The ongoing US-Canada-Europe tour of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), said to be the unofficial beginning of its 2017 assembly election campaign, has pitched Sikh radicals against moderates.
The SAD’s first proactive interface with expatriate Sikhs has also led to a race for a place in the in the party’s overseas structure that is going to be recast. Party president Sukhbir Singh Badal has asked the delegation to scout suitable people for these foreign units that were dismantled after a sub-par show in India’s 2014 parliamentary elections.
The Punjabi community the team is sent to win over is getting attracted to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has just emerged on the political scene back home, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to break away from the ruling alliance and the Congress is marred by the parallel ambitions of its Amritsar MP, Captain Amarinder Singh, and state president Partap Singh Bajwa.
Radicals losing their ground?
“Why are they (Akalis) here?” Sikh radicals abroad, who wouldn’t want to lose their NRI patrons to anyone, are asking. Their protests have got bigger and louder as more goodwill ambassadors from Punjab have arrived in the US to huge receptions. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal adviser of radical body Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) that orchestrated these agitations, said the participants belonged to Simranjit Singh Mann’s SAD (Amritsar).
Not many American Sikhs have liked the protesters’ hurling shoes and abuses at the Akali delegation. “It’s not the right way to protest, these things don’t even happen in Punjab,” said Harjeet Singh Hundal, an SAD Virginia unit hopeful, referring to the chaos at Saturday’s meeting in New York. “Then what do the people who have suffered at the hands of the Indian and Punjab governments in the 1980s do?” asked Pannun, promising legal support to two Sikh protesters whom the New York police had arrested from the scene of violence.
AAP a worry
The SAD’s worry at this stage is not the radicals protesting against its delegation but the AAP that is getting both money and manpower from non-resident Punjabis and Sikhs since the 2014 parliamentary elections. The radicals’ anti-Akali sentiment can turn into pro-AAP response in no time.
The Akali ministers and officer-bearers, goodwill ambassadors of their Punjab government, are trying to sell its welfare efforts for the non-resident Punjabis who feel alienated. A unique situation is building up, where the preparations for a distant electoral battle are being done thousands of miles away.