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|February 20, 1999||
Barnala caught in Akali crossfire
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
The power struggle between Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Shiromani Akali Dal president and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has engulfed reluctant Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers Surjit Singh Barnala.
Barnala who had been steering clear of the murky mud-slinging match between Tohra and Badal found that both factions were using his name and issuing statements to the media in his name in support of their respective stands.
In an informal conversation with Rediff On The Net at his Shastri Bhavan office in New Delhi, Barnala made it clear that at no point of time he had issued any statement either for or against either of the two warring factions.
"I am trying my best to stay out because siding with one faction would mean annoying the other and I have no intention of doing that," said Barnala.
According to him he tried his best to dissuade both Badal and Tohra from heading for a showdown.
"I had meetings with both of them and explained to them that they would do the Panth great harm by pitting against one another. Things seemed to be going fine till Tohra issued a statement against Badal and asked him to appoint an acting president for the Akali Dal following its poor show in the Adampur assembly bye-election which the party had lost to the Congress. Badal's supporters were looking for an opportunity and they got one. Things moved from bad to worse with the appointment of Puran Singh as acting jathedar of the Akal Takht in place of Bhai Ranjit Singh," said Barnala.
But unlike other Akali leaders, Barnala does not subscribe to the theory that matters have reached a point of no return. "If you have been following Punjab politics you would know that it would take just one meeting to sort out this mess," he says in an optimistic tone.
But his views are not shared by former Punjab director general of police K P S Gill, who thinks the Akali Dal is heading for a split under the present circumstances.
"We have a golden saying in Akalis -- divided we stand and united we fall. Trust Akalis to do what they have been doing,'' he said.
Gill does not subscribe to the view that the showdown would lead to the revival of militancy in the state.
Barnala, however, has his apprehensions. "If you see the kind of people who have been hanging around Tohra, then you would not be asking this question. People like Simranjit Singh Mann and Joginder Singh Rode, who have been advocating militancy, are with Tohra in the present crisis," says the former Punjab chief minister.
But both Barnala and Gill agreed on one point that the people of Punjab are sick of the Akali politics and their fighting for petty gains.
"Though there have been rumours that the present fight is for the control of Rs 3 billion sanctioned by the Union government for the Khalsa Panth celebrations, this is not true. It is a struggle for power. Badal wants to have full control over the Akali Dal affairs and Tohra wants to be the chief minister," they agreed.
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