Sukhbir wants to expand Akali Dal base

Chandigarh, Feb 9 (IANS) Fresh with his victory at the recent Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) elections, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal wants to expand the base of his party beyond Punjab.

The clean sweep by the Akali Dal in the DSGMC polls, which was preceded by the Akali Dal charting out a historic win in the Punjab assembly elections in January last year, has Sukhbir Badal now setting his eyes on other states with a substantial Sikh population in some constituencies.

"We will seriously consider putting up Akali candidates in the Sikh dominant areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh," the deputy chief minister said.

The Akali Dal already has a sitting legislator in neighbouring Haryana, where the party has a tie-up with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The Akali Dal had contested the last assembly polls on some seats in Delhi.

Sukhbir Badal, who is being hailed as the chief architect of the Akali Dal's historic victory for a second consecutive term in the Punjab assembly elections last year, recently led the party to victory in the DSGMC polls.

In the DSGMC polls, the Akali Dal candidates made a clean sweep - winning 37 of the 46 seats.

In the process, the Akali Dal was able to decimate the Congress-backed group of Akali Dal (Delhi) led by Paramjit Singh Sarna. The Sarna group had been in complete control of the DSGMC for over a decade.

The DSGMC manages all Sikh shrines in the Delhi area and the fight over its control this year was a bitter one.

Sukhbir Badal and his brother-in-law and cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia camped in Delhi for several days during the campaign for the DSGMC elections. Majithia has particularly been credited for activating the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) to ensure the victory of party candidates.

A jubilant Sukhbir Badal said: "The DSGMC results are an indicator of the ensuing rout of the Congress in the Delhi assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Sikh community has reposed faith in us. We will fulfil all promises made in our manifesto.

"This election is a reminder to the Sarnas that those who stabbed the Sikh community in the back by hobnobbing with the Congress would be severely punished by the community."

Badal said the Akali Dal would strive further to seek the conviction of Congress leaders involved in the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Sarna, who was himself defeated from the Punjabi Bagh seat, remained defiant. "These (Akali Dal) people will ruin everything. We have no regret (about the defeat)."

The victory of the Akali Dal in the DSGMC polls will mean that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) will now have a greater say in Gurdwara and Sikh politics in the national capital. The SGPC and other Sikh institutions, including the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, were kept at bay by the Sarna group when they controlled the DSGMC.

SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said: "The victory of the Akali Dal candidates will make the functioning of the DSGMC more transparent. This is a victory of the Sikh community."

The SGPC, which has an annual budget of over Rs.650 crore, controls all gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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