SAD Skips NDA Meet A Day After It Threatened To Snap Ties With BJP
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), on Thursday, 31 January, skipped a crucial meeting of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament. In a tweet, Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa said:
This comes a day after the Akali Dal threatened to snap ties with the BJP. On 30 January, Sirsa said that the SAD is willing to “sacrifice” its alliance if the BJP doesn’t stop meddling in the affairs of Hazoor Sahib gurdwara in Maharashtra’s Nanded and Patna Sahib gurdwara in Bihar .
"First the BJP government interfered in Patna Sahib, now they are trying to bring an amendment and appoint their nominee as president at Hazoor Sahib. There is a lot of resentment among Sikhs across the world against this. Why is the government trying to interfere in the affairs of minorities?” Sirsa, who was elected to the Delhi Assembly on a BJP ticket, said in a statement released on his Facebook page.
"We don’t want an alliance. We can sacrifice MPs and MLAs if the BJP government doesn’t stop these interference. The alliance is of no importance to us when it comes to our places of worship,” he further said.
On Twitter, he urged BJP president Amit Shah to address the issue as it could create a rift between the BJP and the Akali Dal.
He reminded the Modi government of the pact between Sikh leader Master Tara Singh and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru that there will be no interference by the government in gurdwaras’ affairs.
Responding to questions on the Akali Dal’s absence in the NDA meeting, Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral told India Today that the “RSS should stop meddling in Sikh religious issues”. However, Union parliamentary affairs minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that there was nothing behind the Akali Dal’s absence in the meeting.
Akali Dal MP from Anandpur Sahib Prem Singh Chandumajra said that there are issues betweent the two parties that need to be resolved. However he explained his absence by saying that he, “had to attend another programme”.
SGPC Vs BJP On Hazoor Sahib
Last week, the Shiromani Gurdwaras Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC) wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that the BJP government in Maharashtra was trying to take control of the board of Hazoor Sahib by amending section 11 of the Takhat Sri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib Board Nanded Act 1956. The amendment reportedly gives the state government the right to appoint the chairman of the Hazoor Sahib Board.
SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal demanded that the government of India stop any amendment that dilutes the autonomy of Gurdwaras.
This wasn’t the first tussle between the BJP and the SGPC over Hazoor Sahib. In 2015, the Maharashtra government appointed BJP MLA Tara Singh as the president of the management board of Hazoor Sahib, which sparked protests among local Sikhs in Nanded as well as opposition from the SGPC. Many said that the appointment of a non-Amritdhari Sikh and a pro-Hindutva politician “was an insult to the memory of Guru Gobind Singh, who was martyred at Nanded”.
Tara Singh resigned last year.
Sirsa’s Outbust, Sukhbir’s Anger?
Sirsa is considered close to Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal and his outburst against the BJP is said to have his blessings. Badal is also miffed with the BJP for awarding a Padma Shri to rebel Akali leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa on Republic Day.
Dhindsa recently resigned from the party in protest of Sukhbir Badal’s leadership. He has now formed Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali), with other rebel leaders like Ratan Singh Ajnala and Sewa Singh Sekhwan.
As the new outfit is a direct threat to the Akali Dal, Badal’s supporters see the award to Dhindsa as BJP’s attempt to cultivate a new set of leaders in Punjab and look beyond the Badals.
It is said that the SAD-BJP alliance survives largely due to Akali patriarch and former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal’s personal equation with the RSS as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi, interestingly, had played a key role in forging the SAD-BJP alliance as the party’s prabhari for Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the late 1990s.
Of course, Sirsa’s outburst could also be Badal’s way of telling the BJP not to take the alliance for granted, and may not be a real threat to it. There also might be a difference within the Akali Dal regarding this posturing towards the BJP, with younger leaders like Sirsa taking a stronger stand and more senior ones like Chandumajra adopting a more conciliatory tone.
The Akali Dal is also facing flak in Punjab for its mishandling of the sacrilege incidents during its tenure issues. New outfits like SAD (Taksali) and Sukhpal Khaira’s Punjabi Ekta Party a threatening to eat into the Akali Dal’s Panthic support base. In such a scenario, taking on the BJP on a Panthic issue could also be an effort to keep its base intact.