A clean-shaven Akali leader is still an unusual sight, hard to associate with the Shiromani Akali Dal. However, when Navdeep Goldy manhandled Amritsar’s Deputy Mayor last Thursday and pointed a gun at him right in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner, all doubts about his being an Akali ‘kaka’ disappeared. In recent years such lumpen elements have been nurtured in the Akali political culture.
Taking law into one’s own hands, disregarding authority, using force to settle issues and having one’s own way are qualities that make young Akalis stand out. Goldy reportedly escaped with his gunman’s AK-47 and the DC did not have the nerve to get him arrested right there after a criminal act of assault had happened.
One still associates Parkash Singh Badal with a bygone era when impolite talk was viewed disapprovingly. Today’s Akal Dal has evolved under Sukhbir and every tehsil and district level leader wants to sound as ‘powerful’, aggressive and brash as the Deputy CM. Goldy represents the new face of Akali politics. Having Akali Dal membership was once a privilege and a duty to work for public good; today it is a licence to abuse authority and break the law.
A political party and a government have to be run in accordance with the established laws and democratic norms. Neither the Akali Dal nor its government hesitates in bending the law for convenience. If top Akali leaders like Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Singh Majithia pursue the politics of intimidation, then party workers can’t be expected to be civil, nice and well-mannered.
Time was when the Akali Dal enjoyed tremendous respect and goodwill of villagers in general and Amritdhari Sikhs in particular. The Sikh religion had so much sway in the Khem Karan-Patti-Khadoor Saheb-Tarn Taran belt under the influence of Sant Kartar Singh that Akali candidates would win every election. Jathedars then were less clever and calculating than today’s lot but they did maintain a certain level of character and decorum.
In recent years the Akali Dal has witnessed a moral decline, which is reflected in the way governance is carried out. Grants are diverted, financial figures are fudged and public money is distributed as a political largesse without a CAG scrutiny. People are burdened with taxes so that the Badals can win elections through free atta-dal, free power, free pilgrimage etc. Memorials are being built while school and hospital building crumble.
As a consequence of misgovernance, the Akali leadership has lost the respect not just of ordinary villagers but even of Amritdhari Sikhs. The incidents of sacrilege, inaction against the police officers responsible for the Behbal Kalan firing and disregard of Dhandrianwale’s complaint against his known assailant all have spread disenchantment with the Akali style of running a government.
On June 3, 2016, Chief Minister Badal was denied a "siropa” at the Golden Temple by an ‘ardassia’, Balbir Singh. Badal downplayed the incident, but it is indicative of the collective Sikh anger. The SGPC did not forgive Balbir Singh, who lost his job but rose in public esteem. People felicitated him for what he did and collected money for him.
Lumpenisation of the Akali Dal began under Sukhbir. His sole goal was to win elections, whatever the cost, and he took his job so seriously that he opened the party’s doors to all– atheists, law-breakers, drug addicts and even convicts. The youth wing inducted spoiled and not-so-spoiled brats who have frequently shamed the leadership with their ignoble deeds. Making the SHOs report to small-minded, low-level leaders, appointed as halqa in-charge, has not only destroyed the police as an institution but also made life miserable for those who asserted their legal rights. Corruption and crime have flourished. Criminalisation of the Akali Dal surfaced on December 6, 2012, when an Akali leader shot dead an ASI in full public view at Amritsar after repeatedly harassing his daughter. Then a former Akali sarpanch kidnapped and paraded naked a 13-year-old girl at Tur village in Tarn Taran district. The police, as expected, sided with the accused.
While all non-Badal Parivar members holding key positions have swallowed their self-respect and accepted the place assigned to them in the hierarchy in order to enjoy the fruits of power, Pargat Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu have spoken out, though a bit late in the day. The Badals have surrounded themselves with self-servers and self-seekers who say what they want to hear. Criminalisation of the Akali Dal, erosion of the rule of law, bad governance, promotion of nepotism and family rule and institutional decay will be part of the legacy Badal leaves behind. Badal is no democrat or respecter of merit. Had he allowed democracy to prevail in the SGPC and ensured appointments on merit, including that of Jathedar of Akal Takht and SGPC chief, unrest among Punjabis would not have gone that far. His misrule and petty politics to grab and stay in power have impoverished Punjab and divided and weakened the Sikhs.
*Author is Associate Editor at The Tribune.
Illustration by Sandeep Joshi. (Courtesy : The Tribune, Chandigarh)