When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in June 1975, the Shiromani Akali Dal launched passive resistance which endured throughout the period, until March 1977.

The Akalis launched “Save Democracy Morchas” from the Akal Takht, the highest seat of Sikh temporal authority in Amritsar, resulting in approximately 40,000 arrests.

Despite the Emergency not being solely a Panthak or Sikh community issue, and despite the then Prime Minister’s public appreciation for Punjab and Sikhs for their contribution to food and national security in the preceding years, the Akalis’ took a stiff stance, causing consternation to the Gandhi regime.


The passive resistance, executed by the Sikh-only party, stemmed from its historical commitment to democratic, civil, and human rights, and the interests of the Sikh minority.

Established in December 1920, the Shiromani Akali Dal, after all, had a record of organising Morchas (agitations) as part of its political and social campaigns.

On January 19, 1922, British authorities, for instance, handed over the treasury keys of Sri Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple) to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) following a two-month-long peaceful Morcha led by the Akalis, described by Mahatma Gandhi as the “first decisive battle won” for India’s freedom.

Numerous such agitations led by the Shiromani Akali Dal and its precursor, the SGPC, navigated Sikhs through British colonial rule, the deadly Partition of 1947, the movement for Punjab’s statehood in independent India, and the unrest in Punjab from the 1980s to the 1990s.


In 1996, a watershed moment occurred in Akali history. At a historic conference in Moga, the Shiromani Akali Dal projected itself as a party of Punjabis, aligned the same year with the BJP and opened party membership to non-Sikhs.

The two allies ruled Punjab for a full five-year term starting 1997 but were unseated from power by a Congress led by a regional stalwart, Captain Amarinder Singh, in 2002 amidst accusations of corruption.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, along with its junior partner in Punjab, the BJP, was re-elected for two successive tenures until 2017.


However, the latter five years marked the unravelling of Punjab’s oldest party due to various perceived or real sins of omission and commission.

The recurring sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 under the Akali-BJP rule in Punjab, the heartland of the Sikh faith, fuelled Sikh discontent across the board.

The Akalis have suffered heavy electoral setbacks since then, losing a significant portion of their regional turf to national players, including the Aam Aadmi Party.

Challenges mounted when the Modi government introduced new farm laws in 2020.

The Badals withdrew from the NDA as protests built up. The Centre revoked the contentious legislation after a year-long agitation led by farmers of Punjab on the borders of New Delhi.

Their withdrawal from the NDA didn’t significantly aid the Akalis politically. Instead, Punjabis — Hindus and Sikhs alike — propelled AAP to power in Punjab with overwhelming support in the 2022 Assembly election.

In 2024, a fresh farm protest led by Punjab farmers at the Shambhu border, ahead of the Lok Sabha campaign, may have been the final blow to faltering attempts to revive the Akali-BJP alliance.

This was particularly evident when the sight of Haryana Police drones dispersing tear gas on barricaded protestors gained national and international attention.


The issue of Bandi Singhs – referring to Sikh prisoners incarcerated during the Punjab unrest under the now-repealed TADA and POTA laws – is not a novel one.

On March 22, the Shiromani Akali Dal underscored this demand in its party resolution, effectively putting an end to any electoral negotiations with the BJP, at least for the time being.

The resolution affirmed the Akali Dal’s commitment to the cause of farmers and farm labourers and advocated for cross-border transnational trade to boost Punjab’s economy.


For a party which, at least in Sikh perception, has significantly deviated from its foundational political doctrine since 1996, the March 22 document signals a departure from the principles outlined in the Moga declaration.

However, the political dividends from this return to basics may not materialise immediately.

Its core constituents will likely closely scrutinise the future course of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Walking the talk is paramount to achieving the recovery that the party aims for.

Published By:

Rishabh Sharma

Published On:

Mar 27, 2024

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