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Monthly Archives: SEPTEMBER 2018


Badals Under Cloud As Cracks Appear In Akali Dal
12.09.18 - VIPIN PUBBY*
Badals Under Cloud As Cracks Appear In Akali Dal



FOR OVER A decade the Badal clan had a free run as it consolidated its hold over the Shiromani Akali Dal as well as the state government in the absence of Akali stalwarts like Jagdev Singh Talwandi, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Sant Harchand Singh Langowal. The Akali Dal is the most powerful regional party in Punjab.

While Parkash Singh Badal held on to the post of chief minister, his son Sukhbir Singh Badal was the president of the party as well as deputy chief minister and Home minister. Harsimrat Kaur Badal was inducted in the central ministry while her brother Bikram Singh Majithia was the third most powerful minister in the Badal ministry.

Badals are now under a cloud and old ghosts are coming to haunt them as senior party leaders have begun raising their voice against them. The party, and the Sikh Jathedars (clergy) controlled by the Badals, are heading for a major crisis in the wake of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report which had indicted the then chief minister and top police officers for incidents of sacrilege and shooting down of two protestors at Behbal Kalan.

As the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party leaders are baying for the blood of Badals, some senior SAD party have also questioned the Senior Badal’s move to boycott Assembly during the debate on the Ranjit Singh Commission report. They said the top leadership had run away from the live televised debate and had provided an uncontested platform to political rivals.

Senior Akali leaders, or Taksali leaders, like Tota Singh, Prem Singh Chandumajra and other members of core committee, said at a party meet that the boycott of Assembly was a blunder. It is after years that any senior leader had spoken against the top leadership of the party.

Trouble for the Badals had started in 2015 when the Jathedars at Sri Akal Takht (Sikh clergy) at the behest of Sukhbir Singh Badal, granted pardon to the now convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh without appearing before the Jathedars at Sri Akal Takht Sahib, and without rendering an unconditional apology. The Dera chief was earlier excommunicated from the Sikh community for disrespecting Guru Granth Sahib and violating the Sikh maryada and pretending to be Guru Gobind Singh ji, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs. Human depiction of the Sikh Gurus is forbidden.
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Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, while indicting Parkash Singh Badal and the former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, has also recommended registration of cases against police officers responsible for the firing in which two protesters were killed at Behbal Kalan
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Sikhs by and large, and hardliners in particular, had been having a strong dislike for the Dera chief for a variety of reasons including his ability to draw majhabi Sikhs to his fold in large numbers. Although he never asked them to give up their religion, the concept of "Guru manyo Granth”, or consider the holy text as the only guru, conflicted with the tenets of Sikhism. It was his emulation of Guru Gobind Singh that incensed Sikhs worldwide. It was considered a step too far. It led to protests and calls for him to present himself at Sri Akal Takht Sahib.

As it was with the politics of Badals, they were eyeing the vote bank of Majhabi Punjabis that Gurmeet Ram Rahim could deliver. Ram Rahim sent an unsigned letter without apologising or directly asking for a pardon for his conduct. Nevertheless the Jathedars pardoned him. The Sikh maryada requires a person to present him/herself at the Akal Takht, express regret and accept a punishment, often cursory. Usually it is cleaning of utensils, or shoes or saying a few recitations from the Guru Granth Sahib. Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the only Sikh and Punjabi Maharajah of Punjab had famously accepted being whipped when he was punished at the Takht for indulging with prostitutes while being an Amritdhari Sikh.

Thus the ‘politically staged’ pardon of Ram Rahim  granted to him without due process came as a rude shock to most Sikhs and led to several protests. This forced the Jathedars to subsequently withdraw the pardon but enough damage had been done. It was under these circumstances that a spate of incidents of sacrilege involving Guru Granth Sahib were reported from several parts of the state.
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The cracks developing in the senior leadership pose a serious threat to the Badal clan. The resentment had been brewing over several years as top posts were given only to their favourites. The abrasive and insulting behaviour by Sukhbir towards some senior party leaders had been adding to the resentment. The Akali politics is once again in turmoil.
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The Justice Ranjit Singh panel’s first report had said Badal and his son Sukhbir secured Akal Takht’s pardon for Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015 to facilitate release of the Dera head’s movie. Though the edict was revoked after backlash from Sikh bodies, the report said it had a "devastating effect and played the role of catalyst in sacrilege incidents”. It had also put Sukhbir, the then home minister, in the dock for "showing lack of will and seriousness” in solving sacrilege cases.

