Congress Treads Radical Line in Sacrilege Row to Emerge as Patron of Sikhism
While on one hand, the tirade against the Badals in the Punjab assembly showcased that they had ruined the Sikh ‘quam’, on the other, it gave an opportunity to the government to portray itself as the redeemer.
Chandigarh: As Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh rose to speak in the Vidhan Saba during the debate on the Justice (Retd) Ranjit Singh Commission report on sacrilege on Tuesday, the Congress MLAs greeted him with chants of “Jai Bole Sonehaal, Sat Shri Akal”.
The gesture indicated that the mission had been accomplished, and the chief minister just had to deal the final blow. Reacting to his party men, Singh said, “Jaikara ni chhadi da assembly de vich, tussi aur kuch raunka manani hai mana lo shouk naal (Such chants are not allowed inside the assembly, you can use other slogans to celebrate).”
Singh too felt that the goal had been accomplished. For around seven hours, the members of the assembly launched a tirade against former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) joined hands to accuse the Badals of betraying the Sikh ‘panth’, even as the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) conducted a parallel mock session in the precincts of the assembly.
The optics served two purposes. While on one hand, they showcased that the Badals had ruined the Sikh ‘quam’, on the other, they gave an opportunity to the government to portray itself as the redeemer. The proceedings of the Vidhan Sabha were televised live on news channels after a long time, indicating that the government wanted the people of the state to witness the tirade against the Badals.
During the debate, the Congress legislators exhorted Captain to shun his ‘no-vendetta’ attitude — his trademark since he assumed power — and deal with the Badals with an iron hand.
“Aaj fail na hoyo (don’t fail today),” said rural development minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa as local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu went down on his knees and said, “Jholi ad karke twaddey to mang karda, inanu chadiyo na… inanu mat roko, inanu thoko (I beg you, don’t spare them)”. And the chief minister did not disappoint as he labelled Parkash Singh Badal ‘buzdil’ (coward) and ‘jhootha’ (liar).
The Congress, which has been blamed for Operation Blue Star at Shri Harmandir Sahib, used the opportunity to squarely put the blame of the incident on Parkash Singh Badal. “Whenever there was any scope of negotiation, Badal would sabotage the efforts,” he said, adding that “he would run away after promising his support to the hardliners”.
The stance adopted by the chief minister inside the House was somewhat reminiscent of his previous term between 2002 and 2007, when numerous corruption cases were registered against the Badals. Back then, the father-son duo was sent to Patiala’s Central Jail in a disproportionate assets case in December 2003.
This time though, Singh appeared to be dangerously treading along a blurry radical line.
Meanwhile in Bargadi, where the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib took place, Panthic organisations have been staging a sit-in since June 1, demanding action into the sacrilege and police firing.
The Bargari Morcha, as it was christened, was predominantly spearheaded by the radical Sarbat Khalsa-appointed parallel jathedars, including Bhai Dhian Singh Mand of the Akal Takht and Baljit Singh Daduwal of the Takht Damdama Sahib, known for their strong anti-SAD position. The morcha had also attracted the Damdami Taksal, a crucial ally of the SAD, further isolating the Badals.
On June 6, Daduwal led a delegation to meet the chief minister on the issue. What had irked the radicals even more was that the report pointed towards Sukhbir Singh Badal trying to secure pardon for Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who was abhorred by them.
The recent attacks on Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee president Manjit Singh GK in New York and California were dubbed as a manifestation of the growing anger over the issue against the Akalis in India and abroad.
What it meant was that the Congress had to ensure that the opportunity to seize the Panthic agenda does not get waylaid. The chief minister succumbed to the pressure of Congressmen, who had by now made up their mind to use the plank to corner the Badals. The sacrilege report was tabled in the Vidhan Sabha and debated.
A night before the report was presented in the House, Daduwal reportedly met Singh, a charge levied by the SAD. The next day, he refuted the allegations, but announced that the Sarbat Khalsa would contest the next SGPC elections.
During the House proceedings, a breach of privilege resolution was unanimously passed against the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president, Gobind Singh Longowal, who had rubbished the panel’s report allegedly at the behest of the former chief minister and his son.
The resolution was forwarded by cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who declared in the House the need to free the SGPC from the clutches of the SAD. He received support from Sidhu who said, “Mere Sukhi paa ji, vaddo tussi SGPC val, hum tumhare saath hain (Sukhi brother, you march towards SGPC, we are with you).”
The elections to the present SAD-dominated apex gurdwara body were last held in 2011. The House elected in 2011 was declared null and void that year by the Punjab & Haryana high court in the wake of its decision restoring voting rights of Sahajdhari Sikhs. The Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2016, though the SC ruling did not make it clear if the reinstatement meant that the five-year term of the House started afresh or was deemed to have begun in 2011.
In the 190-member SGPC, also referred to as a ‘mini-parliament of Sikhs’, 170 are elected, 15 are co-opted and the rest are Jathedars of the Takhts with no voting rights, all from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. Avtar Singh Makkar had won the presidential post in 2011.
However, in 2016, the SGPC gave the rights to choose the next president to SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. Makkar was replaced by Kirpal Singh Badungar and in November last year, Longowal — who was the SAD vice-president for 10 years — took over the reins.
The House proceedings ended late in the day after adopting a resolution with voice-vote to withdraw the Bargari, Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura cases from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and hand them to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Punjab Police. The chief minister also assured of a time-bound inquiry into the cases as sought by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).