Gets second term as chief of the oldest regional party

A delegate session held in the Teja Singh Samundari Hall, within the Golden Temple complex, Punjab’s ruling party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Tuesday re-elected the 51-year-old Sukhbir Singh Badal as its president through a voice-vote. Though it is his second term, he is the 21st Akali leader to hold office as chief of the oldest regional political party of the country.

As expected, the election was a short affair after veteran leader, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, proposed Sukhbir’s name in the House which has about 445 delegates. The meeting was presided over by Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, who is the party patron and father of Mr. Sukhbir Badal. As there was no other contestant, the House immediately accepted the election with delegates raising the traditional slogan, Jo Bole So Nihal - Sat Sri Akal.

Major changes

While the party has witnessed major changes in its structure and functioning, even shifting its head office from within the Golden Temple complex at Amritsar to a modern building in Chandigarh, the delegate session was held at its traditional venue inside the building that is otherwise the headquarters of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

The junior Badal, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister, was first elected as president of the SAD in 2008, has carved a niche for himself as a shrewd political strategist, who led the party to power in the Assembly elections in 2012 as well as wresting control of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee this year. Analysts accept that he has emerged as one of the most powerful leaders ever, with least resistance from within the party.

While he was credited with a major role in the party's returning to power in 2007, the success in the 2012 polls was attributed to Mr. Sukhbir Badal alone. It was for the first time that the party — which had remained Panthic in nature — had decided to field a considerable number of Hindu candidates. He is also acknowledged for providing a modern thought within the party as well as functioning of the government, where citizen-centric governance reforms have become the touchstone.

Freedom struggle

Though the word “Akali” was first used for the guerrilla fighters of the 17th Century against the Mughal rulers and foreign invaders, organised as ‘Jathas’ (groups), they made major sacrifices during the country’s freedom struggle. The SAD was formed as a task force two days after the creation of the SGPC in December 1920, when the Sikh community succeeded to wrest the management of its shrines through one of the most peaceful struggles from the then British government. While the role of the SGPC was restricted to the religious sphere, the SAD assumed a political task for itself, mobilising volunteers.

In post-Independence India, the SAD launched the Punjabi Suba morcha in the 1960s, seeking the re-organisation of Punjab on linguistic basis. The agitation led to the trifurcation of the State and creation of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. It then launched a sustained struggle to oppose promulgation of Emergency, when Akali volunteers courted arrest every day during the 21- month period. In 1982, the party again launched a “dharam yudh” morcha with various demands including adjudication of river waters share, return of Punjabi-speaking areas, granting more powers to the States and implementation of the controversial Anandpur Sahib resolution. The agitation apparently spilled over beyond the control of the party leadership and with more forces joining in, it degenerated into full-scale terrorist violence, which led to widespread killings, Army action “Operation Bluestar” at the Golden Temple and other shrines, assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, anti-Sikh carnage and other tragic incidents.