Though the exact tally of the acts of sacrilege is not available, it is estimated that about a hundred such incidents were reported in late 2015 and early 2016. That there was a clear pattern in such acts of desecration was an obvious fact. Some suspects were arrested, including Dera followers, but the charges could not be proved against them. The state government appointed Zora Singh Commission to identity the culprits and conspiracy but its report was "inconclusive”.

Capt Amarinder Singh government had subsequently constituted a commission under Section 11 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to probe cases of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and other religious texts at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala, Bargari, Gurusar and Mallke after rejecting the findings of the Zora Singh Commission.

Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, while indicting Parkash Singh Badal and the former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, has also recommended registration of cases against police officers responsible for the firing in which two protesters were killed at Behbal Kalan.

Badals have reacted by claiming that the Commission’s report was a ‘sham’ and that it was worth only the waste paper basket. However, in view of the gathering storm, they have announced a series of ‘pol-khol’ rallies in the state to ‘expose’ the government.

The cracks developing in the senior leadership pose a serious threat to the Badal clan. The resentment had been brewing over several years as top posts were given only to their favourites. The abrasive and insulting behaviour by Sukhbir towards some senior party leaders had been adding to the resentment. The Akali politics is once again in turmoil. The immediate solace for the Badals is the fact that there is no clear cut alternative leadership and none was allowed to grow in the recent years. Speculations are that senior Punjabi leaders from other parties may join hands to fill the vacuum. The developments would be closely watched.
 

 

 

*(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career. This article was published by lokmarg.com)

 

 

 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT


 




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Can this politics over sacrilege lead Punjab to communal polarization?
05.09.18 - I P Singh*
Can this politics over sacrilege lead Punjab to communal polarization?



ARE REALLY RELIGION and politics being mixed in Punjab? Are Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan firing religious issues or issues of delivering justice and fair investigation? Is Punjab heading towards communal polarisation? Are peace and communal harmony facing threat if the issue is being debated or is being pursued? Does talking about Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan firing amount to pandering to radical separatist politics? And is there really any apprehension of communal polarization? Are Congress and AAP toeing radical line on this issue?

These are some of the questions being raised subtly or directly after the report of the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission has generated a lot of heat in the political arena. Apprehensions are being raised, fears are being expressed and we may see more pleas, arguments, questions on these lines in the coming days.

Even as it is a religious issue at the centre of politics with all parties including SAD, Congress and AAP doing their politics on it but far from leading to communal polarisation or pandering to radical agenda, the politics around the issue and the debate in the assembly has rather helped to transcend the communal lines. The issue is of course related to a religious community but is not at all divisive and communal. Politics is being done on a religious issue but this is not along communal lines. Sikh community appears angry, not against any other community but with its own religious and political leadership.

These are not Hindus who have been opposing Badals on these two issues, opposition to them is coming from Sikh quarters. Mention of Hindus here is deliberately explicit. When a threat to communal harmony is suggested it implies a divide between Sikhs and Hindus in the state. In reality if there has been any intervention of Hindus on the issue it has been in support of the justice on the twin issues. No credible Hindu group has ever opposed the issue implicitly or explicitly.
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Sikh community appears angry, not against any other community but with its own religious and political leadership.
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If Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar has been speaking out on the issue very strongly, ever since it happened and usually putting Badals in a spot, it was AAP’s most visible Hindu face in the state – Aman Arora and its Dalit face Harpal Cheema, who argued strongly for justice in the case during the debate in the assembly.

