State of the States

Fight for #Panthic Space

Fight for #Panthic Space
With national elections just six or seven months away, the fight for Panthic space or the votes of the religious minded Sikh community members has intensified in Punjab. After coming to power in the state with all round support and especially of the Hindu community, the #Congress is making a serious attempt to dent the Sikh vote bank of the #Shiromani Akali Dal. The rival rallies held on Sunday, October 7 by the Congress and the Akali Dal in each other’s strong holds show that it will be a fight to the finish. Neither the Congress nor the Akali Dal are going to leave any stone unturned to get the support of the Sikh community which accounts for about 60 percent of the voters in Punjab.
Battle of Rallies
In the battle of rallies, the Congress organized a massive public meeting in Lambi, the strong hold of the Akali Dal and the seat which its top leader #Parkash Singh Badal represents in the Punjab Assembly. The Akali Dal on the same day organized a largely attended rally at Mehmadpur in Patiala, from where state Chief Minister and Congress leader Captain Amrinder Singh hails.
Not to be left behind, representatives of Panthic organizations and rebels of the Aam Aadmi Party on the same day, October 7, 2018 took out a protest march from the Kotkapura grain market to Bargari village. They were demanding justice in the sacrilege cases and the Behbal Kalan firing incident, which had rocked the state three years back when the Akali Dal-BJP combine was in power. The call for the protest march had been given by Panthic organizations and the Aam Aadmi Party dissidents.
Bargari Protest March
The Panthic leaders said that they would continue their protest at Bargari till the prosecution of the people accused in the cases of #sacrilege of Sikh religious texts. They are demanding the arrest of former Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini and other policemen and the registration of a criminal case against those named in the report of the retired Justice Ranjit Singh commission. The commission had gone into the sacrilege cases and the death of two sikh protestors at Behbal Kalan in 2015.
It is significant that thousands of people from the Hindu and Muslim communities accompanied the protest march taken out by Panthic organizations.
There are reports that buoyed by the huge public response to the protest march, Panthic organizations may launch a new political outfit later in the year. In a move towards that, a Panthic Assembly is likely to be organized in the near future. A ten member steering committee has been set up by former #Takht Damdama Sahib Jathedaar Gyani Kewal Singh to work out the modalities. Sikh preachers who have been leading the protest at Bargari since June 1 this year will be associated with the exercise.
In a significant development, the Panthic leaders have distanced themselves from the Aam Aadmi Party dissidents and leaders of the #Lok Insaaf Party. Representatives of the Panthic bodies said that they have nothing to do with the political agenda of the AAP rebels and their allies.
The fight for Panthic space is expected to intensify as the Lok Sabha elections approach. The Akali Dal, which has been the favoured party of the Sikh community in the last few decades, would be working hard to retain its primacy in this respect. If the Parkash Singh Badal led Akali Dal fails to retain its hold over the Sikh vote bank, the party’s performance may be worse than in the last Assembly elections held in Punjab. The Akali Dal not only lost power in the elections but was pushed into third place after the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party.
Challenge and Opportunity for Punjab Congress
The situation presents a challenge as well as an opportunity for the Captain Amrinder Singh led Congress party in Punjab. If the party is able to make deep inroads into the Sikh vote bank of the Akali Dal, it would be well on its way to achieve the objective of Mission 13. The party has set for itself the objective of winning all 13 Lok Sabha seats from Punjab in next year’s national elections. But if the party is unable to get a substantial segment of the Sikh community to walk over to its side, it may not be able to make a clean sweep of the Lok Sabha seats from the state.
The situation is critical for the dissidence ridden Aam Aadmi Party. In the last Assembly elections, the party showing was to a large extent driven by the support from Sikh community members in the Malwa region of Punjab. The party could not make greater gains in the Assembly elections as a large segment of the Hindu voters, who dominate in the urban areas, thought the party to be aligned with extremist elements in the Sikh community. The party suffered because it was perceived to be having a soft corner for extremist forces.
The Aam Aadmi Party has now virtually split in Punjab. The central leadership of the party is trying to get different factions of the party to settle their differences. But nothing concrete has emerged so far.
Win-Win for Congress
If a new Panthic political outfit comes up in Punjab, it will be a big blow to the Shiromani Akali Dal and also to the Aam Aadmi Party. And even if this does not happen, the Congress will be the major gainer from the fight for Panthic space in Punjab. It appears to be a win-win situation for the Congress party and Captain Amrinder Singh.

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