‘Parkash Singh Badal should take back SAD reins’

Factional feuds are not new to the Shiromani Akali Dal. But, it will be jarring that the country’s second oldest political party is kicking off its centenary celebrations under the shadow of revolt led by its estranged veteran, Sukhdev Singh Dhinda, 83.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa during an interview with HT at his residence in Sector 11, Chandigarh, on Friday.(Anil Dayal/HT)
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa during an interview with HT at his residence in Sector 11, Chandigarh, on Friday.(Anil Dayal/HT)
Published on Dec 13, 2019 06:30 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By

Factional feuds are not new to the Shiromani Akali Dal. But, it will be jarring that the country’s second oldest political party is kicking off its centenary celebrations under the shadow of revolt led by its estranged veteran, Sukhdev Singh Dhinda, 83. The Rajya Sabha MP has not only upped the ante against the powerful Badal family’s lordship over the party, he has positioned himself as the prime mover in renewed efforts to forge a front of disgruntled Akali leaders and ragtag factions.

A dyed-in-the-wool Akali, known for his sobriety and moderate moorings, Dhindsa has called a rival convention in Amritsar on Saturday, the day the SAD delegate session will meet in the Golden Temple and is set to put 57-year-old Sukhbir Singh Badal at the helm of the party for the third consecutive term. The rebel leader’s strategy hinges on who, and how many, will break ranks and jump onto his bandwagon. What is clear however is that the SAD is in for a fresh bout of turbulence. Insisting that he will not quit the party, Dhindsa spoke to Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak in Chandigarh on Friday. Edited excepts:

You’ve lately been vocal in expressing your unhappiness over the state of affairs in the Shiromani Akali Dal. What is your grouse?

My only grouse was, and still is, that the Shiromani Akali Dal should be run in a democratic manner because it is a Panthic party. I’ve been raising this concern for a while. But after we lost in the 2017 assembly elections, I demanded in the core committee meeting that Sukhbir Singh Badal should resign and the party’s reins be given back to Parkash Singh Badal. That, I said, will help the party bounce back as it had lost badly. But Sukhbir turned angry, saying he was deemed ‘good’ when he was winning elections, but dubbed ‘bad’ when the party lost. That, I countered, was natural because it’s the president who gets the credit or discredit. My counsel was not heeded to. Thereafter, Sukhbir began appointing a large number of office-bearers: six or seven senior vice-presidents, 50-60 vice-presidents and 20-25 general secretaries. There was no reason for such large-scale appointments because there is no such provision in the party constitution. Then, I demanded that they be given some responsibility. But Sukhbir didn’t do that. Till date, all are without any clearly assigned role. That is when I resigned from the party positions. So, my basic difference is over the lack of inner party democracy under Sukhbir’s leadership.

But, you are the only senior Akali leader upset over this issue?

Ranjit Singh Brahmapura supported me in the core committee. Hor kisse ne bahut support nahin keeti (Others didn’t support me much). The SAD is the only party that always thinks and works for Punjab’s interest. So there is a need to run it democratically and revive it so that we can apply a balm to people’s wounds.

What is your specific point on lack of democratic functioning in the Akali Dal?

Earlier, circle delegates used to be elected. They circle jathedars, who in turn elect district presidents. District chiefs elect state delegates, who elect the party president. Now you know how the delegates are elected. The president appoints everyone. Secondly, we have abandoned the Panthic ideology. The Sikhs are disappointed with us. We need to address that.

At its 1996 Moga resolution, the SAD had broadened its ideological outreach and pitched itself as the party of Punjabis rather than Sikhs alone. Are you suggesting that resolution was a deviation from the party’s core ideology?

I’m still for that. I’m not for pushing other communities away. I’m for giving them party tickets: Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Dalits. They were given respect and place in the party. But they were always associate members, not members. At that time (in 1996), the situation was such that everybody had to agree to this (resolution) to steer Punjab out of turmoil. But that didn’t mean that we abandon our Panthic agenda. We’ve forgotten all issues that once formed the core of the Akali Dal such as Chandigarh and Punjabi-speaking areas. My fight is not personal. I’m not against the Badal family. But I’m against the family taking all party decisions.

Your gripe seems to be over the Badals’ predominance in the party.

When Badal Senior was there, we had no issues because he used to take everyone along and would talk to us. Even while carrying through what he wanted, he would consult and forge a consensus. The fault in Sukhbir is that he doesn’t take others into confidence. The party can’t be run by a dictator.

Sukhbir says the SAD is not the property of the Badal family and it is the core committee, its highest decision-making body, that has reposed faith in his leadership.

Who made the core committee? Is it an elected body? It has been appointed by the president. Can it then ever go against him? Form the core committee or working committee but it should be elected.

