The Rebel Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders Monday appeared before the jathedar of the Akal Takht and apologized for the “mistakes” committed when their party was in power in the state. They handed an apology letter to Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Raghbir Singh and sought forgiveness for the “four mistakes” during the former SAD regime between 2007 and 2017, including the failure to punish those responsible for the 2015 sacrilege incidents and pardoning Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet. Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case, and held SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was the deputy chief minister at that time, responsible for those “mistakes”.

Edited excerpts:

Most of the rebel leaders who sought an apology at the Akal Takht for the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib during the SAD government in 2015 rebelled in the past only to join Sukhbir Singh Badal later. What is the guarantee they won’t join the SAD again?

Earlier, circumstances were different. The Lok Sabha elections were due and we thought we should contest the elections collectivity to revive the Akali Dal. Leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Bibi Jagir Kaur also returned to the SAD before the elections. The unity was, however, hurt when tickets were distributed without a discussion. Then came the election results. We were expecting a good show by the SAD, but the opposite happened. Party leaders again went to Sukhbir advising him to step down for some time, but Sukhbir did not listen to them and it took the form of an existential crisis for the SAD. So, it was necessary to do or die.

Why did it take nine years for the rebel leaders to seek an apology for the sacrilege that took place in 2015?

Only a few leaders were involved in the SAD government’s decision-making post-sacrilege incident that hurt the Sikh sentiments. When we advised him to apologize for the sacrilege and other mistakes at a meeting called after the 2022 Assembly elections defeat, Sukhbir asked why he should alone seek forgiveness and all leaders should seek an apology. All leaders responded that they were ready to apologize, but nothing happened.

Do you think Sukhbir is convinced that the SAD government did nothing wrong in 2015?

It’s a human nature. Sukhbir knew it was a blunder. The people did not forget it. Sukhbir has always been suggested that the sooner we seek an apology, the lesser the damage will be. Even today, we are discussing it. What difference would it have made had Sukhbir would have been along today? We should have asked the Akal Takht Jathedar to sentence us for atonement, but we needed the courage to do so. However, there has been a lingering approach in the hope that people would forget it.

Festive offer

Do you see problems among people who are around Sukhbir?

Sukhbir has five advisors. They told him that the sacrilege incident was a thing of the past. They asked Sukhbir to admit from the stage that mistakes were committed without seeking atonement at the Akal Takht. It was an easy way out for Sukhbir and he took it.

Formed after the 2022 Assembly elections defeat, the Jhundan Committee said religious conversions were behind the party’s decline. Was it discussed on the party platform?

The issue of religious conversion was discussed, but there was no serious discussion on it. Whenever the issue came up, the vote-bank issue came as an excuse. We are not against any religion, but we have the prime responsibility of looking after the interests of the Sikh community. If some thousand votes are affected by discussing an issue related to the community, we shouldn’t care about it.

The Jhundan Committee wanted party office bearers to have unshorn hair, your comments.

The committee report said the main office bearer of the party would be those who have unshorn hair. It was not a condition for Hindu office bearers. Many issues were discussed when the crisis was at its peak. But with time, all such suggestions were forgotten. According to the Jhundan Committee report, all crises, such as what the party’s stand should be on Amritpal Singh, should be discussed and duly taken in the parliamentary board. The committee recommended the parliamentary board take all important decisions. Had there been a parliamentary board, Sukhbir would not have been blamed for the poll debacle. But since Sukhbir took all decisions single-handedly, he should also own the failure.

It seems SGPC leadership is still with Sukhbir, what do you say?

We have a leadership crisis in the community. We all know that we need to do something. But, unfortunately, the SGPC does not have such a face who can take up such issues. There has been a downfall in the SGPC leadership. Now we don’t have anyone like Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Had someone like Tohra been in the SGPC, nobody would have dared to issue an advertisement worth Rs 9,00,000 to justify the apology given to Dera Sirsa head Gurmeet Ram Rahim.

Former minister Sikandar Singh Maluka is also with you. He praised PM Modi ahead of the voting day for the parliamentary elections. His daughter-in-law contested on a BJP ticket. Doesn’t his presence hurt the rebels’ credibility and justify the allegations that the BJP is behind the rebellion?

It is true that once Maluka was the right hand of Sukhbir. He was de facto in charge of the Malwa. Now, his son and daughter-in-law have joined the BJP. I agree with your point, but it’s easy to label someone as an agent of Congress or BJP. The issues we have been raising are internal and real issues of the community. The BJP or any other party has nothing to do with it. We should face the crisis instead of indulging in the blame game.

Almost all regional parties in India are in the hands of powerful families. Sukhbir too has resources that rebels don’t have. Is it possible to raise a parallel faction without resources?

I won’t go into how the Badal family developed resources. As far as regional parties are concerned, the SAD is different from others because it is a party of the Panth. Here control of a family cannot be justified. Resources are indeed important, but what kind of resources the Aam Adami Party had or what kind of resources Faridkot MP Sarabjit Singh Khalsa and Khadoor Sahib MP Amritpal Singh had when they contested the elections? Sukhbir indeed has resources. They won the Bathinda seat. But at the same time, the Sikh community also has its own sources. If we can convince the people that we want to do good for the community and the party, then the community people will support us. Resources are not an issue. There was a time when people would vote in the name of Badal, but now people don’t vote for the party because of Badal. Now people say they are Akalis but wouldn’t vote because of the Badal family. We have no personal grudges against Singh Bagal, but we should listen to the people. Not only us but intellectuals and academics, too, have the same opinion.

What was the purpose behind your meeting with the parents of Amritpal Singh?

Many other activists of Warris Punjab De are also in Punjab jails and their cases are not being pursued in the court. The judicial system is also discriminating against them. So, all these issues were discussed during the meeting