Cong banks on Sikh support in Haryana

Different strokes: Forays and setbacks mark election campaigning

The Congress, led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda in poll-bound Haryana, is hoping that its last-minute gamble to enact a controversial law for a separate Sikh Gurdwara panel in Haryana—out of the purview of the Amritsar-based SGPC—would prove rewarding in the final outcome of the polls.

Hooda is heavily banking on the sizeable numbers of Sikh voters in Haryana, who have a  strong presence in at least 20 Assembly constituencies. It is estimated that Haryana has about 20 lakh Sikhs, of whom about 14 lakh can votes.

The government’s decision to pass this law in July paved the way for an ad hoc panel of the newly formed Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) that was mandated to manage affairs of Sikh shrines in Haryana. The move is already paying off as HSGMC representatives are now frantically campaigning for the Congress in seats where Sikhs are in sizeable numbers.

A door-to-door campaign strategy is being carried out by members of the HSGMC to explain the merits of a separate Sikh panel to manage Sikh shines in the state. For the Congress, which is eyeing a third term in office, the Sikh votes could play a decisive role in turning its otherwise bleak prospect in the elections.

But Sikhs in Haryana have traditionally supported the INLD, its leaders claim. Besides, the INLD has a definite advantage since it is contesting this election with the support of the SAD (Badal) in Punjab. The SAD has tremendous support of the Sikhs and its top leadership, including Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, are busy campaigning in Haryana heartland to counter Congress’ claim to be a party that has taken care of the Sikhs in Haryana.

The SAD has majority of elected representatives in the Amritsar-based SGPC. Akali leaders, invoking the name of the Akal Takht, are going to town with the message that the Congress is anti-Sikh and that not all Sikhs in Haryana have found prudence in the new law that the Assembly passed with an eye on the polls. 

HSGMC president Jagdish Singh Jinda makes a candid admission saying the Hooda government is best equipped to take care of the interests of the Sikhs and the new law was testimony to this intent of the Congress. “If the SGPC can openly support the SAD in elections, what is the harm if we are supporting the Congress in Haryana?”, Jinda argues.  

The controversial law, which has now been stayed by the court, came about after two lakh Sikhs signed a support document in favour of a separate Sikh panel. The SAD and the opposition parties in Haryana have been arguing that Hooda’s decision to enact a law in this regard was politically motivated with an eye on Assembly elections. October 15 will decide whether or not Hooda benefited from this move.

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