PUNJAB'S AMARINDER SINGH government is in deep trouble over its bright idea of selecting 550 "True Followers" of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and the people that the Congress Chief Minister can hold responsible for the mess are primarily his predecessor Prakash Singh Badal and Amarinder's own minister Charanjit Singh Channi.
While Channi, Punjab's Tourism and Culture Minister, was the one who allegedly conceived of this idea and set up a committee of scholars and experts to draw up a longlist and then a shortlist of True Followers of Guru Nanak, the regime is now caught in a cleft-stick over the mess it finds itself in.
Parkash Singh Badal being honoured with ‘Panth Rattan Fakhr-e-Quam’ award at Akal Takhat.
Excluding the name of Punjab's five-time chief minister and the supremo of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Prakash Singh Badal, would have raised serious questions and sparked massive opposition from the Akalis who hold a sway over the SGPC, the body that has come to monopolise the community's religious and social affairs domain.
But at the same time, including the name of Prakash Singh Badal as a "True Follower of Guru Nanak Dev who has achieved everything in life by following the teachings of the great Sikh Guru" was likely to result in Captain Amarinder Singh becoming the prime target of panthic domain and millions of ordinary Sikhs who blame Badal for laxity in dealing with those responsible for sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, if not direct complicity.
Sources in the CMO said at one stage it was decided that Badal Sr should not get this honour as it would unnecessary put the government in trouble and draw the ire of wide sections of the community, but then Amarinder Singh was keen not to precipitate any crisis that can give the Badals a handle to approach the Modi-Amit Shah duo to seek help in dealing with his government.
"As of now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP President Amit Shah are the last people Amarinder Singh wants to fall foul of, and it was better to gulp the bitter pill and survive the public outrage over inclusion of Badal in the list of 550 Guru Nanak followers," said the source in the CMO.
A senior Punjab minister said people will understand that the inclusion of Badal in the list was not linked to the government's determination to proceed against the guilty in sacrilege cases. However, a politician who was among the most vociferous in demanding action against the Badals on the floor of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, said the political cost of the latest imbroglio will be too high.
A senior secretary-level government official said the trouble's genesis lies in lack of thinking through the proposals that came as part of a bouquet of plans to mark the 550th Birth Anniversary celebrations of the Guru. "That is why you suddenly see that people included in the committee have such dubious distinction like having spent time behind bars in corruption case or being the author of a book that was banned by the Akal Takht," he said.
Other names in the final list of 550 are likely to raise different controversies. Inclusion of the name of any central government minister would mean honouring a member of the Union Cabinet as a True Follower of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji within days of his or her being part of the decision to virtually imprison 8 million Kashmiris in their homes for three months and taking away their Special Status.
That such an honour was being dished out by a Congress government would give Rahul Gandhi some food for thought and a possible conversation starter with CM Amarinder Singh.
"I wonder how will the Amarinder Singh government justify honouring those as True Followers of Guru Nanak who are sworn to loyalty towards the RSS and its agenda when the Akal Takht itself has declared the RSS as enemy of the Sikhs?" wondered a senior politician currently with the rival Panthic Akali Dal but earlier closely associated with the Badals.
"The problem now was to decide which will cause lesser damage to the reputation of Amarinder Singh, his CMO and his government — excluding Prakash Singh Badal or including him in the list of 550?" the CMO official said on condition of anonymity.
Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar has to greenlight the final list. The committee tasked with casting the net worldwide to identify and select the 550 "True Followers" of Guru Nanak, includes Secretary (Employment Generation) Rahul Tewari; CEO PEDA, Navjot Pal Singh Randhawa; Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, Shivdular Singh Dhillon; eminent poet Surjit Patar; Sikh scholar Dr Amarjit Singh Grewal; and Kapurthala-based social and cultural activist Kiran Bawa.
Critics had earlier raised questions about the credentials of those tasked with judging the credentials of others. Amusingly, one of the main briefs of the committee was to steer clear of controversy, but so far it has remained mired in many.
