OPINION
BROKEN RECORD
“Congress Sikhan Di Dushman Jamaat Hai?” —Akalis need to dump broken record, shift gears
- kanwar manjit singh
“Congress Sikhan Di Dushman Jamaat Hai?” —Akalis need to dump broken record, shift gears



YET ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY of Operation Bluestar came and went by. And yet another occasion for the Badals-led Shiromani Akali Dal to paint the Congress as "Sikhan Di Dushman Jamaat" will come up very soon. 

The panchayat elections are not very far away, and the anniversary of the anti-Sikh massacres in Delhi and elsewhere in October/November. Since it will be closer to the 2019 elections, we will all hear more about how "Congress is the real enemy number one” of the Sikhs.

The imagery of army tanks in the parikarma of the Golden Temple is potent enough to sway hearts, minds, votes. So why would the Akali Dal not use it?

In fact, truth also helps. All that the Badals — Parkash/Sukhbir/Harsimrat and clan — have to quote are simple facts:

# It was Congress prime minister Indira Gandhi who ordered army action.

# It was under the tutelage of her son Rajiv Gandhi that the November massacres happened.

The narrative remains controlled: it never spills out to become too sticky. You can be in the Congress and thus be an enemy of the Sikh quom. You can leave the Congress and join the Akali Dal and thus be on the other side of this grand faultline.

People do it all the time. They shun Akali Dal and join Congress, or vice versa, and they pick up the practised rhetoric with remarkable ease. To an outsider, the bizzareness of it all is unbelievable; to the local media, it is almost not even worth reporting.
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You can be in the Congress and thus be an enemy of the Sikh quom. You can leave the Congress and join the Akali Dal and thus be on the other side of this grand faultline. People do it all the time.
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Also, there is little impact on social networks of this binary polemic of hatred. No one tells you at a marriage ceremony that three of the guests having food outside are actually affiliated to the Congress and are thus, clearly, aiding an identified "enemy of the Sikh quom". No child has ever reported that he was discriminated against because his father had once fought an election on a Congress ticket.

News reports of violent, even bloody scuffles, between Akali and Congress supporters remained a staple story in the media but only because one side wanted to retain control of a sand mine, or a parking contract, or a truck union; not because one side thought the other was an enemy of the Sikh quom.

At least I have not come across a single matrimonial advertisement that says the bride or the groom must not have ever voted for the Congress, and must undertake to always consider the Congress as the enemy of the Sikh quom. (And as God is my witness, I have seen a humungous number of ads that include filters related to height, income, skin complexion, IELTS bands, Canadian or American PR status and even waist size. But party affiliation was never mentioned in one of them.)

Still, the narrative about the Congress being an enemy of the Sikh quom has remained fairly constant. 

Now, politicians are some of the most shrewed people on this planet. That's why they rule. They wouldn't do something if it weren't having some intended impact. 

(It is not for nothing that the meek have not inherited the earth so far, despite the good book clearly predicting it. The politicians rule because they get us.)

Operation Bluestar was 34 years ago. So were the anti-Sikh massacres. The Congress party leadership which took those decisions was a different one. Political party DNA is a rather nebulous thing in contemporary politics.

In the speeches made at every anniversary of Operation Bluestar, one hears of the promise made to the Sikhs at the time of Independence - an area where they can feel the glow of freedom. It has been interpreted to political and cultural autonomy to Khalistan and what not by every self-styled Ramachandra Guha in a turban.
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Operation Bluestar was 34 years ago. So were the anti-Sikh massacres. The Congress party leadership which took those decisions was a different one. Political party DNA is a rather nebulous thing in contemporary politics.
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The fact is that the one thing which politics is not is static. No political party is static, and no leadership is. A Congress that Rajiv Gandhi inherited from his mother by a twist of history, fate and bullets was different from the one that PV Narasimha Rao ran. The Congress under Sitaram Kesri was different from the one that Sonia Gandhi cast in her own persona.

And in her 20 years at the helm, longer than any since a British civil servant Allan Octavian Hume set up the outfit in 1885, Sonia Gandhi has bequeathed a very different party to her son, Rahul Gandhi. No "Sikhan di dushman jamaat” would have made Manmohan Singh the prime minister of India. An enemy of the Sikhs would have found some other economist than a Montek Singh Ahluwalia to head the Planning Commission. There was always someone else available to honour than Air Chief Marshal Arjun Singh. No enemy of the Sikhs would have regretted Operation Bluestar, apologised for it. 

Add to it the regional flavour that someone like Amarinder Singh brings to the Congress in Punjab. The Akali rhetoric about a Congress which brought tanks into Darbar Sahib runs into a wall when the party man who calls shots in Punjab is someone who was quick to quit Parliament and Congress in protest against Operation Bluestar. 

The Congress central leadership backed him as chief minister of Punjab in 2002, and then again in 2017, even after he had at one stage threatened to quit the party and form his separate outfit.

You think a "Sikhan di dushman jamaat” would have bet on Amarinder Singh as its man in Punjab? 

