The Shiromani Akali Dal seems to be headed for massive changes. Amid controversy over the Farm Bills, Union Minister and SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had resigned from her post. "Thousands of farmers are on the streets. I did not want to be part of the government that got the bills passed in the House without addressing the apprehensions of farmers, that is why I resigned," she had said at the time.
Since then, there has been speculation about whether these bills will adversely affect the BJP's longstanding friendship with the Akali Dal. And while there has been no official word on this, the party continues to vehemently criticise the recently passed Farm Bills, even calling for a 'Punjab Bandh' on September 25.
But this was not the only issue that the party faces.
On Tuesday, reports suggested that murmurs about a split were now official. A Financial Express report quotes Parminder Singh Dhindsa to say that the split had taken place several months ago and that the splinter group had already applied to the Election Commission to register the Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) party.
But what led to this split?
The Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) is not a new party, having technically existed since 1996. Kuldip Singh Wadala had left the Akali Dal that year amid differences with the Parkash Singh Badal-led party. He had later unsuccessfully contested elections as an independent candidate. Eventually, in 2004, things seemed to be headed towards reconciliation. In 2006, Wadala rejoined the Akali Dal and the party had, until recently presented themselves as an united front.
That however changed as members of the Party clashed with the working style of party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, with two major leaders, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and his son Parminder Singh Dhindsa eventually breaking away from the party. Reportedly, they had clashed over the party's stance on several issues, including the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Farm Bills.
As Dhindsa told FE, the dissenting leaders felt that the core ideology of the SAD was being abandoned when it came to their support for the CAA and the abrogation of Article 370 as well as their initial support for the Centre's Farm Bills. Other bones of contention became the party's support for pardoning Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and diktats by the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of Sikhs about the organisation.
Interestingly, Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had in September 2018 approached the Akal Takht seeking the ex-communication of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal from the Sikh faith over their alleged involvement in the police firing on protesters in 2015. Sidhu had also alleged that Parkash and his son Sukhbir-- former deputy chief minister and the president of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-- influenced the Jathedar of the Akal Takht to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case to garner votes of the Dera followers.
Another issue had been the Akali Dal's alleged inaction in the Bargari sacrilege incident of 2015. The Congress had gone a step further, with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh accusing the Akalis, in September 2019 of persistently trying to "scuttle" the sacrilege case probe.
(With inputs from agencies)