Rebirth of Longowal Era

Gobind Singh Longowal

 Gobind Singh Longowal winning the SGPC polls may turn political tide in SAD favor

By Anil Anand

The Sikh Gurudwara Prabandak Committee popularly known as SGPC is central to the Sikh politics more so in Punjab and in less measures in rest of the country. It came into existence in 1920 with prime objective of overseeing and running affairs of Sikh shrines (Gurudwaras) across the nation but more than that it has ended up becoming a fulcrum of Akali politics with Shiromani Akali Dal now synonymous with Prakash Singh Badal and family calling the shots.

As SAD, headquartered in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, has been in the forefront in Punjab’s local politics with Badals ruling the roost, it is but natural for them and the rival factions of Akali Dal and others to evince keen interest in the SGPC elections and ensure their hold on the Sikh body for obvious political and electoral benefits. Since Prakash Singh Badal is the sole survivor among the old Akali guard, maintaining hold on the SGPC is not much of a problem for him and his heir apparent former deputy chief minister of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The SGPC polls have a history of generating heat and dust and times taking a violent turn with rival factions brandishing swords for its control. Barring an odd strongman late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, known for his radical views, the SGPC has a history of seeing novices and week-kneed candidates propelled by elks of Badals becoming its chief.

 So SGPC polls 2017 were no different barring the fact that voting took place after good 15 years in what was a straight contest between Badals backed Gobind Singh Longowal and a rival candidate. Expectedly Longowal convincingly won ensuring that the SGPC stayed under the Badal umbrella.

Interestingly, the voting took place in 2002 when old comrades turned Akali rivals Tohra and Badal were fighting for controlling the SGPC with latter winning the poll. Tohra due to his radical views had become a hawk while Badal strategically acquired the image of dove among the Akalis and rest is history.

Yet another significance of SGPC poll-2017 lies in Gobind Singh carrying the surname Longowal. It gave clear indications of his relationship with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal who was a front- ranking Akali-Sikh leader with a moderate face. He was killed by terrorists for signing an accord with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to extricate Punjab from the morass of terrorism.

Gobind Singh Longowal was primarily driver of the Sant and also his adopted son. He became the Sant’s heir as the latter was unmarried and had no family. He was a minister in the Akali governments by dint of belonging to the Sant’s family or clan. Ostensibly the Longowal link has once again proved beneficial for him to rise to the post of SGPC chief.

Prior to SGPC polls it had been generally decided in the outfit’s close circles that a candidate of Sukhbir Singh Badal’s choice would be fielded as the favoured one. The ostensible thought behind was that the Badal junior should directly deal with the SGPC poll affairs as it would strengthen his holds on Sikh affairs on his way to become successor to Prakash Singh Badal as SAD chief and subsequently as the moment comes to be the chief ministerial candidate.

The surname Longowal has a historicity behind it as reflects the entire aura of the late Sant who was most revered in the Sikh society due to his honesty of purpose and truthfulness. Apart from his attachment to the Longowal clan, Gobind Singh has a low profile and a history of being Badal loyalist in the aftermath of the Sant’s assassination. The Longowal and loyalty factors ultimately paid dividends and he became the SGPC chief backed by the Badals. SGPC firmly under his control with Gobind Singh as its chief, Sukhbir Singh Badal’s political muscles have added strength now.

The SGPC polls have never taken place without creating a controversy. The newly elected chief when declared a candidate brought a pack of controversies along with him. First and foremost, he was among Punjab politicians who had approached Sirsa (Haryana) based Dera Sacha Sauda, which is abhorred by the Sikh temporal seat Akal Takht and was accordingly punished.

In the ultimate scheme of Akali politics his loyalty to the Badals paid off.

Gobind Singh Longowal had first contested Assembly elections in 1992 but lost. Later, he was elected in 1997, upon which he became a minister of state for irrigation in the Badal government. He won in 2002, then lost in 2007 and 2012. After Congress MLA Arvind Khanna left the party and the assembly, Gobind won from the bypoll from Dhuri in 2015. This time, though, he lost from Sunam.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh had made a scathing comment about Gobind Singh’s personality and described him as “ever ungrateful”. “ He had always remained ungrateful to his masters. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal had adopted him and brought him up. However, on the Sant’s assassination, he did not depose before the CBI to give a statement against the late leader’s killers,” the CM said adding :  “He left me and former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala as well to side with the Badals.

But this statement had become a further source of strength for Gobind Singh. Decidedly, his low profile worked to his advantage but more than that the fact that he left his earlier masters to side with the Badals makes him an asset with the latter.