Polarisation using religious idiom and identity is not on communal lines but within Sikhs – with SAD, SGPC and Sikh clergy on one side versus a major section of Sikhs and Sikh groups of different hues on the other.

Despite the religious overtones, the core issue is of justice and fair investigation. It is anybody’s guess that how talking about Bargari sacrilege or Behbal Kalan firing can amount to toeing radical line. For the record, according to the parts from the report of Justice Zora Singh Commission, appointed by the Badal government, read out in the assembly, firing at Behbal Kalan was unwarranted and the victims were in sitting position when they were shot at.

If vote bank politics was really played unabashedly and religion and politics were mixed, dangerously, it was when a pardon was surreptitiously granted to Sirsa Dera chief by the Sikh clergy in September 2015 allegedly at the behest of SAD top brass, only to be withdrawn later amid statewide protests by Sikhs after sacrilege and firing incidents in October 2015. Around Rs 95 lakh were reportedly spent by Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to justify the pardon and till now SGPC has not been able to justify spending the money of the religious institution for an act which was politically motivated and was followed by a somersault. Later SAD-BJP alliance took support from the controversial Dera in 2017 assembly election.
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It is anybody’s guess that how talking about Bargari sacrilege or Behbal Kalan firing can amount to toeing radical line.
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The speeches in the debate in the assembly revolved around Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh community but these was not a single negative reference to any other community. If any harsh words were used by the Sikh or non-Sikh MLAs in the assembly, these were not against any other community but against those leaders who have been claiming to be the sole leaders of Sikhs. The only other target of the barbs was Sirsa Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, serving sentence for rapes and facing some other criminal cases. Go to social media, these are the Sikh netizens who are sharing and appreciating the "expose” on Akal Takht Jathedar Gurbachan Singh in the assembly by Congress MLA Harminder Singh Gill, a former top leader of All India Sikh Students Federation who also remained in Jodhpur jail after Operation Blue Star. From where does this threat to communal harmony come?

Even the Sikh groups, who are participating in the morcha at village Bargari, who are rarely mentioned without prefixes like radicals or hardliners and SAD chief Sukhbir Badal loves to call them ISI agents and separatists, have not uttered a single word against any other community. They have been training guns against Badals, Ram Rahim and those who were involved in the sacrilege. Leave aside Hindus (explicit mention here is again deliberate) they have not even said anything against ordinary Premis – the Sirsa Dera followers. What is really radical in talking about these two issues?
 
Since the sacrilege and firing incidents of October 2015, there has not been a single instance of communal clash or any attack on ordinary Premis even as there were state wide protests in second and third week of October 2015 and state government simply appeared helpless. Is it not laudable that no such clash or assault on community lines took place despite people were angry? If there were any assaults these were on a few SGPC members or SAD leaders.
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Even the Sikh groups, who are participating in the morcha at village Bargari, who are rarely mentioned without prefixes like radicals or hardliners and SAD chief Sukhbir Badal loves to call them ISI agents and separatists, have not uttered a single word against any other community.
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Even after the blame for sacrilege was pinned on some Dera followers around two months back and they were arrested, there has not been any instance of clash between Sikhs or Premis. Where is the so called threat to communal harmony? Is it not bizarre that in place of appreciating their own community for restraint, Akali leaders are raising this bogey of threat to communal harmony? The only time Premis faced the heat after the sacrilege of 2015 was at the hands of police or para military forces in Panchkula on August 25, 2017.

These are not the calls for justice, which lead to trouble but denial of justice. If SAD can be appreciated for including Hindus and other communities in its fold then why should Congress, AAP or for that matter any other be not welcomed and appreciated for speaking about sacrilege and firing incidents? These developments are rather helping transcend the communal lines.
 

 

 

 

*I P Singh is Assistant Editor at The Times of India, Jalandhar. He specializes in deciphering religio-political peculiarities and complexities of Punjab. This article is being reproduced here courtesy https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com

 

 

 


 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

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_______________________________________________________________


Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT


 






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