Even as the Congress has attempted to cut its political losses by withdrawing the Lok Sabha candidature of 1984 anti-Sikh riot-tainted Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a key NDA ally, is showing no sign of piping down. Instead, in tandem with radical Sikh organisations, it appears intent on keeping the issue alive as high stake elections draw nearer.
Two days after the shoe-hurling episode by a Sikh journalist catapulted the political row over the tickets to the duo into an expression of collective anger of the Sikhs, Congress president Sonia Gandhi moved decisively by asking both beleaguered leaders to opt out of the electoral arena.
What ostensibly forced the high command’s hand was the blunt feedback from Punjab that any delay in dropping Tytler and Sajjan would seriously undermine the Congress’s poll prospects. Former CM Amarinder Singh amplified the party’s nervousness saying the resurrection of the riots issue had aroused the sentiments of the Sikh youth, and that allowing Akalis to stoke the emotive issue would make the going much tougher for three GenNext candidates handpicked by Rahul Gandhi.
The Gandhi scion had ensured tickets to Ravneet Singh Bittu (Anandpur Sahib), Sukhwinder Singh Danny (Faridkot-reserve) and Vijay Inder Singla (Sangrur). However, a palpable pro-Congress groundswell across Punjab suddenly seemed to swing into antagonism for the party riding on anti-incumbency sentiment against the SAD-BJP rule until last week.
While the Congress has reason to heave a sigh of comfort, all of a sudden SAD, which was staring at grim poll prospects and was rattled by a spate of defections to the Congress, has spring in its feet. “At stake is not tickets to the accused, but the core issue of punishment of the guilty and the CBI’s dubious role,” said Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Implicit in the SAD’s game plan to throw the Congress off balance is its move of pitching the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee — the apex Sikh religious body controlled by SAD – as the spearhead of a shrill tirade pegged to the riots.
The Akalis have another reason to milk the issue. A running animosity between Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, with a sizable following in the Malwa, and the Sikhs has cast a shadow on SAD poll prospects. In the 2007 Assembly elections, the Dera openly supported the Congress, leading to the SAD rout in its turf.
Clearly despite the Congress backing off, the election heat in Punjab is poised to rise.