Eager to consolidate its base, the SAD is reaching out to include more non-Sikh candidates.
Besides fielding the highest number of Hindu candidates (11 of the 94 seats the party is contesting) ever, the SAD is also counting on Sikh candidates with trimmed beards. They are hockey legend Pargat Singh, former Punjab DGP Paramjit Singh Gill, former IAS officer Darbara Singh Guru and trade unionist Malkit Singh Keetu, who cannot even vote in the SGPC elections for not following Sikh tenets.
The trend of non-Sikh MLAs in the SAD began with the victory of Chiranji Lal Garg from Bathinda in the 1997 polls following the historic 1995 Moga declaration, in which the SAD declared itself as a party of all Punjabis and not just of Sikhs.
The number of Hindu candidates later increased to six, of whom three won in the 2007 assembly polls.
In the past, former Akali MLA Manpreet Singh Badal (now People’s Party of Punjab chief) and Keetu were the only two Sikh SAD legislators with shorn hair from 1997 onwards.
The Akali leadership had taken Manpreet to the Akal Takht and baptised him in 1995 before launching him as a SAD candidate.
The party does not seem to bother with this ritual any more, not insisting on an undertaking from a Sikh member to remain non-alcoholic and maintain religious tenets that included keeping shorn hair.
According to SAD norms, the party president has to live a baptised life. Thus Sukhbir Singh Badal attained baptism at Anandpur Sahib in 2010 before taking over the reins of the party from his father and CM Parkash Singh Badal.
Sukhbir, however, is the first president to tie his beard, unlike all past presidents who sported flowing beards.