A dissident Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD-Badal) leader, SUKHDEV SINGH DHINDSA, 84, recently formed a new party, SAD (Democratic), with the avowed objective to “restore the lost glory of the Akali Dal” and give a viable alternative to voters in Punjab. Dhindsa, along with his MLA son and former state finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, was expelled from the Sukhbir Singh Badal-led SAD in February for “antiparty” activities.

With good following among traditional Akali workers, the former Lok Sabha member from Sangrur intends to lead the charge for freeing the SAD (Badal) from the control of the Parkash Singh Badal family.

In an interview with RANJEET JAMWAL, the sitting Rajya Sabha member and former Union minister of sports and chemicals and fertilisers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Dhindsa charged that Punjabis were fed up with the “bonhomie“ between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the Badal family.

Excerpts:

Q. Ever since the Akali Dal’s defeat in 2017 Punjab Assembly polls, senior SAD leaders have rebelled against the party leadership. What’s the reason behind the growing dissidence in the grand old party?

A. Ever since Sukhbir Singh Badal has become the chief of the party, he has left the ideals of the Shiromani Akali Dal. There is no internal democracy in the party and it is being run like a corporate body.

When we lost the 2017 Assembly polls very badly, I had said (in the party core committee meeting) Sukhbir should resign and we should make (his father and former CM) Parkash Singh Badal the party chief. But both leaders didn’t agree to it.

After that I and senior leaders like me kept trying to improve the internal condition of the party but we didn’t succeed. So ultimately we had to leave the party.

Q. Will Akali workers join your new party?

A. Many have already joined me and there are many others who are calling me expressing desire to join the party. I am touring the state and the Akali workers in every district are coming to join my party.

Q. What will be the main focus of your party?

A. Our main focus will be on how to save Punjab. Likewise, our focus will also be on saving the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). They way new scandals are coming out in the SGPC (which manages Sikh shrines in north India), no Sikh can tolerate it.

Old workers are leaving Akali Dal. Only four-five people, who have done nothing for the party, are controlling the party. People say Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Badal family are hand in glove. When the Behbal Kalan sacrilege incident took place, Akali Dal was in power and we kept demanding action but nothing happened.

Now Amarinder Singh has formed an SIT and it has been threeand- half-years, but no action has been taken. Amarinder had promised action against private buses run without permit and cable network (allegedly run by the Badal family), but no action has been taken.

So they are hand in glove. Now Punjab farmers are protesting against farm-sector Ordinances but Sukhbir is supporting them. So we will raise all these issues concerning Punjab and its people.

Q. Are you open for an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party, or the BJP which continues to be the SAD’s junior partner in Punjab?

A. We are open to alliance with anyone who will speak for Punjab. As for the BJP, if it doesn’t go against the interests of Punjab, we have no problem. But the AAP has lost faith of the people. They had four Lok Sabha members in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but the party could not keep them together and now only one is left.

Likewise, their MLAs also fought amongst themselves and some of them have left the party. With all this infighting, the AAP has lost the faith of the people. So as a new party, we first want to win the faith of the people. Then we will ask others to join us. Every section in Punjab is really fed up with the Congress and the SAD. They are looking for the third alternative.

Q: Won’t the ruling Congress benefit from the split in the SAD?

A. Entire Punjab is unhappy with the Congress. They have not fulfilled a single promise made to the people. The CM doesn’t step out of his house. Even Congressmen are not happy with the party. So people don’t want to go to the Congress or even the Akali Dal. They are looking for a third alternative which we hope to provide by coming together against these two parties. So we will see what happens.

Q. SAD alleges you are helping the Congress by forming the party?

A. There is no question of my going with the Congress. It’s they (SAD) who are hand in glove with the Congress which didn’t take action against their (Badal clan’s) buses, cable network. Everyone knows Amarinder Singh and Sukhbir are hand in glove. But they are making the allegation against me. So (they can) say I am with the BJP as well as AAP but my conscience is clear. I have been in politics for 50 years and everyone knows I do what I say.