THE CROWDS ARE angry, and they are baying for blood. The rulers are guiding them as to whose blood they must spill. Brandishing unsheathed swords, swinging sturdy lathis and shouting the war cry of Bole So Nihal, the devout are converging wherever they find a senior Akali leader plans to visit.
Top leaders of the ruling Congress, the self-anointed saviours of the Guru, are exhorting the devout to mete exactly such a treatment to their political opponents. The police, trained in the black arts of who to ignore and who to listen to, isn’t rushing around to book anyone fanning trouble. The media has so far not found anything particularly disgusting with ministers and legislators using the floor of the Punjab Assembly to ask voters to lynch their opponents. They dropped hints, suggested violence and exhorted crowds from the floor of the Assembly to not let elected representatives of the Akali Dal and their leaders to enter villages. Apparently, a lot has become kosher for Punjab’s media, including a minister seriously suggesting that Parkash Singh Badal should have killed his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, the day he was born.
Two more paragraphs and many may suspect this to be a sinister attempt to defend the indefensible: the be-adbi of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Worse, many may not even read any further because it is already suspiciously sounding like the defence of the Akali Dal leadership.
That’s the limit of tolerance – about 200 words. Reading anything beyond, or between the lines, has become anathema. Punjab is walking the path of the lynch mob. In a different set of circumstances, the Badals would have done the same. The Aam Aadmi Party leadership actually did the same in the past. The breakaway group of Sukhpal Singh Khaira explicitly tells people to lynch opponents.
Ironically, this piece does not deal with why Congress or AAP, and its clone, are behaving in such a way. Instead, this one is focussed on why the Akali Dal finds itself in this singularly weak position.
The Badals’ hold over the party and the levers of power was the reason for their success and the exact reason for their current predicament. But what about the rest of the Akali Dal leadership?
In a piece chronicling the best and the worst in the journey of the Shiromani Akali Dal, senior journalist Hamir Singh marks the edging out of veteran Gurcharan Singh Tohra and the resultant vice-like grip of the Badals on the party, the SGPC and the clergy as the critical point for this downward trend. He also cites the back to back victories of the Akali Dal and the obsequious crediting of Sukhbir Singh Badal and his CEO-style of politics for this success among the reasons.
The fact is that while the Badals’ hold over the party and the levers of power was the reason for their success and the exact reason for their current predicament, it is the failure of the rest of the Akali Dal leadership to rise to the occasion and hold their ground that cannot be excused. The entire crop of senior leaders virtually owes their position to the House of Badals – the Dhindsas, Bhunders, Brahmpuras, included.
The Akali Dal never underwent even a modicum of introspection after the humiliating defeat in the 2017 elections when it came a poor third, winning even lesser seats than a ragtag AAP.
Normally, a defeat so massive would have either spurred the party into some introspection, or at least to enact a charade of introspection. Gone was the need for even a pretence, like the one the Akalis once enacted in a Shimla hotel in the past.
The Badals knew there was no one in the party who could seriously question the leadership. The ten years of talk of Progressive Punjab summits, super highways, airports, malls, air conditioned bus stands and sewa kenders, and the charade of sangat darshans had failed, and yet no one challenged the son to a leadership duel.
This is how the party now works:
There is The Leader. He is the master strategist. The core committee, working committee, political affairs committee etc expresses full faith in the high command. Third rung leaders lack the gumption to question why The Leader is selected and not elected. Being seen with The Leader on a stage is peddled as their achievement. For such a photo-op, the minions obediently gather around The Leader. The Leader utters some inanity about a Navjot Singh Sidhu, or a Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the third-rung hordes waiting at the gates chirp in unison. The Leader remains plastered on hoardings across Punjab.
The Leader stamps his authority by declaring that his writ still runs, that he plans to strike now at Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan. The minions are awestruck by the omnipotence of their leader.
These minions have no ambition to matter in the scheme of things. They merely want to be able to pretend that they matter in the scheme of things. They are frequently reminded of their utter dependence for security and survival on The Leader. "Call me if anyone torments you,” The Leader tells them. "I will go and hold a rally in Sunil Jakhar’s village,” he thunders. No one asks if that is what the party or Punjab need right now.
He will recast the party now. He has brought out the veterans, covered in cobwebs. The veterans are happy that they will also now get a chance to figure in a three-column picture in the Ajit newspaper. If it appears in The Tribune, that will be a cloud nine feeling.
