With assembly elections now effectively just a few weeks away, the law and order situation in the border state of Punjab has witnessed a seemingly sudden and rapid decline. A couple of incidents of alleged sacrilegious acts have been reported from important Sikh shrines, including the Golden Temple, followed by the suspects getting lynched. A blast at the Ludhiana court complex on Thursday that killed one person and injured others is believed to be an act of terror. Also, two incidents of hand grenades being thrown were reported last month: one at a police station in Nawanshahr and another in front of Army Gate in Pathankot. Instances of drone sightings at the border with Pakistan have gone up as well.
The situation has led to widespread concern and there are fears that things may get worse in the state with a turbulent past as the elections approach closer, especially as politicians try to use the adversities to their advantage. News18 spoke to a number of prominent people connected to Punjab who shared their apprehensions and some possible solutions.
KBS Sidhu, former special chief secretary of Punjab
(Image: @Karan Bir Singh Sidhu/Facebook)
The former IAS officer said the conspiracy behind the “unpardonable” sacrilege was not just aimed at enraging and offending the Sikhs around the world but also scaring the Punjabi Hindus.
However, he said the Hindu-Sikh communal bond in Punjab is far too strong and Punjabis far too smart to fall for such “dastardly” tricks.
Talking about the blast, he said it was a blatant act of terrorism not only against the state of Punjab but against the Union of India.
“The perpetrators of this crime or conspiracy are enemies of the nation, who want to destabilise the country by striking in the border state,” he said. “However, the people of Punjab will not allow themselves to be divided along communal or religious lines, and will face this challenge unitedly.”
“The political personalities would also be well-advised to refrain from using this incident to level baseless allegations against their opponents, in the backdrop of the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha elections,” he said.
Lt Gen Balbir Singh Sandhu (Retd), Indian Army veteran
The recent matter of sacrilege in Punjab and the turn of events in the aftermath give the impression that this is all aimed at creating panic and a divide in the community and some elements are playing in the hands of the adversaries, Lt Gen Balbir Singh Sandhu (Retd) said.
“It is something to be wary of, and once we create such weaknesses in the community, it is easier for our adversary across the border to take advantage of the situation,” he said, adding that Punjab is an extremely sensitive border state and the return of normalcy here in the late 1990s has frustrated Pakistan.
“At a time when the civil administration is stretched in other efforts, it is important for the political leadership to not act irresponsibly or exploit the situation and overtly raise the sentiments of people through their speeches,” he said.
Sakoon Singh, author and academic
(Image: @Sakoon Singh/Facebook)
Incidents of sacrilege that have been sporadically reported in Punjab since 1978 have become increasingly more frequent and defiant, said Sakoon Singh, an academic and author of In the Land of the Lovers.
“They have been met with shock and extreme frustration, given the special status accorded to Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The act of sacrilege that was attempted to be committed by a man amongst the congregation at Darbar Sahib Amritsar was foiled by the guards at the sanctum sanctorum," she said.
“However, he was beaten to death by a mob. Similarly, the following morning, another alleged incident was reported from a gurdwara in Kapurthala, again leading to lynching, witnessed by a 200-strong crowd.”
Singh said while the frustration of the people can be understood at the total failure of the state to name and try those responsible for repeated instances of sacrilege, the act of lynching is in itself condemnable.
“This extreme act of violence within the precincts of a sacred space ought to be unequivocally denounced. Lynching is not in line with the Sikh ethos, and the perpetration of private medieval justice in a democracy with rule of law must be clearly rejected. There should be zero tolerance towards such fanatical acts of brutality,” she said.
Shashi Kant, former Punjab DGP
(Image: @Shashi Kant/Facebook)
There is a serious attempt to destabilise the situation in Punjab, the former top cop believes. “In the recent past, multiple incidents have happened in Punjab, from drone shooting to attempted sacrilege in Golden Temple to the blast in Ludhiana court. Everyone knows that these incidents are linked with the upcoming election season,” he said.
“We can’t say that terrorism is re-emerging in Punjab. It is not possible. But if this blast is the job of sleeper cells then it’s a very dangerous thing that sleeper cells of militants still exist in Punjab,” said the former DGP.
Kant though said he feels there is no chance that the era of terrorism can be revived.
“We should also understand political developments that have taken place in recent days,” he said. “Multiple inputs were coming from central agencies and here in Punjab officials were also awarded for killing terrorists, etc. What happened to those inputs? Why no action was taken? The situation can be handled easily but elections are near.”
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