Cong. efforts to placate Sikhs pay off

NEW DELHI JULY 3. The landslide victory of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi) and the total rout of Akali Dal (Badal), with the tactical support of the ruling Congress, in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) polls is good news for the party. The efforts of the Sheila Dikshit Government to bring the Sikhs close to the Congress seem to have paid off and it should be an asset during any future electoral exercise.

It is no secret that since it took over, the Sheila Dikshit Government has spared no efforts to woo Sikhs and bring them back into its fold. A number of measures were taken to regain the confidence of the Sikhs which included waiving off loans of victims of November '84 riots and providing them subsidised housing units. Relaxations were also made in rules regarding grant of employment to the kith and kin of these victims. The victory has been the result of a coordinated and focussed effort of the Congress Government, which had worked closely, but behind the scenes, with the SAD(Delhi) to oust the Badal group.

Despite provocations and representations about wrongdoing and corruption in religious places, the Congress Government resisted the pressure and did not interfere in the functioning of gurdwaras and left it to the community to decide their future course. The outcome of this exercise has been rewarding and the Sikhs have overwhelmingly voted against the SAD(Badal), which was tactically supported by the BJP. In fact, some office-bearers of BJP had also contested the polls but lost badly, indicating the continued rejection of the party by voters. Some partymen, along with the leadership of SAD(Delhi), had favoured polls in February this year, but it was overruled by the Chief Minister, and rightly so.

The victory margins have also been very satisfactory. In the trans-Yamuna area, where the mantle for taking on the Badal group fell on the local Sikh leader, Balwinder Singh, the victorious group secured five out of seven seats. It increased its tally to six with an independent throwing his weight behind SAD(Delhi). It is to the credit of Mr. Balwinder Singh and his son, Arvinder Singh Lovely, who got the full backing of the Chief Minister, to work covertly in the elections. Although, it is celebration time for the SAD(Delhi), which is an off shoot of the Akali Dal (Tohra) group, and the Congress in the Capital, the party would now have to make its future political moves very carefully.

Party insiders are of the view that now efforts should be made to consolidate on these gains and the Congress should not continue to rely on SAD(Delhi) for any future poll accommodation. The Akali Dal politics are basically Punjab-oriented and any realignment of forces or unity of Akali factions could come as disadvantage of the Congress. The Congress high command has also to ensure that no action is taken which might offend the Sikh community and work against the interests of the party. With the Assembly polls only 17 months away, everything possible should be done to keep this support base intact in order to encash it during the Assembly polls.

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