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From biggest mandate to decimation, Badals see it all

JALANDHAR: Ironically, the only leader who ever got such huge mandate, which CM-designate Bhagwant Mann of AAP has now got, was Parkash Singh Badal in 1997 when SAD-BJP alliance won 93 seats with the Akali Dal getting 75 and the saffron party getting 18 seats. Then in 2012, Badals created history by leading Shiromani Akali Dal to victory for a consecutive term and Badal became CM for fifth term. Eulogies were showered on his son and party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal for election management skills and making history.
After making such history, Badals now face the ignominy of leading the second oldest party of the country, which was also once the “sole manifestation of collective political will of the Khalsa Panth”, to its consecutive and worst-ever defeat apart from themselves suffering humiliating defeats at the hands of rookie politicians.
Sikhs were seething against the Congress after happenings of 1980s-90s, when they gave Badal such a mandate. Now a major section of the community is angry with the family.
The mandate in 1997 enabled Badal senior to push the project of complete control on Akali Dal, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and by implication over Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of Sikhs. The trend of Akali leaders handing over leadership to their kin also started at that time, as earlier leadership would emerge from the cadre.
In past decades too, Akali factions performed poorly, but they would invariably lose space to another Akali faction or a new Akali leader. But, in 2017, it was the first time that Badals-led Akali Dal could not even become main opposition party and lost its space to a Delhi-based party – AAP.
Even as there have been serious questions about Badals drifting away from original ideology of Akali Dal – to safeguard interests of Sikhs – and they faced criticism for that but still they managed the party as an effective election-winning machine. But with the consecutive worst ever humiliating defeats that machine appears to have come to a grinding halt.
Vote share data makes it clear that space they once started losing in 2014, strongest reason of which was discontentment in their constituency – the Sikhs, continues. It is also clear that Badals still face the anti-incumbency even five years after getting out of power and issues like Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan police firing in 2015 continue to cast a dark shadow on their politics.
After losing ground in Sikh constituency, which largely overlaps with farmers’ constituency, Badals then floundered badly on latter turf also when they initially supported three controversial farm bills before doing a somersault and severing ties with BJP on the issue. But the episode had damaged their image and credibility among Sikh farmers once again.
Notably, the Akali Dal could not manage a decent performance despite an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party.
Even as Sukhbir did not allow any other Akali faction to become a challenge, after this defeat he would once again face questions about his leadership. For now the humiliating defeat has put a big question mark on Badals’ leadership and future of the Akali Dal.

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