Sukhbir 2.0: Out of power, old guard back as face of Akali Dal
The revamp of the party’s organisational structure announced on Wednesday shows resurgence of the old guard under the watch of junior Badal.punjab Updated: Nov 19, 2017 09:12 IST
Out of power, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) seems to be returning to its moorings. The party had gone for an image makeover after Sukhbir Singh Badal took over the reins in 2008 and helped it script second victory in a row in 2012 assembly polls.
However, in 2017 polls, SAD has been relegated to the third slot by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which sliced away its Panthic votes.
The revamp of the party’s organisational structure announced on Wednesday shows resurgence of the old guard under the watch of junior Badal, who had declared to bring in corporate style functioning in the party affairs.
All the senior vice-presidents enjoy close proximity to SAD patron and five-time former CM Parkash Singh Badal. To ruffle no feathers, Sukhbir has doubled the number of senior vice-presidents from seven to 14. Of these, 11 have been promoted from rank of general secretary.
Four are sitting Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs, two former speakers, seven former cabinet ministers and one former adviser to CM (Maheshinder Singh Grewal).
Sukhbir promoted his core team as general secretaries. Though their number remains the same at 13, the list includes sitting and former MLAs as well as party-hoppers.
Is the party’s command back in old hands? Sukhbir says some leaders have been upgraded as senior vice-presidents owing to their long service to the party and the younger leaders have been appointed general secretaries to groom them to take up bigger responsibilties. “Every organisation promotes both seniority and merit, so have we,” he adds.
AJNALA, MAJITHIA DOWNSIZED?
But the seniority rule has been used with exceptions. Former Khadoor Sahib MP Rattan Ajnala, one of the seniormost leaders of the party, has been retained as a general secretary. So has firebrand former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majitjia. The two have fallen out over the arrest of Maninder Singh alias Bittu Aulakh, an aide of Ajnalas, in the Bhola drug case.
Ajnala’s son, Amarpal Singh Bonny Ajnala, has filed an affidavit before the Mehtab Singh Gill Commission, set up by the Congress government to probe political vendetta cases, alleging Majithia “implicated Aulakh to deny Lok Sabha ticket in 2014 elections to his father”.
But Sukhbir denies the affidavit as the reason for “downsizing” Rattan Ajnala. “He is a respected leader of the party. Not all seniors are in the list of senior vice-presidents, nor all those in general secretary list are juniors,” he says.
Sukhbir had also changed the party’s ethos from Panthic to “secular” by allotting more tickets to Hindus in 2012 polls. Though there are three Hindus in the party top brasss — Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral is now senior vice-president, MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu a general secretary and NK Sharma remains the party treasurer — the return of the old guard also shows the party’s eagerness to reclaim its Panthic agenda and vote bank.
The SAD has also struck many a jarring note with ally BJP and its ideological parent, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In what became a war over religious domain, Akalis boycotted the event of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh wing of RSS, to celebrate 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in October. Later, SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar’s statement that “demand for Khalistan is not wrong” had the saffron party seeing red.
SAD spokesman and general secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa denies the party is trying to woo back Panthic votes. “We are a secular party. But the Panth remains our core agenda. We never gave it up,” he says.
Sukhbir said the party’s list of vice-presidents will have more Hindu faces, besides Christains and Muslims.
First Published: Nov 19, 2017 08:49 IST