The political domain of Punjab has always been dominated by the Akali Dal and Indian National Congress.  The pre-Independence and post partition dynamics of Punjab politics has been a witness to spate of incidences like India-Pakistan partition, Punjabi Suba movement, Anandpur Sahib Resolution and Operation Bluestar. The events cast their shadow on the Punjab politics and led to the emergence of Sikh dominated party and coalition politics.

Pre-Independence Punjab politics
Before Independence, the Punjab politics was dominated by ‘Unionist Party’, referred as Zamindara Party. In the 1937 elections, Sir Sikander Hyat Khan was appointed as the premier of Punjab. During his tenure, he entered into a pact with Jinnah, the president of the Muslim League.
After the death of Hyat Khan, the Muslim League emerged as the largest single party. However, it could not claim an absolute majority. On February 2, 1946 the Muslim League declared to form the government in a province only if it secured an absolute majority. The Muslim League failed to so. Eventually, on March 21, 1946 a coalition government consisting of the Congress, the Unionist Party and the Akalis were formed.

From 1947-1966 the Punjab politics was dominated by the Indian National Congress. Post-partition, Punjab that constituted Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh was conundrum of different religion.


Ethno-religious identity politics
The changed territorial boundaries after the partition and larger presence of Sikhs in central Punjab gave hope to Akali leadership for the creation of Sikh majority state.
The ‘Tat Khalsa movement’ played a significant role in making a distinct identification of Sikhs. The Sikh identity politics emerged with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in January 1921, which was to act as the political arm of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

Punjab Suba Movement
It was during the tenure of Pratap Singh Kairon of Indian National Congress the issue of division among Sikhs and Hindus got prominent. In the 1950s and 1960s, linguistic issue caused civil disorder when Hindi was imposed as the national language. The nationwide movement of linguistic groups seeking statehood led SAD to initiate first major movement to create ‘Punjab Suba’. Central leadership refused to Akali’s demand.
The party sought to project itself as the protector of the Punjabi language and Sikh religion. In 1966, the demand of Punjabi Suba was accepted by the Centre and the Punjab was trifurcated under the Punjab State Reorganization Bill.

Akali Dal and faction in SIKH community
During the Punjab Suba movement, the Akali leadership saw many changes. The emergence of Sant Fateh Singh, a Jat in place of Master Tara Singh, an upper caste Khatri was the modification in the party. Since then the Akali leadership has been dominated by Jat Sikhs. It holds true even for the Congress.
Later, the factionalism led to political division within the Jat Sikh community. The Congress had a good support within the community with the Akali Dal. The Jat Sikhs were 37.47 percent among the Congress MLAs elected from1967 to 1992. The political role of the upper caste Khatris diminished with the entry of Jats.

The other caste that played an important role in the electorate was the Dalits, which accounted for the 29 percent of the population with the highest concentration in Jalandhar. In electoral terms it led to emergence of Bahujan Samaj Party, a third alternative alongside SAD and Congress.
Factions in Akali Dal

The repeated failures in the negotiations with the Central government over the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1981 led to the intensification of the second phase of Akali agitation that led to ‘Operation Bluestar’ followed by ‘Operation Woodrose’.

The anti-Sikh riots further alienated Sikh community. The Akali Dal leaders who were released in March 1985 for their role in Bluestar movement, made attempts to save Punjab from the rise of religious fundamentalism and militancy in the form of Rajiv-Longowal accord on July 24, 1985. The failure of the accord in the aftermath of the assassination of Longwal made Akali Dal come to power for the first time on its own by winning the 1985 election.

The constant efforts made by the Congress to undercut the Akali Dal weakened the support base of moderates and led to dismissal of Barnala government in 1987. The Akali Dal came under the firm control of the extremists. There were two moderate faction of Akali Dal, one led by Parkash Singh Badal and other by Surjit Singh Barnala.

The Akali Dal faction led by Mann and Badal boycotted the parliamentary elections as well as assembly elections that took place one year after the 1991 general elections under President’s rule. The resurrection of the traditional Akali Dal under the leadership of Badal put an end to the 1993 militancy rule.


In 1994 Shiromani Akali Dal (United) came into existence uniting as many as six factions of Akali Dal in the name of Panthic unity. However, Akali Dal (Badal) remained separate.

Formation of Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal
Akali Dal (Badal) was split again on the eve of the 1999 parliamentary elections as Gurcharan Singh Tohra , the president of SGPC rebelled against Badal with the help of the then Akla Takht Jathedar. The Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal (SHSAD) was formed under the leadership of Tohra in 1999. It formed an electoral alliance with AD (Mann), AD (Panthic) and AD (Democratic). The different faction fought both the Lok Sabha and the assembly election separately in1999 and 2002 but performed poorly.
The Congress that had a dismal performance in the 1996, 1998 parliamentary and 1997 assembly elections was able to make electoral gains in 2002.
The 2004 parliamentary elections witnessed a newfound unity among the Akalis with the merger of SHSAD as well as SAD (Democratic) led by Kuldeep Singh Wadala.  The Akali Dal (Badal) had control over the SGPC and Akal Takht.

Coalition politics of Punjab
The coalition government in Punjab dates back to Akali-Jan Sangh coalition government in 1967. Sardar Gurnam Singh was appointed as the Chief Minister in an alliance government with the Jan Singh and the Communist Party in 1967 and 1969. In 1977, the Akali Dal formed tie up with the Janta Party (presently the BJP) under Parkash Singh Badal leadership.
In 1985 assembly elections the Akali Dal came into power on sharp communal lines. The party polled just 38.4 percent of the votes against the Congress 37.8 percent. Owing to strategic compulsion SAD sought an electoral alliance with the BJP, a political party whose membership was confined to the Hindus.

Congress-Akali Dal see saw
The Indian National Congress came into power in after assembly elections in 1992 and the Akali Dal in 1997. In 2002, Congress again marked victory.
In the 2007, the SAD won 48 seats with voters turnout of 75.42 percent. The SAD-BJP formed the government in Punjab by emerging victorious in 67 seats of the combined, while the Indian National Congress won 44 percent seats with 40.90 votes. The Independents won five seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party got 4.13 percent of the vote.