Lok Sabha Elections 2019 | Sukhbir 2.0 : Out of father’s shadow, SAD chief in total control
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal is a veteran of many hard-fought electoral battles, but the ensuing Lok Sabha elections will be different.
The 56-year-old former deputy chief minister has emerged out of the shadow of his father Parkash Singh Badal and come into his own. A five-time former chief minister, Badal Senior has taken a backseat and left the party affairs to Sukhbir at a time when it is passing through its most difficult phase in recent times.
The incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and other religious scriptures in 2015 when the SAD-BJP combine was in power and the rebellion by several senior leaders have dented the party, but Sukhbir has accepted the challenge. He is in total command of the party and leading from the front, taking the exit of Taksali (old guard) leaders, who were questioning his style of working, as a blessing in disguise.
“In the previous elections, Badal saab and I used to divide responsibilities, but the onus is completely on me this time. I am feeling confident,” said Sukhbir, adding “I have galvanised the party in the past three months and my focus is on campaigning.”
Sacrilege controversy a challenge
The SAD chief may not accept it, but the sacrilege issue and indictment of the SAD-BJP government by the Justice Ranjit Singh panel have put the party on the back foot. The commission appointed by the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government blamed the previous Badal government for alleged mishandling of the sacrilege incidents.
Though it remains a huge challenge, Sukhbir is counting on national security, which has emerged as a key poll issue after the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent air strike in Pakistan, to help the party sail through. He is seeking support in meeting after meeting in the name of a “strong and brave” Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Support of young leaders
Despite opposition from senior leaders, Sukhbir’s hands have been strengthened by the younger lot that is rallying behind him. Former finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa has backed Sukhbir and offered to contest from the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, ignoring his father and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s advice.
Dhindsa, who is among the disgruntled leaders, had asked Parminder not to contest.
The SAD chief’s confidence is reflected in announcement of candidates for five segments on Monday which has given him a head start over the Congress. His decision to field Bibi Jagir Kaur from Khadoor Sahib and Charanjit Singh Atwal from Jalandhar are being seen as bold moves.
“Sukhbir’s leadership is unquestioned and he is in the saddle after coming out of his father’s shadow. SAD should follow inclusive agenda of the 2012 polls campaign when governance, peace and development were on the forefront,” said Pramod Kumar, director, Institute of Development and Communication.
The former deputy CM is also trying hard to reach out of the party cadres. He skipped the budget session of the Vidhan Sabha to hold meetings with party leaders who were upset over being ignored during the 10-year Akali rule and many of them have now starting participating in party activities. He has also packed all frontal organisations to try and placate the disgruntled lot.
“Badal is over the hill and wants Sukhbir to take all decisions. Sukhbir is working hard and things are improving in the party,” said senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder, expressing confidence of a quick recovery from the ongoing crisis.