No one mentions the "shrinking universe of morals.”
It is the same pattern that The Leader adopted during his years in power. He would pass the crumbs around, very carefully, making the minions first fight for it, and then be grateful when they get a morsel. For how else will the morsel look big if the minions do not fight for it? And the leader knows how to keep such fights going. Holding back the morsels is one way. Letting know that more morsels are on the way is another.
Read the past conduct. Minion A becomes a halqa-incharge. Minion B is promised he will be made one if Minion A fails. Minion C hopes both pull each other down. All minions are also selected by The Leader. Lesser minions insert advertisements and put up flex hoardings to proclaim their direct link with Minion A or Minion B.
The Leader, meanwhile, has many favours to bestow. Such as choosing to have a cup of tea with a wanna-be Minion C. This is projected by the house-trained media as a major political move. Dropping in on a marriage ceremony to bless the newlyweds is considered a hallmark of the humility of The Leader.
The minions then emulate The Leader. Everyone has read the signal. Follow The Leader, follow The Leader's actions, follow his pretences, too. Follow his shams, his theatre, his Punch and Judy act through the maze of politics.
The Leader, meanwhile, practices the art of survival. He is hailed for being a survivor. But no one mentions that the survival is because of his immense capacity to shun principles.
The Leader calls his political alliance a Fraternal Alliance. The desperateness earlier used to take him to sundry havans, yagyas, aartis, poojas. He was routinely spotted at the darbar of one or the other satguru. Satgurus have massive and captive vote banks.
The politics of The Leader becomes a game of clever formulations. Earlier, he talked about higher MSP of crops, international airports, thermal plants. Now, it is about river waters, Chandigarh, attack on SGPC, zulm on his minions. At times, he throws in the ISI of Pakistan. If he did not need to visit the US off and on, he might well have added the CIA. (The Americans should thank Akali politics for small mercies.)
If things do not work out, The Leader may be forced to pull out the 1980s card: the Azad Hasti of the Sikhs!
Their silence is much louder than the cries of Bole So Nihal in the Assembly. It is a nefarious pact to maintain conspiratorial silence. Everything else is a sideshow.
The fact is that when the party of history came to power, it dumped the history. Forgot the legacy. Trashed its own struggle. Became the party of airports and Progressive Punjab summits and cheque distribution at Sangat Darshans and managing administration through halqa-incharges. Out of power, it merely wants to put up a show of being the opposition but basically wants to merely wait it out.
Minions, too, wait. And as they wait, they hail The Leader. The Leader is now too big. He is a monolith. He is such a burden and has to be propped up at all times, because he cannot be allowed to fall. After all, he is the face and the body of the party. Down below and deep inside, there is nothing to the party. It is all hollow.
The Leader faces little threat because he believes in nothing. He has not taught the minions to believe in anything, so they, too, cannot threaten. When you believe in nothing, there is nothing that you need to desist from doing if there is some advantage that could be accrued. That’s why there are many who are ready to believe the most sinister of the allegations.
The Leader is helped by others, by those outside his party. They, too, are chips of the same block. They, too, are leaders in the same league. "Baki vee sab same ne,” goes the argument. So why change?
The minions have a logical line of reasoning: "Can one leader be any different from the other? Does any leader live by any ideals? Then why blame The Leader? Why blame a particular leader? The flaw is systemic. So we can live with The Leader.”
No one mentions the "shrinking universe of morals.” The ideas and ideology for the attainment of which the party was founded no longer permeate or radiate into those who are outside the party or organisation, just as it no longer affects those who are inside it.
Once you shun ideology, the movement becomes a party. Then it becomes a mere electoral machine. So it has to ‘adjust’. Adjustment means compromises. It becomes acceptable language. Even acceptable formulation. Soon, it is raised to the level of an ideology. "We will give tickets to the winning candidates.” It is acceptable language, because even the opponents have the same ideology. They both state it in public, on the microphone. The media gets housetrained. xyz is a winning candidate from constituency A, it writes.
But the transformation doesn’t stop there. Indeed, it has just begun. For the character of the one who has wrested the office of party pardhan, stamps itself on the entire organisation, on every level of the organisation. His very success legitimises ambition, greed, intrigue and double-dealing.
