Why Akali Dal is pushing an anti-Muslim narrative with Tipu Sultan row

Historically, Sikh conflicts with the Mughals make up a part — not the whole — of the faith's evolution.

 |  3-minute read |   30-01-2018
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I am not sure how much we — the Indians — have gained intellectually over the past three years. But it's pretty clear we have wasted a lot of our energy on worthless issues invented one after another by the powers that be.

Communities have been strategically turned against each other, vitiating the country's secular climate, be it in the name of sacred animals, historical or mythological figures or in the name of manufactured causes.

As self-anointed representatives of the Sikhs, the Akalis were expected to have behaved responsibly. Unfortunately, they haven't.

Routed in Punjab, the heartland of the Sikh faith, the Shiromani Akali Dal under the Badals appears to have gone a bit too far in appeasing its alliance partner, the BJP.

If you watch them dispassionately, you might discover how consistently they have been portraying the Sikh religion primarily as a reaction to tyrant Islamic rulers.

Historically, Sikh conflicts with the Mughals make up a part — not the whole — of the faith's evolution.

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But the Akalis seemed to have been cleverly glossing over a major portion of Sikh history and theology that fiercely opposed caste system, empty rituals and retrograde traditions that held up humanity in the subcontinent when Guru Nanak arrived.

In all their pompous two-party events, especially over the last two years, the central message relayed to the world outside from Akali-BJP podiums has been Sikhism is originally an anti-Islamic force and not a revolution against inequities in multicultural milieus.

Of course, this approach suits the BJP that has come under intense scrutiny of global human rights organisations for Hindu-Muslim tensions across west and north India.

For the ruling party, the Akalis — with their flowing beards and glaringly visible distinct identity — have become a handy showpiece to counter notions that it intrinsically believed in homogenising diversities.

But the reality, as evident from the Akalis' subsidiary conduct, is startlingly different.

manjinder_013018041247.jpg Manjinder Singh Sirsa went on national air to oppose chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's unveiling of the 18th-century Mysore ruler's portrait in the Delhi Assembly.

Ideally, the Badal party should not have jumped into the Tipu Sultan soup concocted by vested interests with an eye on Karnataka elections due this year.

But it did when an Akali leader in Delhi, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, went on national air to oppose chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's unveiling of the 18th-century Mysore ruler's portrait in the Delhi Assembly.

In how the BJP/Sangh and Badals' party are merged together is typified in Sirsa's double role — the leader is a senior Akali office-bearer of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) and a BJP MLA in the Delhi assembly.

So, the gentleman held a news conference to call for replacement of Tipu Sultan's portrait with images of Sikh military commanders from the 18th/19th century.

He alleged the Mysore king had been involved in forcible proselytising and therefore not worthy of being displayed in the house of elected lawmakers.

For more than three to four decades now, PR agents of Punjab politicians across party lines have exploited statues and portraits of Sikh icons as emotive issues.

This tactic worked brilliantly well until thinkers and experts exposed it on social media not only as a pointless exercise but also as antithetical to Sikh philosophy that rejects glorification of images.

But the likes of Sirsa appear to be under tremendous pressure from their coalition partners. Invoking highly-respected Sikh commanders to oppose Tipu Sultan's portrait were absolutely unnecessary.

But in bigger divisive politics, they appear to serve a purpose — driving a wedge, now between the country's two religious minorities.

If Sirsa's plunge into the Tipu row had the covert or over sanction of the Badals, it completes the Akalis' absorption into the Sangh fold.

After all, why would a party that claims to represent one of India's diversities participate in propaganda designed to alienate another.

Also read: India can celebrate Tipu Sultan as much as Shivaji: BJP can't erase history

Writer

Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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