Naveen S Garewal, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 28. After an experiment in social engineering, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) seems to have changed its strategy and has now decided to take a calculated risk by re-adopting the “Panthic agenda”.
At the same time, it has decided to keep distance from radical elements within the Sikh community. The spree of inaugurations of Sikh historical monuments at the fag end of the SAD-BJP government term clearly aims at garnering Sikh votes.
The brain behind the move seems to be that of SAD patron and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Being a veteran politician, Badal Senior, it seems, has sensed the gradual erosion of the Sikh vote bank of his traditionally “Panthic” party over the years.
The alliance of the SAD with the BJP has further diluted this vote bank. Further, the underlying tension between the SAD and the BJP has made it necessary for the Akalis to consolidate their own position without banking on the BJP.
In turning the Khalsa Heritage Centre at Anandpur Sahib into a reality, along with dedicating three other monuments (in memory of Banda Bhadur at Chappar Chiri and the two Sikh massacres — small and big ghallugharas at Kanuwan and Kuper Heedha), Badal has a twin agenda. The prime aim is to garner support for his party from every possible quarter so as to retain power, with or without the BJP. Secondly, Badal wants to establish himself in the revered league of Akali leaders as Master Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh.
The move to confer the titles of ‘Panth Ratan Fakr-e-Qaum’ upon Chief Minister Badal by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh aims at catapulting the Badal Senior into the galaxy of famous Akali leaders. As the Akal Takht Jathedar is appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee (SGPC) where the SAD has 157 out of 170 elected members, the move is being viewed nothing more than an act of sycophancy.
At the beginning of the current term of the SAD-BJP government, Badal was conferred upon with the title of “Sant-Siaasatdaan” (Saint-Politician). Gurcharan Singh Tohra, an astute politician and many-time president of the SGPC, was posthumously given the title of “Panth Rattan.” He was never a part of the government.
During the 2002-2007 Congress regime, Captain Amarinder Singh had managed to woo a large number of rural voters by streamlining procurement and series of other administrative measures. Since, the Congress does not want to lose its vote bank, built in rural areas, it has hit out at the SAD’s re-calibrated pre-poll strategy of reviving the “Panthic agenda”.
As a counter reaction, the SAD has raked up issues like “Operation Bluestar.” The inauguration of the Sikh historical memorials has also brought forth the increasing divide between the SAD and the BJP. During LK Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra, the SAD made it a point to distance itself from the BJP leader for his controversial comments on Operation Bluestar in his book, ‘My Country My Life.’ Though BJP president Nitin Gadkari was present for the opening of the Khalsa Heritage Complex, the Punjab BJP president was “missing”.
The Akali strategy
- To check gradual erosion of the Sikh vote bank: The spree of inaugurations of Sikh historical monuments, at the fag end of the SAD-BJP government, clearly aims at garnering Sikh votes
- To reduce dependence on the BJP, its alliance partner: The underlying tension between the alliance partners has made it necessary for the Akalis to consolidate their position without banking on the BJP
- To keep distance from radical elements within the community and gain support from every possible quarter to retain power