Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an NDA coalition partner at the Centre, is all set to enter the political scene of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand through the Assembly elections due next year in the two states. The party, however, hasn’t yet confirmed if it will contest the polls in alliance with the BJP.
As part of its planning, SAD Thursday appointed retired IAS officer Rai Singh as its president of UP and Uttarakhand at a function in Lucknow.
Since the party does not have an organisation in UP — SAD’s presence is mainly concentrated in Punjab, where it is in power in alliance with BJP — the Sukhbir Badal-led top brass has formed a panel of five leaders from Punjab and Delhi to assist Singh with the establishing of a unit.
In the next few days, Singh is expected to develop a cadre in the state and identify Assembly seats for contesting the next year’s elections and candidates for these seats.
Singh said that there are around 40 Assemblies in UP and 32 in Uttarakhand from where SAD could contest with hopes of a positive result, as these seats have a sizable population of Punjabis. He said that in UP, Punjabis are in a sizable number in various Assembly segments of Ghaziabad, Rampur, Meerut, Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur, Lakhimpur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Basti, Sultanpur and Rae Bareli districts.
“SAD will contest elections in UP with full strength. We would like to contest on as many seats as possible. At present, we are in alliance with the BJP in Punjab and we will prefer to keep that alliance intact while contesting the polls. But if BJP does not agree on an alliance, then the party high command will decide the future course of action. It is, however, confirmed that we will contest the upcoming elections,” Rai Singh told The Indian Express. Singh is a 1972-batch UP cadre IAS officer and had retired from the services in 2003 as vigilance commissioner.
Singh is also the head of ‘Baba Virsa Singh ji Maharaj Memorial Trust’, Gobind Sadan in Delhi whose former members include Vishwa Hindu Parishad patron Ashok Singhal.
Singh’s wife Raj Rai is a former BJP MLA from Pilibhit who lost to the current SP MLA Riyaz Ahmad in the 2002 elections. Raj Rai had also served as the finance minister in BSP-BJP alliance government of 1997. She had later contested the assembly elections from Pilibhit in 2002 and 2007, although as a Congress nominee, but had lost. She contested Lok Sabha elections in 1999 for Congress but lost to Maneka Gandhi.
Speaking about the issues that he intends to take up, Singh said Punjabis, mainly in business and agriculture, are not getting due recognition and share in sectors such as education, government jobs and other democratic setups. “Since the Independence, percentage of Sikhs in Army has come down. In England, there is a separate Sikh regiment while Punjabis are ministers in Canada cabinet.”
He said that he will meet the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots and assure them the payment of compensation due to them if SAD comes to power in UP. “When I was in service, I got released Rs 800 crore for the riot victims in UP but only Rs 200 crore could be distributed while the Centre withdrew the rest,” Singh claimed.