The massive crowd that gathered for the radical Sarbat Khalsa at Amritsar on Tuesday has left the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) rattled, to say the least. The fact that an event -- largely projected as an anti-Badal show -- was packed with people is the strongest and most vocal reflection of the groundswell against the ruling party across Punjab.
But the event is also significant in another sense. Sikh hardliners successfully managed to ride the anti-Badal sentiment using the most emotive of issues -- the Panth to unleash a new wave of radical sentiment in the state that threatens to keep the state in a constant state of boil or unrest till at least the next assembly elections in early 2017.
With immediate short-term and long-term programmes in place and another ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ announced for Baisakhi-2016, the Akalis’ engagement with the radicals could be a long and troubled one. The radicals are expected to keep upping the ante and escalate their moves as the election closes in.
Though many speakers talked of reaching their goals only through peaceful means, the message from the radicals is clear: a militant should head the highest temporal seat of Sikhs and Khalistan continues to be a goal to be achieved.
The good news for the Akalis is that they are not the only ones to have rejected the radical Sarbat Khalsa resolutions. These have also not gone down well with the BJP and Congress. The Congress whose leaders were seen sharing the stage at the Sarbat Khalsa on Tuesday has outright rejected the announcement of new jathedars. The Swaraj faction of the AAP which (as AAP) had hobnobbed with the radicals prior to the parliamentary polls in 2014 will also think twice before supporting this “secessionist” form of radical movement in the state. The fraying relationship between the SAD and its ally -- the BJP -- too is bouncing back in the face of a common cause.
Though the demand for Khalistan made at the radical Sarbat Khalsa provides Akalis with legitimacy to take strong steps against the hardliners, the party is likely to first counter the sight of the teeming thousands at the venue on Tuesday morning. News of opposition parties having helped the radicals gather crowds from Haryana and even Rajasthan are already trickling in at the SAD war room but the show of strength—even if mustered—has baffled the party.
The party is now looking at the series of Sadbhawna rallies planned in the coming weeks, to counter the move. The first rally, slated for November 23, will be held at Bathinda. Though named sadbhawna before the radical Sarbat Khalsa, it acquires a new meaning for Akalis to play on, juxtaposing “peace” against a secessionist agenda that threatens to disturb law and order in the state.
On Sunday, party president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal held a public meeting of party office-bearers of Bathinda, Faridkot and Mansa for the first rally. He directed constituency incharges to bring 10,000 people from their respective constituencies. Sources said the party workers had now been asked to escalate their efforts further and gather at least one lakh people for the first rally in a bid to regain, if possible, the lost ground.