Sources said the final list of 550 is likely to include the names of all 18 Punjab-origin MPs of the recently elected Canadian Parliament, a move that is likely to spark questions whether winning a partisan election in Canada was a qualifying bar to be counted as the True Follower of Guru Nanak.
An unnamed committee member was earlier quoted in The Indian Express as saying that the panel members have "restricted our search to Punjabis only. We know for sure that they believe in Guru Nanak.” Earlier reports had said the committee had shortlisted 759 names belonging to all faiths but having a connection with Punjab. The names of Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, eminent painter Satish Kumar Gujral, a Bengali artist Arpita, and several Bollywood actors were apparently included.
Reports indicated that Capt Amarinder Singh had ruled himself out of the honour list, while Harbhajan Singh, the celebrated spinner cricketer whose sparkling business idea not long ago was to open a hair cutting and hair styling saloon, has made it to the list.
The once in a lifetime opportunity to see the government-certified "550 True Followers of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji" on one stage could be available at the IK Gujral Punjab Technical University, Kapurthala campus, on November 10, and the government could possibly expect mammoth crowds of people from all walks of life in India and countries around the world to come swooping down on the relatively small town in the next few days leading to this extra-ordinary event.
Officials did not say if Navjot Singh Sidhu was on that list. "That is like starting an even bigger controversy, and controversy is something we wanted to avoid," said a top official privy to the selection procedure and behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
Preetinder Singh Bharara, the man Wall Street rogues and Donald Trump feared, does not make the cut
WHILE THE AMARINDER SINGH government seems to have made up its mind to include all 18 winning Punjabi Canadian MPs in the list of True Followers of Guru Nanak, Preetinder Singh Bharara, 51, the Firozepur-born former US Attorney, was not even considered for the honour.
Preetinder Singh Bharara
Sources said that if the name of Bharara, a known "crusader" prosecutor credited by The New York Times as one of "the nation's most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime," was proposed by anyone, it was nowhere in the zone of consideration at least till date.
"Also, if we include men and women like him, they may actually snub the honour as they will question the credentials of the selectors. We had to play safe," explained a government official, hardly noticing the irony of playing safe to select "True Followers" of a Guru who thought nothing of challenging the mighty Babur and is certainly not being celebrated 550 years later for playing it safe.
Left out from even consideration, Bharara's credentials make him more qualified than most in the list that is rapidly being finalised now. He led from the front the prosecution of nearly 100 Wall Street executives for insider trading and other offenses, clinched historic settlements and fines with the four largest banks in the United States, closed multibillion-dollar hedge funds for activities including insider trading, masterminded raids and investigations against Democratic and Republican officials, and pushed civil rights causes, often exercising international reach and pursuing defendants located in many countries outside the United States.
The Harvard-Columbia scholar also taught at the New York University School of Law faculty as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence, but such qualifications might not have impressed the Charanjit Singh Channi committee members who otherwise claimed that they looked all over the world for such honourable Punjabi achievers.
Bharara, who at one stage was speculated as being a potential candidate as the next United States Attorney General,was featured on a cover of Time magazine entitled "This Man is Busting Wall Street" for his office's prosecutions of insider trading and other financial frauds.
He was the man responsible for showing the inside of a jail to the likes of Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta and many others. Rajat Gupta is the co-founder of Indian School of Business, an institute close to the hearts of Sukhbir Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh, both, and host to Progressive Punjab summits.
Many in India came to know of Bharara in 2013 with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York, who was accused by prosecutors of submitting false work visa documents for her housekeeper and paying the housekeeper "far less than the minimum legal wage."
When the Trump regime fired Bharara, among those who came to his support were Howard Dean, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, currently one of the front runners for the Democratic ticket to contest against Trump.
Bharara was included in Bloomberg Markets Magazine's 2012 "50 Most Influential" list as well as Vanity Fair's 2012 and 2013 annual "New Establishment" lists, but he could not make it to the Amarinder Singh-Charanjit Singh Channi list of 550 True Followers of Guru Nanak Dev.
(Punjab Today will continue to pursue and track the Punjab Government's inspired plans to identify the 550 True Followers of Guru Nanak through this peculiar manner. - Ed.)
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