All praise for the late Akali stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra on his eighth death anniversary, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Sunday gave a bulk of the credit for his political standing to the former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief.
"I still remember the significant role Tohra saab played when I was elected chief minister for the first time in 1970. Jathedar Tohra was a true statesman, without whom no important decision regarding the welfare of the state was taken," he said.
Speaking at function in Tohra, Badal also recalled the days when he and Tohra parted ways, and Tohra left the Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), only to return some years later. "Though misunderstanding between our groups led to separation, we never spoke ill of each other. We remained well-wishers of the Akali Dal, and stood by each other even during the days of our political separation."
Badal, who is serving his record fifth term as CM now, appealed to the people to stick to "the Panthic agenda given by the tenth guru of Sikhs, Sri Guru Gobind Singh". He indirectly attacked radical groups, saying, "There are some people who want to create communal disturbances in the state by spreading a concocted Panthic agenda against the welfare of Sikhs."
Call it the changing face of Akali politics, or the decreasing political significance of stalwarts other than the Badals, but unlike every year, the eighth death anniversary of the longest serving president of SGPC, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, saw several major figures missing.
Though the CM was there with some members of his cabinet, SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar was not at the function held in memory of a man who remained SGPC president for 27 years and was given the tile of Panth Rattan by the Akal Takht.
Those who were present on the occasion were leaders who were considered close to Tohra, including Prem Singh Chandumajra, former cabinet minister Hira Singh Gabria and former SAD patron Sant Ajit Singh. Gabria did not speak on the occasion and left the venue soon after the arrival of the chief minister.
As per precedents set in the past eight years, leaders from other political parties also used to attend. Last year, union minister of state Preneet Kaur and former SAD leader and now president of People's Party of Punjab Manpreet Singh Badal were present; but not this time.
Harmail Tohra, son-in-law of Tohra and former minister who represents the Tohra family said they had invited all the SAD leaders. "Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal personally told me on the phone that he was busy in some other function," said Harmail.
He, however, added that the family had invited SGPC chief Makkar personally, and Makkar should have come. Makkar was not available for comment. Meanwhile, the role of the SAD government in the staying of the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for his involvement in the killing of then CM Beant Singh, and the SAD-BJP government's return to power remained top topics for the speakers on the occasion.
Among those present were cabinet minister Surjit Singh Rakhra, Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder and SAD general secretary Maheshinder Singh Grewal.
'WILL DO NOTHING TO CURB FUEL HIKE'
CM Parkash Singh Badal first sought to skirt the issue when asked if the state government would slash value-added tax (VAT) on petrol to give some respite to the residents from the likely hike in petroleum rates, "The state can do nothing unless and until the central government stops favouring oil companies. Despite blatant discrimination against Punjab, Congress leaders in the state have maintained silence."
Pressed for a straight answer, he replied, "We will do nothing. Every few months, the UPA government increases rates of petrol and diesel just to benefit oil companies."
He then added, "Owing to discriminatory policies of the Congress, Punjab, which was once considered the most prosperous and advanced state of the country, now lags in many sectors."