkash Singh Badal as President of the AkaliDal had burnt the copies of constitution of article 25B at the time of dharma yudh morcha in Delhi and it was strongly condemned by all political parties including Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

After the NDA Government came into being in the Centre in 2014 under Narendra Modi, RSS has been expanding its activities in Punjab and had been saying Sikhs were a part of Hindus. However, after the defeat of the SAD-BJP in 2017, RSS has changed its stand and described Sikhs as a separate identity. The Rashtriya Sikh Sangat an affiliate of the RSS organized a conclave in Delhi two months ago where Akal Takhat Jathedar Gurcharan Singh was also invited to participate. But he did not go there. Giani Iqbal Singh, Jathedar of Patna Sahib was to preside over the conclave, but he also did not participate as pressure was mounted on him not to preside over the function.

Sukhbir Singh Badal has stated that they would move a bill in the Parliament seeking status of Sikhs as a separate identity. He has stated that they would seek the cooperation of other parties as well. A delegation of Sikh MPs led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has already met Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad in this regard.

Rashtriya Sikh Sangat leadership has criticisd the Akali Dal for raking up this issue at this stage when it has already made it clear that the Sikhs are a separate identity.

Tarlochan Singh former Chairman Minorities Commission of India and former member of Rajya Sabha disclosed to this writer that he had moved two bills in Rajya Sabha as private bills seeking a separate identity status for the Sikhs and implementation of the Anand Marriage act. The UPA government had implemented the Anand Marriage Act but the second bill for separate identity of Sikhs could not be taken up.

Different factions of the Akali Dal have been raising the issue of Sikhs as a separate nation. In 1994, the Akal Takhat summoned different groups of Sikh leaders to discuss the issue of Sikhs as a separate nation. Amritsar declaration was made after four days conclave. The Amritsar declaration sought confederal constitution for the region. Only Simranjit Singh Mann has stood by this declaration.

This declaration was signed by Surjit Singh Barnala, Simranjit Singh Mann, Amarinder Singh, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, Col. (Retd) Jasmer Singh Bala and Bhai Manjit Singh. Badal did not participate in this conclave.

The Sikhs had also presented a memorandum to UN Secretary General Boutrous Boutrous Ghali during his visit to India seeking sovereign Sikh state for the Sikhs. This memorandum was signed by Parkash Singh Badal too alongwith other Sikh leaders.

Will the latest move of the Shiromini Akali Dal to seek status of separate identity for the Sikhs work for the benefit of the Dal. Only time will tell as the Sikhs have been angry with the actions of the leadership which had been hobnobbing with people like Gurmeet Ram Raheem of Dera Sacha Sauda who has been convicted for twenty years in a rape case, to seek votes for the Akali Dal candidates. Ram Raheem was granted pardon by the Akal Takhat under pressure from the leadership and had to retreat when resentment grew against Akal Takhat and Akali Dal.

K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
Can be reached at : [email protected]
Mobile : 99886-44244

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