PERSPECTIVE
Can this politics over sacrilege lead Punjab to communal polarization?
- 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

 

 

 


 

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