Saturday, June 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Badal, Tohra factions unite
Loyalists not taken into confidence
Tribune News Service

Patiala, June 13
Former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and former Shiromani Committee President Gurcharan Singh Tohra today signed a formal declaration effecting Akali unity and appealing to party workers and leaders of both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal (SHSAD) to forget differences and work unitedly for the welfare of the “panth” and Punjab.

SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal arrived at the residence of Mr Tohra’s son-in-law Mr Harmail Singh Tohra where the SGPC chief is recuperating for signing the declaration. Mr Badal arrived at the Heera Nagar residence of Mr Tohra alone without any senior SAD leader by his side.

Following this the declaration, which was written on the spot by senior Tohra confidant and former Minister Manjit Singh Calcutta in consultation with both leaders, was read out on the occasion by Mr Tohra himself. The two-paragraph statement said “ With the blessings of God and keeping in mind the sentiments of the “Sikh Panth” as well as the extreme challenges being faced by it, we today declare complete unity in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). All leaders and workers are requested to forget all past differences and cooperate for the “chardi kalan” of the “Panth”.

The letter also spoke about the coming panchayat elections saying “elect meritorious candidates with due cooperation in the coming panchayat elections” It ended saying “all decisions regarding the organisation of the party would be taken after due consultations and announced accordingly”.

Mr Badal talking to newsmen on the occasion, said all coming decisions of the party would be taken according to Mr Tohra’s convenience. He said the unity had been achieved on principles and that the Bharatiya Janata Party did not have any role in it. Mr Tohra also refused to disclose whether the old status quo in the party with regard to his faction would be restored following the unity. He said he had already dismantled the organisational structure of the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal before the polls and did not establish it again because talks of unity had been initiated later on.

Briefing newsmen later, former Minister Manjit Singh Calcutta said he had initiated the exercise to bring Mr Badal to Patiala today along with another Tohra loyalist Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal. He said the move had been initiated in the Badal camp by Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and National Minorities Commission Chairman Tarlochan Singh. He said earlier he had got a letter which he had drafted himself but upon reaching Patiala, it was decided to draft a short letter in consultation with both Mr Badal and Mr Tohra which was then signed by both of them. He also shied away from replying to any query as to whether any deal regarding adjustment of senior leaders of the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal had been worked out between both factions or not.

Two Akali heavyweights Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra — today closed ranks without taking their closest supporters into confidence.

Mr Badal preferred to keep the entire Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) top leadership of the district which is inimical to Tohra out of the formal joining of hands show. This included former Finance Minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh, SGPC President Kirpal Singh Badungar, former Ministers Raja Narinder Singh and Ajaib Singh Mukhmailpur and legislator Surjit Singh Rakhra. Mr Tohra kept out his number two man and senior leader Prem Singh Chandumajra who till now was perceived as his heirapparent.

Informed Akali sources disclosed that both Mr Badal and Mr Tohra kept their senior party leaders ignorant about today’s meeting. This was confirmed when calls to a few of these leaders when both Mr Badal and Mr Tohra were meeting each other revealed that they did not even know of the meeting. The sources disclosed that the meeting was arranged by Tohra loyalists Manjit Singh Calcutta and Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal who got Mr Badal to the residence of Tohra’s son-in-law Mr Harmail Singh Tohra where the formal unity declaration was signed by both leaders.

The sources said the manner in which all the senior SAD party leaders were ignored by Mr Badal clearly indicated that Patiala district will again go to Tohra. They said if the former SGPC chief was to be given complete control of Patiala district Mr Badal could not come to today’s meeting flanked with the very leaders who had virulently led an anti Tohra campaign in the district after Tohra had parted company with Mr Badal.

Besides this the sources said the manner in which the unity had been achieved without any open dialogue and without taking the senior party leaders into confidence, clearly indicated that Mr Badal had the interests of his son Sukhbir Singh Badal in mind. They said the Akali veterans had hammered out a compromise themselves even as they publicly announced that the unity had been achieved without any conditions indicating that the compromise was a family affair between the two leaders.

This theory has further gained ground with the new found importance being given to Tohra’s son-in-law Harmail Singh Tohra in the Tohra camp and the sidelining of former Lok Sabha member Prem Singh Chandumajra who till was now considered as the number two man in the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal. The sources said Tohra had recently increasingly started up relying on his son-in-law instead of Chandumajra. They said the distancing had become apparent when the veteran Akali leader faced a heart failure and was admitted into a local hospital.

According to sources, Chandumajra came to know about Tohra’s illness from the newspapers and was not told of the development which occurred previous evening. Even during Tohra’s hospital stay, Chandumajra was sidelined with the entire control over who would meet the veteran leader being with his son-in-law Harmail Singh Tohra. Chandumajra was also contradicted by Harmail Singh Tohra when he objected to the dispatch of an Akal Takht emissary to the hospital to deliver a letter to the veteran leader. Mr Harmail Singh said the emissary had not disturbed anyone contrary to Chandumajra’s claims.

The sources said another factor why Chandumajra was being sidelined in the Tohra camp was that both he and Mr Harmail Singh Tohra were claimants for the Dakala assembly segment. The sources said while Chandumajra had once won the seat and even became a Minister in the Barnala government, Harmail Singh Tohra had also been elected from the same seat and given a ministerial berth in the Badal government. The sources said the differences between the two had become so clear that Tohra did not even announce that his earlier favourite would be fielded from the Patiala parliamentary constituency from which Chandumajra has been fielded thrice by the party.

According to UNI, both Akali stalwarts, Mr Badal and Mr Tohra, said their united party would continue its alliance with the BJP.

They said the party’s organisational set-up would, however, be reconstituted later after mutual consultations.

The United Akali Party, both the leaders added, would contest the June 29 Panchayat elections in Punjab by selecting “able candidates.”


Elusive quest — a timeline

The following are the significant milestones in the elusive quest for the unity of the Akali Dal:

1980 - Sant Harchand Singh Longowal became the Shiromani Akali Dal President, while the splinter group chose Jagdev Singh Talwandi as its head. This was the time when Gurcharan Singh Tohra joined Parkash Singh Badal and supported Longowal.

1982 - Jagdev Singh Talwandi joined the two, on a call given by the Akal Takht Jathedar to unite for the sake of the Panth.

1986 - The Akali Dal again split, with Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Parkash Singh Badal revolting against Surjit Singh Barnala.

1988 - The United Akali Dal split into two. The dominant Badal-Tohra-Talwandi combine elected Jagdev Singh Talwandi the President of the party.

1990 - The Akali Dal (Mann) split with the formation of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic), with Rajdev Singh as its President.

1994 - Simranjit Singh Mann, President of the Shiromani Akali Dal (A), resigned as per the direction of Akal Takht for the sake of unity.

1995 - A formal announcement of the launching of the Akali Dal (Amritsar) headed by Simranjit Singh Mann.

1995 — Baba Joginder Singh formed the United Akali Dal. Talwandi joined the new dal.

1999 — Gurcharan Singh Tohra floated a new party, the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal (SHSAD). Thus, the split in the ruling Akali Dal was formalised.

1999 — Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) President Simranjit Singh Mann announced the formation of a third front comprising Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Kuldeep Singh Wadala and Jasbir Singh Rode factions of the Akali Dal.

2003 — Badal, Tohra announce unity. Shiromani Akali Dal President Parkash Singh Badal and Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra formally announce unity between the two factions.

Compiled by Kuldip Kalia

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