On 3 June, 2023, Bibi Jagir Kaur announced the founding of the Shiromani Akali Panth Board, a religious organisation, with the stated goal of "liberating the panthic institutions from the monopoly of one family."
The announcement was made during the 73rd three-day annual festival at a Dera Morala Sahib branch in Begowal, Kapurthala district.
Dera Morala Sahib prominently caters to the Lubana community. Bibi Jagir Kaur, who herself belongs to the Lubana community, was previously the head of Dera Morala Sahib.
Shiromani Akali Panth will contest the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections scheduled for later this year, which could have a significant impact on Panthic politics.
Firstly, who is Bibi Jagir Kaur?
Bibi Jagir Kaur is a controversial figure, to say the least. First woman to hold the position of SGPC President and also an accused in the honor killing of her daughter.
In 1999, during the initial days of her political career, she was the pick of the Badals for the top post of SGPC against the then SGPC president, Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Today, 24 years later, she has opened a full frontal attack against the Badals.
Since its inception, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has controlled the SGPC with an iron fist. Bibi Jagir Kaur, contesting the upcoming SGPC polls, has the potential to wrest control of SGPC, the premier Sikh religious body, from the SAD.
SGPC controls the gurudwaras in Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Punjab, and some in Haryana. SGPC administers 125 schools and colleges, and for the fiscal year 2023-24 its budget is Rs 1138.14 crore. The SGPC also selects the jathedar (head) of the Akal Takht, the highest seat of temporal authority in the Khalsa.
However, many have contested the SGPC polls against the SAD. What makes Bibi Jagir Kaur’s challenge different?
In November 2022, during the SGPC presidential elections, Bibi Jagir Kaur secured 42 votes against the victorious SAD candidate, Harjinder Singh Dhami, who got 104 votes. Three people from her camp also got included in the 15 member SGPC executive committee responsible for the day-to-day SGPC affairs.
When we consider that the opposition to SAD in the SGPC presidential elections usually never crosses 20 votes, Bibi Jagir Kaur's performance becomes exceptional.
This equation becomes more interesting when taken into consideration that those who voted for her in the 2022 SGPC polls, are among the SAD leaders who supported the Jhundan panel report.
The Jhundan Committee was a 13 member committee headed by former MLA Iqbal Singh Jhundan formed to analyse the abysmal performance of SAD in the 2022 assembly elections and suggest course corrections. Iqbal Singh Jhundan, without naming Sukhbir Singh Badal, had suggested bringing “accepted faces” into the party leadership.
Many of the prominent SAD leaders who supported these suggestions without coming out had voted for Bibi Jagir Kaur in the 2022 polls, and it is expected that they will support her this time around also.
SAD in the upcoming polls is on the backfoot for three other reasons as well.
First, if the vote share of the BSP is removed, then, in all probability, the SAD finished fourth in the recently concluded Jalandhar by-polls. Such a poor performance will push many of its leaders to look for greener pastures.
Second, with the death of Parkash Singh Badal, it is becoming increasingly difficult for SAD supremo Sukhbir Singh Badal to manage the party's affairs, as evident from the recent Giani Harpreet Singh episode.
Thirdly, the criticism of SAD by the Akal Takht jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh, is getting sharper with each passing day, which is hurting the legitimacy of SAD as the panthic party even more.
Lastly, how will this decision by Bibi Jagir Kaur affect the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?
In all probability, she will form an alliance with the BJP for the 2024 elections. The BJP lobby in the SGPC had supported Bibi Jagir Kaur in the 2022 SGPC polls. On the other hand, Bibi Jagir Kaur had given conditional support to the BJP in the recently concluded Jalandhar by-polls.
The BJP is seeking a strong Sikh face to boost its prospects in the Jatt Sikh-dominated rural areas of the state, and since the BJP is showing no intention of rejoining the SAD, Bibi Jagir Kaur is their best option.
If Bibi Jagir Kaur has a strong outing in the upcoming SGPC polls, she will pose a threat to SAD in electoral politics as well.
The upcoming SGPC polls will be closely observed, as for the first time there is a realistic chance for some party other than SAD to get the tag of the Panthic party.
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