History shows only politics could have propelled SAD to quit NDA, not “Sikh issues”

03 October 2020
Atal Bihari Vajpayee (centre) from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party waves to supporters with Parkash Singh Badal, the Punjab chief minister, (right) before the start of a meeting on 5 March, 1998, in New Delhi.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee (centre) from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party waves to supporters with Parkash Singh Badal, the Punjab chief minister, (right) before the start of a meeting on 5 March, 1998, in New Delhi.

On 26 September, the Shiromani Akali Dal announced that it was breaking away from National Democratic Alliance, ending a 24-year-long partnership with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The announcement came on the heels of the central government’s decision to enact into law three controversial ordinances regarding the procurement and sale of agricultural produce. Sukhbir Singh Badal, the SAD’s president, tweeted that the reason behind the split was the centre’s “stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of crops on #MSP and its continued insensitivity to Punjabi and #Sikh issues.” Badal’s explanation seems disingenuous and politically motivated for multiple reasons. 

Over the course of the last five decades, the Sangh Parivar has exhibited insensitivity towards Sikhs on multiple instances. Yet, the SAD continued to forge ties with its political outfits, the BJP and its predecessor the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, and yield electoral rewards. Recent years have been different—the SAD has seen lukewarm success and has been facing increasing criticism within Punjab. The party’s history with the BJP shows that its decision to sever ties with the NDA is more likely an attempt to repair the damage it caused by allying with the Hindu majoritarian party, rather than a move triggered by any commitment to Sikh issues.

Before allying with the BJP in 1996, the SAD had partnered with Jan Sangh, multiple times. In 1967, an alliance of the SAD, the Jan Sangh and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) installed the first non-Congress chief minister in Punjab. A decade later, the SAD’s Parkash Singh Badal was appointed as the chief minister, after the party again allied with the Jan Sangh. 

The next fifteen years saw widespread militancy in the state, and multiple transgressions by BJP members against Sikhs. One of the gravest of these was committed by a former BJP legislator in 1984, months ahead of Operation Blue Star, a military operation to eliminate militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar during Indira Gandhi’s Congress government. Details of this incident were published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which manages gurdwaras across the country, in a white paper titled, “Truth About Punjab,” in 1996. It mentioned that a group called the Rashtriya Hindu Suraksha Samiti had organised a bandh—strike—in February 1984. The paper mentioned, 

In pursuance of the Bandh call by the Samiti on February 14, 1984, mobs gathered at as many as fifty six places in Amritsar and indulged in sacrilegious activities against the Sikh Gurus, Sikh religion and their religious institutions. At the Amritsar railway station, a replica of the Darbar Sahib was broken into pieces. A picture of the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das, on display for the past several years, was damaged beyond recognition and a lighted cigarette was struck into it. The shitting and pissing on the picture was a part of the highly sacrilegious and provocative act of the mob, led by Harbans Lal Khanna, Ex-MLA and district President of the BJP. 

Khanna was subsequently killed on 2 April. Two months later, Operation Blue Star left hundreds of innocent bystanders dead, and the Golden Temple in ruins. According to a July 2019 report in The Caravan, a few weeks before Blue Star, “the BJP leaders LK Advani and AB Vajpayee sat on a dharna in Delhi, demanding that the armed forces be sent into the Golden Temple … After Operation Blue Star, there were several reports stating that the RSS distributed laddus in celebration of the military action.” 

Indira Gandhi was killed that year, and an anti-Sikh pogrom followed. While the violence occurred under Congress leadership and supervision, a number of BJP and RSS leaders were also involved in it according to The Caravan’s July 2019 report. “At least 49 members of the BJP and Sangh are named in the 14 first information reports registered at the Delhi City police station after the massacre,” the report mentions. “A look at those FIRs shows that a number of BJP and Sangh leaders were booked on charges of murder, arson and rioting in the areas of Hari Nagar, Ashram, Bhagwan Nagar and Sunlight Colony. One of the people named in the FIRs is Ram Kumar Jain—a poll agent for Vajpayee during the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.”

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Keywords: Shiromani Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal Farm Bills 2020 National democratic alliance