Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal on Tuesday announced to 'reward merit" and give fifty per cent reservation on all posts to youngsters.
Till Sukhbir Singh Badal emerged on the political firmament of Punjab, the president of Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, was believed to be the political heir of Parkash Singh Badal. Dhindsa spoke to Shamsher Chandel of The Statesman about a gamut of issues including the future of the party he once belonged to – the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Q. You have been part of the Shiromani Akali Dal for long. How do you look at its future?
A. Well, Shiromani Akali Dal doesn’t want Sukhbir Badal at the helm. He may be the supremo of SAD but ask each leader separately and they say they want Sukhbir to step down. I am in touch with many senior Akali leaders who seemingly are his left and right-hand men. But that is public posturing. Privately they want him out of the system. After all, this party has been controlled by the Badals for long. It has become by the Badals, for the Badals, and to the Badals. It’s high time Sukhbir resigns.
Q. You had asked him to resign way back in 2017 after the Akalis suffered a debacle in the Vidhan Sabha polls.
A. Yes, I did. But Sukbhir told me that “Daddy wants me to continue.” This was one occasion when he preferred family over the party and on another occasion after the 2014 victory of NDA in the Lok Sabha polls, Badal saab categorically told me that there are senior Akali leaders in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha out of whom I will push at least one name for a ministerial berth in the union cabinet. These were Rajya Sabha MPs Balwinder Singh Bhunder and Naresh Gujral, and two Lok Sabha MPs, PS Chandumajra and Ranjeet Singh Brahmpura. But later, Badal (Senior) pushed the name of his daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who in Badal saab’s own words was way junior to those stalwarts. And, I knew what was cooking.
Q. You recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What did he say to you?
A. PM Modi recognises and has said that I am the political heir of Parkash Singh Badal. I told him that if BJP wants to penetrate rural areas, it can do so through us. We have the cadres in rural Punjab and in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) can come together. BJP has cadres in parts of urban Punjab.
Q. How do you think Punjab will vote in the 2024 elections?
A. It is very difficult to predict right now. A lot depends on the INDIA Alliance. Whether or not Congress and AAP decide to come together will decide how Punjab votes. BJP has been in talks with us. It has some presence in three Lok Sabha seats but that’s not enough. If they have to grow they need a partner. And that’s where we fit in. But the 2024 elections will be most notable for the SAD supremo Sukhbir Singh Badal. Post-2024, if Akalis are not able to fare well, it will be curtains for Badal. It has to be. SAD will have to choose a different leader. And already people are talking about it in hush-hush tones.
Q. Did you raise any demands vis-à-vis Punjab with PM Modi?
A. Well, the most important thing is the release of bandi Sikhs (Sikh prisoners). It will send a positive signal among the Sikh community in the state and also help the BJP get closer to the voters. With the panthic voters, bandi Sikhs issue is a core issue. It may not look so in urban areas but in rural areas, this is widely being discussed. If BJP takes a stand in their favour, it would have undone all the harm it brought to itself during the farmers’ agitation.
Q. But many of these bandi Sikhs are not willing to apologise for their acts of terror?
A. Of course, it goes without saying they have to apologise. The ones who apologise should be pardoned and released. Many of them have undergone more than the sentence they were given.
Q. What do you think the government should do about its standoff with Canada since Punjabis are bearing the brunt of it?
A. The two countries should sit together and sort out the differences otherwise it will impact both countries. Canada has a lot of student intake from India and thus earns a lot of revenue with which they are able to subsidise the education of their own children. Also, the aspiring Indians who are looking for jobs in Canada, which has a very liberal immigration policy due to which Indians, particularly, Punjabis benefit a lot, will also stand to suffer.
Q. During the farmers’ agitation there was a lot of resentment against PM Modi, especially among the Sikh community in Pun jab. Do you think your alliance if at all with BJP can be fruitful?
A. See, Mr Modi is viewed as antiminority, but he is not anti-Sikh. Of late he has done a lot for us. Look at the way he participated in the 400th Prakash Purab of Guru Teg Bahadur Singh. The sole credit for opening up of Kartarpur Sahib corridor also goes to Mr Modi. Now if one says he is anti-Sikh compare him to Mr Badal, who did everything he could for his family. Otherwise, too, this BJP government which had earlier taken a stand on having a separate assembly for Haryana, has now gone back on it.