CHANDIGARH: Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress Government in Haryana has successfully played its religion card in the run-up to the Assembly polls. The move to set up a separate Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has been done with an eye on the 18 lakh-strong Sikh vote bank.
Sikhs are influential in about 16 Assembly constituencies which is a sizable number in the 90-member House. The vote bank has the potential to tilt the balance in favour of the Congress which is already fractured in the state.
The BJP is in a very precarious situation as its traditional ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), is supporting the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in the state as Om Parkash Chautala and Parkash Singh Badal, have long standing family ties.
The fight this time in Haryana will be a three-way one involving the Congress, the BJP-Haryana Janhit Congress combine and the INLD-in which a solid vote bank assumes all the more important role. To a large extent, Sikh vote bank has been consolidated with the formation of HSGPC and the community has emerged as a major group which can dictate the terms. It may be mentioned that in Delhi, Sikh consolidation started after formation of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.
This has greatly worried the Chief Minister as his party, SAD, may lose whatever grip it has on this vote bank in Haryana. Sikhs in Haryana had been demanding the right to manage the shrines for 15 years, and it was Harbans Singh Dachar who started this movement. The Congress had promised a separate gurdwara management committee in its manifesto in Haryana in 2004 and 2009 but had not kept word.
In one single stroke, Hooda appeased the community. Former PM Manmohan Singh tried to distance himself from any controversy associated with the community as he was aware that the SAD would target the Congress for ‘interfering’ in the religious affairs of Sikhs.
Badal, who has always played the anti-Congress card, has sought the intervention of the Central Government in the religious affairs of Sikhs which is contrary to his earlier stands.
The BJP, both in Punjab and Haryana, has remained non-committal, even as Badal has called on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh several times in the past few days to persuade the Haryana government to back down from the move to set up a separate SGPC.