MANY SIKHS HAD a problem with a movie called Jo Bole So Nihal. Not too long ago, many Sikhs had a problem with Nanak Shah Fakir. Some sections of the Sikhs had an issue with the Aamir Khan starrer PK. A few pro-Badal Sikhs did have a serious problem with Udta Punjab.
In each of these cases, their maximum demand was that the movie be banned. Often, in pragmatic terms, the demand was to ban the screening of the movie in Punjab.
Now, all those hurt Sikhs will be able to legitimately claim that the directors, producers and actors in case of each of these movies be jailed for their entire lives as they have hurt the religious sentiments of the devout.
Sukhbir Singh Badal's cabinet and government cleared such a law, but it wanted life term for committing sacrilege of the Sikh religious scriptures. Now, the Centre has said that piece of legislation was discriminatory.
Punjab government has now made the legal measure more secular: no matter whose religious sentiments you hurt, you will end up in jail for the rest of your life.
So, there is Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs, Bhagwad Gita of the Hindus, the holy Quran of the Muslims, and the Bible of the Christians.
Gradually, as time passes, you can be sure that other religious texts of other religions will be added to the list, or at least there will be a strong demand and pressure that it be done.
If a Bhaniara Baba style holy man comes up with a granth of his own, and manages to attract a significant number of devotees who can sway the election in a few constituencies, there may be a state government that will be tempted to play to the gallery and add that freshly scribbled granth, too.
They want to save the religion, by making it tough not just to question any religious practice but even by making it tougher for saner people to question the law that tries to save the religion by jailing people.
General Zia Ul Haq did so in Pakistan. Sukhbir Singh Badal did so during his reign. Amarinder Singh has done it now. They have all been at it for long.
The Akali Dal has been playing the religion card blatantly, and has been blamed for it, mostly rightly. The Congress claims to be secular but Amarinder Singh has been flirting with the radical Sikh constituency also. He took the lead in celebrating Sikh centenaries during his earlier tenure, thus forcing the Badals to reclaim the panthic turf by organising massive jamboories to mark Sikh centenaries.
For too long, the Badals have been gaming the state politics in such a way that the fight becomes panthic. Now, every party is an Akali Dal.
On blasphemy laws, both have acted as men of straw, buckling before the hotheads.
But seeped in a religio-political idiom, its political grammar decided by its glorious pre-Independence history and post-Independence struggle for provincial autonomy, the Shiromani Akali Dal is today facing a new kind of challenge — every opponent of it has become an Akali Dal.
For too long, the Badals have been gaming the state politics in such a way that the fight becomes panthic. The Congress as well as the Aam Aadmi Party have also yielded to the temptation of trying the panthic card. They both tried to fan and capitalise on the anti-Akali sentiment by adopting the agenda of finding the guilty of sacrilege incidents. This followed two back-to-back fast-unto-deaths by Sikh activists to demand the release of Sikh detenues.
All these politicians find it easier to do politics of references to ‘sadh sangat ji’, 'guru' and 'guru ghar'. The Akali Dal's panthic political idiom has become a gold-standard mix for everyone.
Gone is the tilt towards Punjab-Punjabi-Punjabiat. This is the panth-in-danger line back in currency. The romance for the new astroturf of secular politics hasn’t lasted long. The SAD did try to become a brand acceptable to trade and business, but it just cannot give up the immense benefits that can be reaped from the panthic turf.
Gone is the tilt towards Punjab-Punjabi-Punjabiat. This is the panth-in-danger line back in currency. The romance for the new astroturf of secular politics hasn’t lasted long.
Amarinder Singh presided over umpteen Sikh shatabdis (centenaries), visited Nankana Sahib, led a huge march to install a palanquin at the historical shrine and even tried to best the Badals for control of the SGPC, at one stage with some help from veteran Akali leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra, then estranged from the SAD. Many Congress leaders felt uneasy with the party turning panthic under Amarinder Singh during his 2002-2007 reign, much to the chagrin of senior leadership.
Incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, the resultant wave of anger, the flip-flop by the Sikh clergy on forgiving Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmit Ram Rahim and sundry other issues seemingly left the Akali Dal marooned on a political island, but the entire opposition thought it kosher to turn the couch the politics in the idiom of religiosity.
Amarinder Singh’s government’s attempt to bring in a blasphemy law is the last in this evolution of every party in Punjab becoming some kind of an Akali Dal. It could be the defeat of the Akalis, in the sense that their panthic turf is being encroached upon by others, but it is their victory in terms of principle.
SAD can now accuse Amarinder Singh of committing actual sacrilege by legally and literally equating Sri Guru Granth Sahib with religious texts of other communities, something anathema to most Sikhs.
A Rahul Gandhi becoming a twice born Hindu by displaying his Janeu is the final victory of the BJP, because it denotes that the Congress has become a BJP Lite. With this legislative measure, all that Amarinder Singh has left to do is to tie a royal blue turban, since his is the Akali Dal Lite. The Aam Aadmi Party with Sukhpal Singh Khaira as its face is definitely an Akali Dal Ultra Lite trying to become an Akali Dal Lite under the leadership of a man whose father once used to shout Khalistan.
The Akali Dal now has a chance to accuse Amarinder Singh of committing sacrilege since his government has actually, legally and literally equated Sri Guru Granth Sahib with religious texts of other communities, something anathema to most Sikhs. But with its ties with BJP already under strain, Sukhbir Singh Badal will prefer to wait. However, many radical groups will not.
The politics of Punjab is truly stagnating, and the stink is becoming unbearable. That sacrilege should hurt the sentiments of people of all religions, and also of none.
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