With deft moves, Kejriwal has robbed Akalis of their core Sikh issues

With the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal distancing itself from Panthic politics, the Aam Aadmi Party, with a series of deft moves has robbed the SAD of its core Sikh issues and is making a foray into its core Sikh vote bank.

Going by the enthusiastic response that the AAP is getting in Punjab, days ahead of the polls, the SAD has been forced to go in for course correction. The thrust of its manifesto, released on Monday, is on setting up fast-track courts for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. During his brief stint as Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal took the first step that endeared him to Sikhs when he set up a Special Investigation Team to re-open the cases.

The AAP then nominated H.S. Phoolka, Supreme Court lawyer and crusader for justice for the 1984 riot victims, in Ludhiana. Journalist Jarnail Singh, who threw a shoe at Union Minister P. Chidambaram, as a protest on the same issue, is the party’s candidate in Delhi (West).

Alarmed at the prospect of losing an issue the SAD had been using in successive elections, its president Sukhbir Badal launched a vicious attack on Mr. Phoolka, accusing him of charging money for fighting the cases. The charges, however, did not stick and some other names associated with the ‘battle for justice’ also joined the AAP.

The AAP then nominated Himmat Singh Gill, a lawyer fighting the case of Sikh farmers facing eviction from their land in Gujarat. It is a sensitive issue in Punjab, and one on which the SAD-BJP alliance is on the back foot.

The AAP also supported commutation of the death sentence awarded to Devinderpal Bhullar, convicted of terrorist activities; another sore issue among Sikhs.

In March, the Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha and sister organisations and Panthic activists announced support for the AAP. Says sabha convener Gurpreet Singh: “Both the SAD and the Congress are bent upon destroying the basic tenets of the Sikhs and pay only lip service to the cause. We now have an alternative in the AAP.” Earlier, the United Sikh Movement led by former Khalistanis Bhai Mohakam Singh and Gurdeep Singh Brar did the same. Radical Sikh leader Baljit Singh Daduwal declared that he would like to publicly honour Mr. Kejriwal in Punjab. Some of these people were earlier with the SAD but have now shifted their allegiance.

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