It becomes imperative for The Leader that the only voices are the ones that hail him. So he ensures that all gatherings unanimously resolve to leave the choice of nominating all office-bearers to him. The party hierarchy comes to consist entirely of nominees of The Leader, and of those who, for the moment, have managed to insinuate themselves into the good books of The Leader.
In reality, the stronger that The Leader and his circle appear, the weaker is the organisation. Power now flows solely from The Leader. "Don’t worry, it is just a matter of time. Four years will pass quickly.” Basically, he was earlier a ruler, now he is waiting to be a ruler.
Those whose claim to representation was to bring an alternative politics are trying to prop up an alternative Leader of the Opposition. Earlier his battles were confined to a Bibi Jagir Kaur or a Rana Gurjit Singh. Now, his target is a Harpal Cheema.
The important thing in all of this is not to let The Leader succeed in his charade of leadership. The even more important thing is not to let the current ruling dispensation get away with the claim that it is trying to fix things and do the right thing by enacting more charade – taking back the inquiry from the CBI, telling people to lynch Akalis, and underlining a remarkably innocent faith in the fairness and non-partisanship of the Punjab Police.
Both sides are treating you as fools. Those hailing Sukhbir Singh Badal for his micromanagement of politics are fools. Those adamant on thrusting the panthic leadership on Amarinder Singh are stupid, because they are being fools even after watching what happened to their counterparts in the Akali Dal.
The aan-baan-shaan of the Guru cannot be predicated on the ability, proclivity and capacity of small time politicians and their masters. At a time when all the dramatis personae are speaking too much, listen to what they are not saying.
When two parties call each other the dushman of the Sikhs, it is a sign that the fight is for the same turf, not for the aan-baan-shaan of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
From an Amarinder Singh to a Sukhbir Singh Badal, from a Navjot Singh Sidhu to a Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, from a Harminder Singh Gill to a Sukhpal Singh Khaira, from a Bhagwant Mann to an HS Phoolka, they are all shouting loudly – and so silently – on the top issues of our times. Their silence is much louder than the cries of Bole So Nihal in the Punjab Assembly.
It is a nefarious pact, one that is just not possible for anyone with any claim to believe in the teachings of the Gurus. Amarinder Singh and the Badals share the same conspiratorial silence. Everything else is a sideshow.
This silence is the common thread between those who claimed that the 'Congress was the enemy of the Sikhs' and those who now peddle that the Badals were responsible for sacrilege.
The test of a politician is what he has to say about what is most crucial to your life, security, independence, rights. The test of the media is if it asks the questions that directly affect how your tomorrow will turn out to be. Instead, the Hindu-Muslim debate of the rest of the country is being reflected in Punjab in the form of political positions on the sensitive issue of sacrilege.
When you have two parties calling each other the dushman
of the Sikhs, then you know that the fight is for the same turf. The Akali Dal portrayed itself as the party of the Sikhs. The BJP of Amit Shah-Modi portrayed itself as the party of the Hindus in the country. Then came Rahul Gandhi sporting a janeyu
, laying claim to being a Shivbhakt
. In Punjab, you now have a Congress laying claim to be the saviour of the Sikh panth. In the Punjab Assembly, the good people of Punjab heard a minister making a case for infanticide on the floor of the Assembly, with not one sound of protest.
In such a matrix, it becomes possible for the media to forget to ask Amarinder Singh if he agrees with Rahul Gandhi’s view on the Rafael fighter jets deal. My bet is that he will not squeak a word on it. It is now kosher for the media not to ask Amarinder Singh about the state of the Enforcement Directorate case against his family members. Amarinder Singh’s view on the state of joblessness in the country is not known, even though Rahul Gandhi makes his view public every day. Ask Amarinder Singh or Parkash Singh Badal or Sukhpal Singh Khaira about the civil society activists arrested in the country, and you will get silence.
They cannot even speak about demonetisation, not even after the RBI has counted all the notes.
And you thought these are the brave leaders who will do anything for the aan-baan-shaan of Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
You are today going out with an unsheathed sword or swinging a lathi after those who you believe committed sacrilege, or you are going to answer the call of the leader who says you only have to wait for three plus more years, or you are ready to spew venom on the social media because you believe the answer lies in a Bhagwant Mann or a Sukhpal Khaira.
It is because you hear what they say. And you are not listening to what they are not saying.
Are you fooling yourself, or the Guru?
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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