Battle for the reins of SAD - Hindustan Times
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Battle for the reins of SAD

ByHT Editorial
Jul 02, 2024 09:07 PM IST

How the party emerges from the rebellion within its ranks will have a bearing on Punjab’s social and political dynamic

All is not well with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The last few days have seen a rebellion brewing within the organisation against the leadership that has failed to staunch the party’s electoral decline. On Monday, the rebels upped the ante against the Badals by appearing before the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of the Sikh community, and apologised for the mistakes committed when the party, in alliance with the BJP, held office in Punjab between 2007 and 2017. The late Parkash Singh Badal was the chief minister (CM), and his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, was the deputy CM during this period. The attempt is to blame the Badals for the alleged misgovernance of the years when the party was in office. The rebels also claimed that the recommendations of the confidential Jhunda panel report (2022), which suggested a shift towards collective leadership and implementation of the one-family-one-post principle to revive the party, were ignored by the present leadership.

Patiala: Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal with party candidate N.K.Sharma during a road show for Lok Sabha elections, at Samana in Patiala district, Monday, May 13, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI05_13_2024_000488A) (PTI)
Patiala: Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal with party candidate N.K.Sharma during a road show for Lok Sabha elections, at Samana in Patiala district, Monday, May 13, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI05_13_2024_000488A) (PTI)

The fact is the SAD will need a makeover if it wants to escape the present rut. Since losing office in 2017, the decline of the party has been swift and steep. In the recent general elections, the party won just one Lok Sabha seat and its vote share declined to 13.42%, the lowest in 25 years. The Badals presided over this decline and surely owe an explanation to the party cadres. However, the SAD’s decline is also a crisis of political stasis, a fate suffered by many regional outfits after they became a party of office and dynasty. During its decade in power, the SAD became identified with the House of Badals, a turn that cost the party its grassroots connection. The 105-year-old party has been the political voice of the Sikh Panth, agrarian causes and regional identity. The SAD lost these planks also due to its alliance with the BJP: The farm laws mooted by the Narendra Modi government led to a major backlash in Punjab and the SAD’s presence in government alienated its farm vote; its image as the party of Punjabiyat also suffered as the BJP in office privileged unitarian nationalism and Hindutva over a federal polity.

There is continuing relevance for a panthic, regional party in Punjab’s complex political terrain. The ground the SAD has ceded is increasingly being claimed by radical forces riding agendas that pushed Punjab into a dark abyss of violence in the 1980s. How the party emerges from the rebellion will impact the political and social dynamic in Punjab.

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