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HT Explainer: Three years short of 100, SAD’s struggle for a comeback

The Shiromani Akali Dal was initially a task force formed to support the Singh Sabha movement to free the gurdwaras from the control of mahants and giving to it to the Sikhs

punjab Updated: Dec 15, 2017 09:05 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Akali dal,Sukhbir Badal,Parkash Siongh Badal
Sukhbir Singh Badal addressing the party gathering during the 97th foundation day of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) at Manji Sahib Diwan Hall in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar on Thursday. (Sameer Sehgal /HT)

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the country’s oldest regional party, is two years short of turning 100.

By observing its 97th anniversary at the Golden Temple on Wednesday for the first time since 1984, the party of the panth and peasants has set itself up for two objectives in the run-up to centenary celebrations in 2020 — recovering its eroded base among the Sikhs and build the morale of party cadres ahead of the next assembly polls due in early 2022.

Here are the milestones in the chequered history of the Akali Dal:

■ Founded on December 14, 1920, the Shiromani Akali Dal was initially a task force formed to support the Singh Sabha movement to free the gurdwaras from the control of mahants and giving to it to the Sikhs. The word ‘Akali’ has roots in ‘Akal’ (death-defying).

■ SAD first got national attention after it forced the British government to constitute the Gurdwara Act 1925, leading to formation of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee ( SGPC) that took over the historic gurdwaras. Mahatama Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru recognised Akalis as the bulwark of India’s freedom struggle.

■ The Akali Dal is the only political party in the country that draws its power politics from religion. Since formation of SGPC, the party has controlled the apex Sikh religious body and used it to further its political base and agenda.

■ The party so far has seen 21 presidents with Surmukh Singh Jhabal being the first. It has not seen a woman heading the party yet.

■ In the 50s and 60s, SAD launched the ‘Punjabi Suba Morcha’, an agitation for creation of a Sikh-majority Punjabi-speaking state that became a reality in 1966.

■ Since then, the party has formed coalition governments nine times, mostly with the BJP or its previous avatar Jana Sangh. Parkash Singh Badal has been the longest-serving Akali chief minister for five times. He was in the office for 19 years.

■ After 1947, SAD supported the Congress in formation of state governments. The trend continued till 1966. But the Akali-Congress equations suffered when SAD steadfastly opposed the Emergency. The Operation Bluestar in 1984 deepened the faultlines, turning Akalis into sworn foes of the Congress.

■ Capt Amarinder Singh resigned from the Congress in 1984 in protest against the Operation Bluestar and joined the SAD. For the next 14 years, he was an Akali and a minister in the Surjit Singh Barnala government (1985-87). He rejoined the Congress in 1998.

■ In the 1996 convention, SAD passed the ‘ Moga Declaration’, projecting itself as the party of Punjabis, people of all religions in Punjab. That was called a watershed moment as it marked an ideological shift from its long-time character as a party of the Sikhs only.

■ After Master Tara Singh, Parkash Singh Badal was the second longest serving president of Akali Dal (1995-2008).

■ In 2008, Badal’s son Sukhbir Badal became the youngest president of SAD at the age of 44. Never before had an Akali president passed on the baton to his kin. In doing so, Akalis followed the dynastic politics of the Congress and other regional parties.

■ In the 2017 assembly polls, SAD touched the lowest ebb as it was able to win just 15 seats, and failed to become the principle opposition party in the state legislative assembly.

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 09:05 IST