SUKHBIR'S COMEBACK QUEST
India Today|September 27, 2021
On September 3, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal suspended his statewide tour, ‘Gall Punjab Di (conversations about Punjab)’, in which he meant to cover about a hundred of the state’s 117 assembly seats.
Anilesh S. Mahajan

The campaign, which began on August 18, was facing repeated disruptions from farmers agitating against the new central farm laws. One such incident in Moga on September 2 ended in a clash between protesters and the police, leaving many injured. Giving the yatra a break, Badal announced a three-member committee, comprising Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder, former Lok Sabha MP Prem Singh Chandumajra and SAD spokesperson Manjinder Singh Sirsa, to address the farmers’ ‘misgivings’ about the party.

On September 10, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the consortium of 32 agitating farmers’ unions, threatened to oppose all political activity until the farm laws were repealed. The contentious laws will almost certainly be an emotionally and politically charged issue in the Punjab polls, due early 2022. Following the SAD’s split with the BJP last September, Badal has been trying to make common cause with the rural farmers on the issue. Rural farmers form a big chunk of the SAD’s alienated panthic voters— those who take their cues from the Sikh religious establishment.

Panthic voters are upset with the SAD for various reasons: the perceived mishandling of the investigation into incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 and the alleged involvement of SAD leaders in drug trafficking, illegal sand mining and corruption. In the 2017 assembly election, the SAD lost the panthic votes to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. The tally of 15 seats was its worst assembly poll performance in post-insurgency Punjab (current strength is 14 MLAs).

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