The Akali Dal is playing with fire
When the Akalis are out of power, they indulge either in a dharam morcha or some act which would evoke religious passions among the Sikhs. But when they adopt the same tactics while in authority, it means that they want to divert attention from problems like unemployment, drug trafficking and farmers’ lessening incomes.
To the horror of the country, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal filed the other day a mercy petition on behalf of Balwant Singh Rajoana, the killer of former chief minister Beant Singh. This week, Badal’s son, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh, is among those who have honoured the insurgents and a few others involved in resisting the army which was deployed to flush them out from the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Both Badals are in charge of law and order. In a way, they are the custodians of the state. They have not realised even yet that they cannot carry out their duty if they side with militants.
I have been told they had to bow before “pressure.” If the rulers have to act under the direction of insurgents, the state is in for uncertain times. Punjab has been through the phase from the mid-70s to mid-80s when the extremists had upper hand and instilled fear among the Hindus that they were not safe in the state. A hiatus between the two communities began to be visible from that time. The insurgents have now founded a memorial for Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who, once sponsored by the Congress, challenged the state from within the precincts of the Golden Temple. Sukhbir’s explanation that the memorial was laid by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) is not credible. The Akali Dal itself controls the SGPC. I
The problem with the Akali Dal is that it does not differentiate religion from politics. Bhindrawale committed the same mistake and Punjab paid the price. I do not know what the Akalis have in mind because they are traversing the same dangerous path.
How embarrassed must have been PM Singh, a Sikh and the new Chief of Army Staff, Bikram Singh, also a Sikh, over what the ruling Akali Dal did to glorify the insurgents who polluted the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ Vatican? The government had to employ the army to destroy the barricades and the bunkers that Bhindranwale’s men had built to fight against the army. How can a memorial be built to perpetuate those who wanted to disintegrate the country and give a bad name to the Sikhs who are proud citizens of India?
Lt-Gen K S Brar who led the force during Operation Bluestar has spoken in pain about the operation. In an interview to a daily he has said: “The Akalis are allowing a move to revive terrorism. Siropas are being offered to the kin of the terrorists. Militants and their families are being garlanded. Are the Akalis attempting to get the sympathy of militants by allowing such activities?” Brar’s question should better be addressed to both the chief minister and his deputy who have not yet understood that they have to crush the divisive forces which believe in separatism.
I do not know why no Sikh organisation or a non-political person of consequence from the community has condemned the honouring of a killer and the laying of the foundation. The Akalis are creating a Frankenstein which will one day devour the peaceful citizens of Punjab.
The silence of the BJP surprises me. It is a partner in the state government. The BJP is either giving its tacit support to the radical fringe or sticking to ministerial postings for their personal gain. Both ways, they do not serve the interest of the party or the country. If they are really “unhappy,” as some reports say, they should quit the government. But then they too, like the Akalis, have electoral considerations in view. And the victory at municipal polls must have strengthened their decision to stay with the Akalis.
Whether the Akalis realise or not, there is a wave of indignation against what they have done at the Golden Temple. But the main anger is directed against the Badals who have gone along with those who had held the integrity of India to ransom. Both the Akali Dal and the chief minister owe an explanation to the nation.
The Punjabis are oblivious of why the Akalis are supporting groups like Damdami Taksal and the Dal Khalsa, both known to be terrorist organisations. On the one hand, the party is talking of development and requesting the centre for a special package and, on the other, it is endangering peace without which no development is possible. The Akalis should not forget the second innings the people have given them in the recent polls.
The Akalis are playing with fire which may push them to a point where they may feel the heat. The party has too much at stake. It cannot afford to fritter away the goodwill it created in its earlier innings. Faith in a pluralistic society is a commitment which cannot be diluted for placating the radicals.
Secularism is not a fig leaf to be used by the Akalis for their wrong belief that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin. Even otherwise, the ideology of theology is archaic and outdated. Not long ago, it looked as if the Akalis were changing their outlook to imbibe progressive ideas and modern thoughts. The loss is that of the Akali Dal if it wants to cling to gurdwara politics. The Punjabis will assess them and vote accordingly at the general election in 2014.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.