SAD fields Hindu faces from Amritsar, Patiala, looks to go beyond Panthic image, emerge as ‘voice of Punjab’ - Hindustan Times
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SAD fields Hindu faces from Amritsar, Patiala, looks to go beyond Panthic image, emerge as ‘voice of Punjab’

By, Chandigarh
Apr 19, 2024 08:08 AM IST

Out of seven candidates declared by SAD on Saturday, two are Hindu faces. The party has fielded a former leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Anil Joshi from Amritsar, and its loyalist and a money-bag realtor NK Sharma from Patiala.

The move by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to field two Hindu faces at Sikh-dominated Parliament constituencies is being seen as a step to emphasise its credentials as a regional party, representative of the people in Punjab, and filing the fault line that Akali Dal is a Sikh oriented panthic party.

TheShiromani Akali Dal has fielded a former leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Anil Joshi from Amritsar (right), and its loyalist and a money-bag realtor NK Sharma from Patiala.
TheShiromani Akali Dal has fielded a former leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Anil Joshi from Amritsar (right), and its loyalist and a money-bag realtor NK Sharma from Patiala.

Out of seven candidates declared by SAD on Saturday, two are Hindu faces. The party has fielded a former leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Anil Joshi from Amritsar, and its loyalist and a money-bag realtor NK Sharma from Patiala. As per the 20211 population census, in Patiala, Sikhs constitute 55.90% of the population, while there are 41% Hindus. In Amritsar constituency, Sikhs constitute 64.5% of the population, while Hindu population is pegged at 32%.

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The polling in Punjab is scheduled in the last round on June 1.

In the entire electoral history of Punjab in independent India, Akali Dal has never fielded a Hindu candidate in Patiala, and since 1996, BJP has contested the Amritsar seat. Both the seats are considered Congress bastions.

Joshi came into the Akali fold in 2021 when he was shunted out of the BJP for siding with the farmers protesting against the (now repealed) three farm laws. Sharma is the party’s core committee member and treasurer.

“Akali Dal believes in ethos set by the Gurus who had advocated equal representation to all castes and communities”, said Harcharan Bains, principal adviser to SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. As per the 2011 population census, in Punjab, Sikhs constitute 57.7%, while Hindus are 38.5%, and the rest are Muslims, Christians and other religions.

Giving an example of the 2012 state assembly election when the party contested the polls in alliance with BJP, Bains said that SAD fielded 11 Hindu faces, out of which 10 won.

“The move was a cause of heartburn for BJP as then Akali Dal had maximum number of Hindu MLAs underscoring the fact that Akali Dal was able to garner votes of Hindus, Sikhs and all other communities and castes in the state,” he reiterated.

In the 2012 assembly polls, BJP had fielded 23 candidates, out of which 9 Hindu faces were elected.

“It is not a new thing for our party, but if you analyse the move to field two Hindu faces closely, there is a clear-cut message that Akali Dal wants to checkmate BJP, which has fielded Sikh faces. If they can go for Sikhs, why can’t we have Hindus as our candidates,” said an Akali leader. He hinted that the party is likely to field another Hindu from one of the six seats, which are waiting for the nomination of the candidates by the party. BJP, so far, has announced candidates for nine seats, out of which five are Sikh faces. Punjab has a total of 13 Parliament seats.

“My party is over the communities, and I am here because of my performance,” said Sharma, the Akali nominee from Patiala, adding that he came into the party in 1992 and remained loyal to it in thick and thin.

Amritsar candidate Joshi claims to be more Akali than anyone else in the party. “I supported the farmers and suffered for that. I would have been enjoying my stay in the BJP that runs the government in the country, but I chose to be with the people of Punjab,” he said.

Realising the limits of their religious politics, Akalis, at their 75th-anniversary conference at Moga in 1996, the party announced embracing a Punjabi identity instead of just Sikhs. Until 1996, only a Sikh could become an Akali jathedar or leader at the district or state level.

“The dominant ethos of Akali Dal is Sikhism, but the party had to represent all communities and castes because Punjab is a multi-cultural society. Otherwise, the party will become a theocratic party,” said Pramod Kumar, director of Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communication.

SAD’s first solo LS election after 1996

After weeks of parleys, the BJP in March announced that it will contest all 13 LS seats in Punjab on its own, ending speculation about the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)’s return to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This set the stage for a four-cornered fight in the state. This will be the first time since 1996 that the BJP and the SAD, one of the oldest constituents of the NDA, which parted ways over the 2020-21 farm law protests, will be fighting the Lok Sabha polls alone in the state.

SAD has contested the 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 LS polls with BJP. Additionally, both parties had a tie-up in 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 state polls. In 2022, SAD contested state polls in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and won just three seats, while BSP won one. Amid the speculations of SAD’s tie-up with BJP, BSP last month has unilaterally cut ties with Akali Dal.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Gurpreet Singh Nibber is an Assistant Editor with the Punjab bureau. He covers politics, agriculture, power sector, environment, Sikh religious affairs and the Punjabi diaspora.

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