The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Akali foes mend bridges

Chandigarh, June 13: Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who met Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal for the first time in five years, declared today that they had decided to bury their differences.

“I have merged the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal with the Shiromani Akali Dal, keeping in view the sentiments of the rank and file of the party. My party stands dissolved,” Tohra said.

Five years ago, Tohra had walked out of the Badal-led Akali Dal, demanding decentralisation of power, and formed the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal. The divide led to the defeat of Badal’s faction in last year’s poll and paved the way for the Congress, led by Amarinder Singh, to grab power.

Badal met Tohra — who recently suffered a heart attack — at his brother-in-law Harmel Singh’s residence in Patiala. The two were closeted for over 90 minutes before making the announcement.

A senior party leader said unity efforts were on for the last few weeks, and the caste riots in Talhan forced Badal and Tohra to take a quick decision.

“We are taking the riots very seriously. The Congress is meddling in the religious affairs of the Sikhs by appointing a receiver at the gurdwara there. Dalit anger against the Jats has to be solved amicably, not by force as Amarinder is trying to. It will spell doom for Punjab and Punjabis. They have asked Badal to mediate but the government does not want the problem solved,” the leader said.

Tohra said the united Shiromani Akali Dal would continue its alliance with the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. The united Dal would be reconstituted, Tohra and Badal said. “Changes will be made at all levels in the party to select able candidates for the gram panchayat poll,” Badal said.

With the gram panchayat election due on June 29, the Akalis, who have been alleging police harassment against party supporters, have also decided to take on the administration if faced with police excesses.

“There is talk of Badal’s arrest on cooked-up graft charges. His nephew Narottam has already been arrested and more relatives might be arrested as the gram panchayat poll nears,” an Akali leader said.

Tohra and Badal admitted that unity between the two factions had been forged following “serious challenges to the Panth and people” of Punjab posed by the Amarinder government. Tohra threatened to launch an agitation in the state if Badal or his family members were arrested by the government.

Badal said he would not seek anticipatory bail and urged the government to desist from its campaign of “political vendetta” against the Akali leaders.

He also alleged that the chief minister had directed various government agencies to coerce confessions against him from his erstwhile ministerial colleagues, nephew Narottam Singh Dhillon and former Punjab Public Service chairman Ravinderpal Singh Sidhu among others.

The Badal-Tohra merger has set alarm bells ringing in Congress circles. “There were indications that there would be no unity. But since it has come, we will have to work hard for the gram panchayat poll. It would also mean gearing up the administration to tackle any situation that may arise if and when Badal is arrested,” a Congress spokesperson said.

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