In fact, such has been the force of Amarinder Singh's own region-specific politics that at one stage when he was hailed as the protector of the waters of Punjab, the Akalis did not know what to target him for. His SYL-blocker bill was a challenge to the federal government, top judiciary and even his own top party leadership that he can dig in and stand up for Punjab.

The narrative of "Congress is the enemy of the Sikhs" comes in handy for the Akalis to counter this image of Amarinder Singh. 

In a more evolved liberal democracy, a lot of people spouting such venom openly would have been behind the bars for hate speech. 

It is time for the Akali Dal, the average Akali worker, and the people at large of Punjab, to rise above this warped discourse. We are only breeding hatred with this rhetoric. The reality is starkly different. 
 
The Congress in Punjab behaves very differently that the Congress at the Centre. Amarinder Singh, in his earlier tenure, not only celebrated some grand Sikh shatabdis but saw to it that the Punjab-Punjab bond street widens. Those with reasonable memory will recall how the golden palki reached Nankana Sahib.
 

THE PALKI YATRA 2005: Then Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh with his West Punjab counterpart Chaudhary Pervez Elahi during his earlier tenure.


Amarinder Singh even had to fend off attacks from within the party when he brought people like militant-turned-politician Harminder Singh Gill into the partyfold.

Today's Congress is a party that can legitimately take some pride in bringing in MGNREGA and RTE and RTI. Today's Congress is a party that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah would love to decimate. It was not long ago that the Akal Takht was telling the Sikhs that the RSS was enemy number one of the community. One wonders if the Badals remember this when they call Congress the enemy of Sikhs but are jumping about in sheer ecstasy when Amit Shah comes calling.
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The Congress in Punjab behaves very differently that the Congress at the Centre. Amarinder Singh, in his earlier tenure, not only celebrated some grand Sikh shatabdis but saw to it that the Punjab-Punjab bond street widens. Those with reasonable memory will recall how the golden palki reached Nankana Sahib.
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Political parties are dynamic organisms. Today's Akali Dal has only a very precarious claim on the historical legacy of the Akali morchas. A Rahul Gandhi today has little claim to be a great intellectual just because a direct blood line connects him to Jawahar Lal Nehru. Badal can get the clerics to call him Panth Rattan but that does not make him a Baba Kharak Singh.

It is time the community turns back and tells the politicians to move beyond the narrative of enemy of the community. 

The Sikh community must continue and chase justice, howsoever elusive, for the victims of the 1984 massacres. We must always shame the Congress for the Emergency its leadership imposed in 1975. We must always hold the then Congress’ leadership responsible for deciding to send tanks inside the Golden Temple.

Those who demanded army action became friends of Akali Dal. It just proves the point that the politics is dynamic.

 
Just as we must always question the RSS and the BJP for L K Advani’s claims in his memoirs that it was his pressure that forced Indira Gandhi to go for Operation Bluestar. Just as we must always question the RSS and the BJP for the poisonous politics we are currently witnessing in the country. Just as we must go after the BJP for the 2002 riots in Gujarat and demand justice for the minorities. 

There are parties that turn the enemies of human rights from time to time, and we need to call these out.

People need to see leaders who reflect leadership-like qualities. They need to talk of policy formulation, and jobs, and economic policies, and state of the farming, and the situation of dalits.

The Congress is the enemy of the Sikhs is a broken record. Just as the Akali Dal is a friend of the Sikhs is a record that does not play out very well now.
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Between the new generations of Akali and Congress leadership, they need to give Punjab’s politics a new grammar bereft of hate and divisiveness and the language of a party being an enemy of people of one religion.
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At one stage, Sukhbir Singh Badal seemed to have made a generational shift by pulling the party out of triply-filtered identity politics and talking of development, atta dal and shagun schemes and bicycles for girls, alongside super highways and water bus. The dynamics of panthic politics seemed to have pushed him back to the Panth in Danger line.

Between the new generations of Akali and Congress leadership, they need to give Punjab’s politics a new grammar bereft of hate and divisiveness and the language of a party being an enemy of people of one religion. Otherwise, the laws will catch up with you soon. Already, the Akali Dal is fighting a losing battle on the issue of two Constitutions, one panthic and the other secular. It needs to decide which one to dump.

Any new grammar of politics needs to talk about Operation Bluestar and anti-Sikh massacres in terms of human rights, civil liberties, political aspirations and legitimate space for resistance politics, so that your politics also covers Islamophobia and the bogeys of branding people anti-national because they belong to one religion. Sikhs have seen this in Punjab earlier; their politics must not allow it to happen to another community across India. 

"Congress Sikhan Di Dushamn Jamaat” narrative projects Akali Dal as a party left behind in a time warp. The politics has moved on, and so have political parties. The sooner the Shiromani Akali Dal realises it, the sooner it will stop being an enemy of the community itself. Otherwise, the history has so much in its fold that a lot will singe the Congress but a lot more will come back to haunt the legacy of the Badals.
 
 

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