You’re still with SAD but are rallying those who were expelled from the party or are its avowed opponents. Isn’t that contradictory?

I’m a born Akali. I’m only talking about making the Akali Dal strong. Today, the party doesn’t need the kind of sacrifices that were made to create it. It always stood for an ideology and principles. Keeping it democratic was the core belief. Tomorrow, we are getting together to celebrate the Shiromani Akali Dal’s 99th Foundation Day. Sukhbir has expelled many Akali leaders. I want to bring back those who were thrown out or were ignored despite their sacrifices and jail terms for the party.

But the party cadre is firmly behind Sukhbir.

Kaadar thonu pata lagooga jadon lok ayunge. Hale khade ne thodi der (You’ll know about the cadre when they leave. For now, they are with him). Has Sukhbir ever tried to know what’s in their hearts? You can contact and ask good leaders whether they agree with the party’s current policies. You’ll get to know the reality.

Why don’t you challenge Sukhbir’s leadership at the SAD delegate session tomorrow in Amritsar?

I’m neither a delegate nor will I go there. I know how delegates have been chosen. Halqa in-charges were asked who they wanted as delegates. Those who didn’t suit them were removed. Pradhan taan uh phir banega hee (Sukhbir will certainly be president again).

Holding a parallel commemorative function is seen as your revolt against the party.

Unifying the party is not revolt. I’ve only taken it upon myself to bring together the Akalis who are outside the party fold. They include the Taksalis, Ravi Inder Singh and Sikh organisations. The Bains brothers may also join us. We’re not calling a big gathering. The venue has a capacity of 500 people. We will decide on our course of action on celebrating the party’s centenary next year. If they agree, we will call upon all Akalis expelled or other groupings, including the Congress, to join us.

Aren’t you forcing the party to expel you?

They can do it. Uhna di marji hai (That’s their wish). There is nothing wrong in celebrating the party’s centenary and getting the Akalis together. I’m not in confrontation with anyone. I only want to bring the party to a straight path.

Will you resign from the SAD?

I will not. Why should I? I’m a born Akali. Even Taksalis did not resign. We’re trying to bring them together. Sukhbir should’ve done this but he’s on an expulsion spree. Anyone who speaks against him is shown the door. That’s not good for the party.

Who will be the leader of your party?

He will be chosen collectively though democratic means.

So, you may be floating a new Akali Dal?

Aseen koi nawan Akali Dal nahin bana rahe (We are not forming a new Akali Dal).

That will lead to claims and counter claims on the Shiromani Akali Dal?

Claims don’t count. Aseen tan Shiromani Akali Dal haan. Isse layi koshish karange. Oh apne Akali Dal layi karan (We’re the SAD and we will work for it. They can work for their own Akali Dal). Our aim is to revitalise the SAD and take it forward.

The current upheaval in the SAD seems to the case of the old guard versus young leadership?

I’m in favour of fresh blood. But the new leadership should be groomed democratically. Only those with a clean image need to be given such roles.

Can you match Sukhbir’s resources?

In politics, people’s power is the biggest power; not money power.

The breakaway Taksali Akalis were comprehensively rejected in the last Lok Sabha elections.

I had told them not to contest. They committed a mistake by rushing into elections. They did not have the infrastructure and work force. How can you fight a battle without preparation? Things are different now. Now when we have to celebrate the party’s centenary, we will have to create all that.

You had advised your son, Parminder Singh, against contesting on the SAD ticket. But, he did and lost from Sangrur, your family turf.

Why do you want me to reveal who were behind Parminder’s defeat? I never campaigned for him.

Will he join you now?

I don’t know. I’ve told him that he should raise his voice. He may join us. It’s necessary for him to do so today. But that’s up to him.

You’ve also raised the issue of corruption in Sikh institutions which you never did before.

I did speak up in party forums but no one listened. Now, the corrupt practices in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee are talked about almost daily. Has there been any inquiry? Today, the Akal Takht jathedar spoke about the need for reforms in Sikh institutions.

What is your course of action?

Let’s see what the factions decide tomorrow. First, the SGPC elections will come and then the assembly polls. Only then will it be clear. Aj taan harek apne aap nu wada kahuga (Today, everyone will call himself bigger).

Interview: Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, rebel Akali leader and Rajya Sabha MP

‘Parkash Singh Badal should take back SAD reins’


‘Akali Dal should be run democratically, it’s a Panthic party’

Strap: On eve of party’s 99th Foundation Day, rebel leader says he’s a born Akali, rejects Sukhbir’s dictatorial style of functioning


    A journalist with 30 years standing, Ramesh is a Senior Resident Editor at Chandigarh. He specialises in covering the north Indian states including Punjab and J & K,besides the Punjabi diaspora.

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