WHATEVER HAPPENS in India in the 2019 elections, an unlikely constituency - Khadoor Sahib - is slated to become the cynosure of Panjab. In Khadoor Sahib a democratic electoral process has pitted two radically different Sikh ideologies against each other.
The town Sultanpur Lodhi, associated with Guru Nanak, is located in the Khadoor Sahib constituency. In 1475 AD the elder sister of Guru Nanak, Bibi Nanki was married to Shri Jai Ram of Sultanpur Lodhi. In 1483 Guru’s father sent Guru Nanak to the custody of Shri Jai Ram. Guru Nanak was employed as the in-charge of the civil supplies store. In June 1488, Guru Nanak married Bibi Sulkhani and begot two sons Shri Chand and Lakmi Chand in this town. In those years and later Guru Nanak also spent 14 years, 9 months and 13 days meditating under a Jujube (Ber) tree next to the rivulet Kali Bein. In 1497 Guru Nanak disappeared in the Kali Bein. He reappeared after three days and his first sermon was: Na koi Hindu, na koi Musalmaan
(no one is Hindu, no one is Muslim). This sermon led to the birth of the Sikh religion. Thereafter Guru Nanak started his first of four Udasis
2019 General Elections
Earlier a breakaway group from SAD (Badal) called SAD (Taksali) had nominated retired Army chief General JJ Singh from Khadoor Sahib. On Tuesday, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) announced their candidate for the Khadoor Sahib seat: Bibi Jagir Kaur.
Twice Bibi Jagir Kaur has headed the Sikh apex body Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee - the only times a woman has occupied the high seat. Once she has been MLA and part of the SAD (Badal) cabinet. However, first time in her stint with SGPC, she had to step down following the unnatural death of her daughter Harpreet Kaur - considered an honour killing. Bibi Jagir Kaur was an accused. The matter was investigated by Central Bureau of Investigation who sentenced her and she had to step down from being SAD (Badal) minister in 2012-13. Later the Panjab and Haryana High Court absolved her of the crime. Yet the stigma of kudimar (girl killer) stays. I heard her speech today, it was full of praise for Parkash Singh Badal and Narendra Modi. Besides that, she accused Congress of everything from Operation Blue Star to current woes - farmer loans, drugs etc.
Her rival is a consensus candidate from six small political parties who have come together under the banner of Panjab Democratic Alliance: Bibi Paramjit Kaur. Bibi Paramjit Kaur is the widow of Panjab's legendary Human Rights activist Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra.
During militancy in Panjab 1978-1993, Khalra was a bank director in Amritsar. In those days, under President's rule for 5 long years and collapse of democracy, the police had empowered themselves to detain suspects for any reason, ostensibly as suspected militants. Police killed unarmed suspects in staged shootouts and cremated thousands of dead bodies to cover up the murders. Seeing that many of his friends and colleagues had gone missing, Khalra researched information which eventually led him to find files from the municipal corporation of Amritsar which had information containing the names, age and addresses of thousands of Sikhs and some Hindus who had been killed and illegally cremated by the Punjab Police. Later under the remit of the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission conducted an inquiry into the circumstances leading to the cremations. The NHRC found 2097 dead bodies as unclaimed/unidentified in the police districts of Amritsar, Majitha and Tarn Taran between June 1984 to December 1994. Khalra asserted that many thousands of forced disappearances and fake encounters had taken place.
I am amazed by how in a bid for political power the SAD (Badal) is willing to overlook the deep concern of Panjab's people and their experiences.
On 6 September 1995, while washing his car in front of his house in Amritsar, Khalra was abducted by the Punjab Police and taken to Jhabal police station. Although witnesses gave statements implicating the police and have named former police chief Kanwar Pal Singh Gill as a conspirator, police denied having ever arrested or detained him, and claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts. In 1996, the CBI found evidence that Khalra was held at a police station in Tarn Taran and recommended the prosecution of nine Punjab police officials for murder and kidnapping. Those accused of his murder were not charged for ten years. On 18 November 2005, six Punjab police officials were convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for Khalra's abduction and murder. On 16 October 2007 a division bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court, extended the sentence to life imprisonment for four accused. All through these years Bibi Pramjit Kaur kept pursuing the cases. In 2017 the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), following a 7 year investigation, concluded that 8257 cases of enforced disappearances and fake encounters had taken place from 1984 to 1995. This is Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra's and Panjab's legacy.
That is why I am stunned that in Khadoor Sahib Bibi Jagir Kaur from SAD (Badal) and General JJ Singh from Akali Dal (Taksali) are even challenging Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra from PDA.
SAD (Badal) calls itself a panthic party. It supposedly represents the concerns of Sikhs and Panjab. As seen in results of the 2017 assembly elections when it was relegated to third place, SAD lost significant ground after a decade of anti-incumbency, the incidents of sacrilege and police firing on unarmed protesters, and pardon to Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim (now in a long jail term over rapes and murders). SAD has now projected Bibi Jagir Kaur - who at best has a dubious record - to challenge Bibi Paramjit Kaur's candidature. Bibi Paramjit Kaur's family has championed Human Rights by challenging the impunity for the uniform and its excesses which remain a central theme of Panjab because until date the unbridled police power remain responsible for the breakdown of democracy and social systems. Then there is General JJ Singh who is really a non-contestant because neither has he expressed a coherent argument nor has he projected a real fight ever since he started contesting elections in 2017.
I am amazed by how in a bid for political power the SAD (Badal) is willing to overlook the deep concern of Panjab's people and their experiences. SAD is unable to see that by seeking to contest, by seeking to become Member of Parliament, Bibi Paramjit Kaur is indicating that despite the loss of her husband to the police, despite the loss of who her husband was searching for - but were lost to state forces - she still believes in democracy, in the Constitution, in the Parliament.
Is this even a contest?
Yet, the reality is what it is and it shows both: SAD's greed and a vertical split in the Sikh community. I feel anyone who is interested in justice should just withdraw from contest and support Bibi Paramjit Kaur. If she wins, Bibi Paramjit Kaur is the people's best chance to send a representative to Parliament who can question the state's structural impunity for police and armed forces. Beyond Panjab, this is in the interest of North East, Kashmir, Bastar, now Uttar Pradesh and any other region where the state unleashes violence. That is why SAD wants to defeat her. If now Congress and AAP enter the fray, it shows us in how many ways Panjab is divided.
I just heard Bibi Paramjit Kaur speak today. She is a study in grace and poise. She talked about Khadoor Sahib which is a traditional SAD bastion. Referring to Bibi Jagir Kaur and herself, she said, 'This is the panth's seat and it will go to the panth. But we will be able to tell the world who is the real panth.' She further added, 'If this seat comes to us, the world will know we won it on the agenda of human rights.'
It is once again up to the people of Khadoor Sahib to stand up for human rights and signal the Sikh panth.
Amandeep Sandhu is working on non-fiction book on Panjab.
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