Why Modi continues to belittle Akali Dal, latest is Trudeau’s visit to Golden Temple

Chandigarh, February 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has not accepted even the demand to withdraw Goods and Services Tax on items purchased for Langar (free kitchen rooted in Sikh doctrine) for the Golden Temple, has once again let down its alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, during visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Amritsar. The Modi government preferred not to depute Food  Processing Minister (in the cabinet rank) Harsimrat kaur Badal, the only representative of the Akali Dal in the cabinet, to receive Trudeau in Amritsar. It was Minister of State Hardip Puri, a junior but only Sikh from the BJP in this government, who was detailed for the protocol.

It was given out earlier by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee that besides its President Gobind Singh Longowal,  Trudeau would be received at the Golden Temple by Harsimrat and her husband Sukhbir Singh Badal, the former deputy chief minister who is president of the Shiromani Akali Dal. They were supposed to accompany him in the shrine too.

It was Harsimrat who could have been entrusted with the responsibility of receiving Trudeau rather than Puri who is not a Punjab face as such. Besides Puri, the Canadian Prime Minister was received by Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.  Sidhu is a former BJP man.  Both Puri and Sidhu accompanied the visiting dignitary around the Golden Temple. Sukhbir waited at the SGPC information office after receiving him along with Longowal.

According to protocol, Sukhbir could have accompanied Trudeau along with Harsimrat in case she had been designated as minister-in-waiting on this occasion. Modi has some other designs for Punjab besides snub to Trudeau.

The signals to the Akali Dal are loud and clear that the BJP is building up its infrastructure in Punjab with the aim of contesting the next Assembly election at its own. RSS, the parent body of the BJP, has been working in its low profile style at every level in the state towards this objective.

The design can get a push only in case the party succeeds in inducting a credible Sikh leader. Sidhu joined the Congress only days before the last Assembly election. He might not be willing to return but  he is  not being ruled out by the BJP. Puri could also be an option.

In the process, it is the socio-political balance  could get disturbed.

The Akali Dal has been trying its level best to become a Punjabi party since its  75th anniversary conference at Moga in February 1996. The party has experimented even with giving sizeable tickets in Assembly election to Hindus. The BJP at one time earlier planned to penetrate the rural areas.

However, these experiments have failed. The Akali Dal is now making efforts to revert to its roots but the present leadership lacks grip over Panthic issues. Moreover, corruption has wormed into the party during its ten year rule. The Akali Dal used to be associated with some ideals.

This alliance represents Sikh-Hindu balance and the effort to disturb this arrangement could trigger sharp polarisation again. The political dynamics in Punjab is different as compared to the rest of India. It is the Congress that articulates the Hindu opinion in Punjab. It is the Congress that is loose conglomerate of various Hindu shades. BJP might not succeed in attracting Hindus to that extent.

Trudeau charmed himself during his visit to the Golden Temple as  going by the optics, it was like an NRI ‘Punjabi’ family visiting the shrine. Missing from the scene was the Akali Dal leadership as that was possible only in case Harsimrat had been given this responsibility.

The Modi government had earlier let down the Akali Dal and the SGPC on the issue of the GST. Then SGPC chief Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar had attacked GST on Langar items as another “Jajia”- a levy that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had levied on Hindus. This comment riled the Sangh Privar and the Modi government.

It can be safely stated that the Modi government has not come to the rescue of Punjab and the Akali Dal even on a single issue.

Trudeau’s visit is the latest example and unlike Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the Akali Dal is not even complaining, although senior leaders in private talk about step-motherly treatment under the present dispensation.


Jagtar Singh


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