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Sukhbir struggles to keep flock together

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal is probably facing the biggest challenge of his political career so far. Manpreet Randhawa reports.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2012 14:12 IST
Manpreet Randhawa

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal is probably facing the biggest challenge of his political career so far.

Revolting against Sukhbir and the senior SAD leadership, several contenders who did not get the party ticket for the Punjab assembly polls have already announced their independent candidature.

As soon the model code of code of conduct came into force after the announcement of the polls on December 24, Sukhbir's unflinching dependence on the police and civil officials also began to crumble.

On the basis of complaints, the Election Commission of India (ECI) promptly transferred five district police chiefs, one police commissioner and four deputy commissioners, besides many middle-rung officers. The moment disgruntled elements in the SAD realised that Sukhbir was no more in control and the ECI was calling the shots, they began revolting against party nominees.

The SAD was the first off the blocks with a list of 48 candidates on December 23 and 15 on December 27. The aim was to give a headstart to the party candidates over their rivals. However, the wave of dissidence has put the list of the remaining 31 candidates on hold as the SAD leadership fears more rebellion.

Sukhbir could never hide his soft corner for ruffians in the party. For instance, after Youth Akali Dal leader Simarjit Singh Bains and another Akali councillor Kamaljit Singh Karwal beat up Ludhiana tehsildar Maj GS Benipal in public view in 2009, there was huge condemnation of the incident, yet Sukhbir failed to throw Bains out of the party. Instead, Majitha MLA and Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia went out of the way to lend support to Karwal and Bains by meeting them in the Ludhiana jail. The Akali leadership also ensured that both Bains and Karwal had a comfy stay in the jail. Bains was now the first to revolt against the SAD leadership.

Sukhbir even failed to act against then Ludhiana deputy commissioner Vikas Garg and SSP Sukhchain Singh Gill, who remained mute spectators to the tehsildar’s thrashing. Sukhbir rather gave a plum posting to Garg and also ensured that Gill was posted as a district police chief during the entire tenure of the SAD-BJP regime.

Gill was the only IPS officer to head a district police, whereas in the rest of Punjab, Sukhbir posted only PPS officers as SSPs.

Inaction replay
Sukhbir failed to act against Akali sarpanch Balwinder Singh, who had slapped a teacher, Varinder Kaur, during the sangat darshan of Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal in Muktsar recently.

The deputy chief minister also did not act against DGP Paramdeep Singh Gill, whom he had brought from Jammu and Kashmir, even though the latter was spotted with proclaimed offenders and absconders.

Sukhbir’s decision to appoint police officers as per assembly constituencies to please Akali MLAs also drew flak from senior police officers.

No wonder, octogenarian Parkash Singh Badal wants to be the chief minister for the fifth time. Not projecting Sukhbir as the next chief minister of the SAD-BJP alliance speaks volumes about the lack of faith his party has in his (Sukhbir’s) leadership qualities.

During a recent interview with Hindustan Times, when Badal was asked what qualities he saw in his son to lead the party in the polls, he merely said that Sukhbir was a good planner and hardworking.

Sukhbir has also never made himself likeable for the alliance partner. During the block samiti and zila parishad elections in 2008, Sukhbir invited the ire of many BJP leaders for unleashing violence in the state against many candidates of the saffron party.

It forced senior BJP leader Balbir Punj to lead a delegation of state party legislators to Badal to submit their resignations over being roughed up in the polls by Akali goons. Only after much persuasion did Badal manage to pacify the BJP leaders.

Ludhiana: Former district Youth Akali Dal (urban) president Simarjit Singh Bains was the first to revolt as he decided to contest as an Independent from Atam Nagar (Ludhiana) after the SAD fielded minister Hira Singh Gabria. Consequently, his brother Balwinder Singh Bains' candidature was cancelled by the SAD, and the latter announced to contest as an Independent from Ludhiana south. The Bains brothers' supporters would also enter the fray as Independents from Gill (reserved), Ludhiana east and Ludhiana west.

Sangrur: In Mehal Kalan (reserved), there is strong opposition against SAD nominee Gobind Singh Kanjla, who had lost in 2007 when he contested from Sherpur against a Congress nominee. SAD's nominee from Dhuri Gobind Singh Longowal is also facing a revolt from Akali workers for being an "outsider". The Amargarh ticket to Iqbal Singh Jhunda, who had contested as a SAD rebel and an Independent in 2007, has also not gone down well with local workers.

Malerkotla: The SAD is still undecided on fielding former Punjab DGP Izhar Alam after Sikh hardliners opposed his candidature for his 'biased' role during the time of terrorism. Alam is not keen on his wife's candidature.

Amritsar: Former district Youth Akali Dal chief Gurpartap Singh Tikka will contest as an Independent from Amritsar (south) constituency after being denied the ticket; YAD (urban) president Upkar Singh Sandhu has already hinted that the SAD should not swap the Amritsar east seat with the BJP.

Jalandhar: The SAD tipped Jarnail Singh Wahid to be the candidate from the cantonment seat, but he faced a revolt from local leaders; in Adampur, SAD nominee Pawan Kumar Tinu is already facing the heat from local leaders, who want the party to replace him for his alleged sectarian role in caste violence.

Mohali: Harsukhminder Singh, alias Babbi Badal, who was considered close to SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, is keeping his options open after being denied the ticket from Mohali.

Patiala: Youth Akali leader Satbir Singh Khatra, son of Fatehgarh Sahib SSP Ranbir Singh Khatra, has also announced to contest as an Independent if the SAD does not change Kuldeep Kaur Tohra, foster daughter of late SGPC chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra, from Patiala (rural) constituency.

Fatehgarh Sahib: Sitting SAD MLA Didar Singh Bhatti has already hinted at a revolt in case the party decides to field Prem Singh Chandumajra.

Dera Bassi: Jasjit Singh Bunny, Banur MLA and son of late Akali stalwart Capt Kanwaljit Singh, may contest as an Independent in case the party fields NK Sharma.

Anandpur Sahib: Sitting SAD MLA Sant Ajit Singh has already decided to quit after he learnt that the party had decided to field SAD spokesman Dr Daljit Singh Cheema.