Sarbjit Dhaliwal & Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh/Amritsar, September 19. With the Shiromani Akali Dal sweeping the SGPC elections, the race for presidentship of the premier Sikh religious body is set to hot up in the coming days. It will not be easy for SAD chief patron and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to chose the next SGPC president with several senior leaders in race for the post. Badal, who is invariably authorised by party members to name the president, has always sprung a surprise with his choice of president.
In 1999, he named Bibi Jagir Kaur as SGPC president, the first woman to head the religious body. Years later, he outwitted several senior leaders, naming Kirpal Singh Badungar as SGPC chief. He was, perhaps, the first leader from the Backward Classes to head the SGPC. In 2005, Badal named Avtar Singh Makkar as president to counter the influence of Delhi’s Paramjit Singh Sarna and his brother among the urban Sikh electorate. None had expected the move. Badal may spring a surprise this time too. Sources say he may name a Dalit as the next SGPC president. “This would pay the SAD rich dividends in the ensuing assembly elections. It could be a masterstroke to win over the support of the Dalits,” said a senior leader.
Those in the race for the coveted post are incumbent Avtar Singh Makkar, who has led the SGPC six times in a row, the second highest after SAD stalwart GS Tohra. Makkar’s stint as SGPC chief has been largely non-controversial and he has been loyal to the Badal family. Punjab Education Minister Sewa Singh Sekhwan is also one of the contenders. His appointment would help the party consolidate its votebank in the Majha region. The possibility of Minister Sucha Singh Langah heading the SGPC can’t be ruled out either for this reason.
The name of former Minister Tota Singh has been doing the rounds ever since the SGPC poll process started. Among the women contenders, former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur’s name is at the top. However, the criminal case against her may prove to be a stumbling block. Also in the race is former SGPC general secretary Bibi Kiranjot Kaur.