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Freeing Khalistanis, honouring Guru Ravi Das: BJP is wooing Punjab voters

Gunjeet Sra
Gunjeet SraFeb 23, 2016 | 17:53

Freeing Khalistanis, honouring Guru Ravi Das: BJP is wooing Punjab voters

This morning’s paper had pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Guru Ravidas Temple, at Seer Goverdhanpur, in Varanasi. There was also a tweet from the home minister, Rajnath Singh, marking the birth anniversary of the poet. Even the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal made time to pay his respects to the ascetic. It is no revelation that nothing the politicians do is spontaneous. So why this sudden love for Guru Ravidas?

For the uninitiated, Guru Ravidas was a mystic poet whose work features in both, the Adi Granth of the Sikhs, and the Panchnvani of the ascetic Hindu group Dadupanthis. One of the 36 contributors to the ancient scriptures of Sikhism, his verse talks of dealing with conflict and tyranny, war and resolution, and the willingness to dedicate one's life to the right cause. His poetry talks of the idea of an equal state, the need for dispassion and the idea of a real Yogi.

He also happens to be highly revered by Dalits.

Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have the highest number of Dalits in India. Both states go to polls next year. The Dalit vote can make or break their political dreams, especially in Punjab where a dissatisfied population wants the current government out. Both the BJP and AAP will battle an epic war for Punjab and their visit to the temple in Varanasi is nothing but an attempt to woo the Ravidasia Sikhs and other Dalit voters ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls.

In the past one year alone, Punjab has seen a growing amount of unrest. Unemployment, poverty and a drug-addled state muddling in religious corruption and bigotry, it has become a hotbed for political turmoil. Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa, a separatist, has been on a hunger strike for more than 400 days. There has been a complete collapse of the Sikh religio-political sphere. There have been caste wars, religious wars and rioting. Farmers have been on strike. Productivity has been on an all-time low. Through all of this, the BJP and SAD coalition has continued to turn a blind eye, looking at problems only from a superficial perspective of votebank politics.

Just last week, Badal said that Punjab was being “defamed” by anti-state forces lead by Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party. This was in response to a study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on the drug situation in the state. When the state was going through a communal crisis because a pardon was procured for the dera chief in the hope that he would guide voters, Badal blamed an "international hand". It is the same rhetoric that the BJP is using these days nationally, “that it is being de-famed by anti-India forces.”

It has also come to light that the home minister had allowed for the release of a convicted Khalistani terrorist lodged at a prison in Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh, on humanitarian grounds in October last year. Identified as Waryam Singh, he was held guilty by a TADA court in 1990 for taking part in the Punjab liberation movement and is one of the 13 convicted terrorists whose release has been sought by the SAD. The home ministry was said to be initially against the release of convicted terrorists as it would give a wrong signal to the law enforcement agencies and primarily be seen as “appeasement” of a particular community. But the 2017 polls made them change their mind.

The battle for Punjab is not new and history has been witness to its political and sovereign struggles. In 1839, Ranjit Singh died and the occupation of Punjab was set in motion. A succession trial ensued, two of his successors were assassinated by the British and one was sent to London to be raised as a state ward. By 1845, the British had moved 32,000 troops to the Sutlej frontier. In later 1845 there was the first Anglo-Sikh War. After a few compromises on both sides, Punjab was finally occupied.

In 1966, owing to the demands made by the Akali Dal and various other organisations to create a Punjabi-speaking state, the government divided Punjab into a Punjabi-speaking state of the same name, and the Hindi-speaking Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Today, Sikhs make up about 60 per cent of the population in the Indian Punjab and Hindus make more than 35 per cent of the region.

In the early 1980s, some people who had demanded a separate state demanded a separate nation. Prakash Singh Badal, the current chief minister, was one of them. Unable to control the dissenting voices, the Congress-led government stepped in with Operation Blue Star and cleansed Punjab of terrorism. Two decades of anarchy, followed by a decade of growing restlessness and the same itch for sovereignty, has lead the state through dismal and often, hapless times. This time, Punjab is seething at the injustice meted out to it and is not going to settle for half-baked promises and leaders who can’t own up to their fallacies.

It will never settle for leaders who abet communal riots or those who don’t have regard for the marginalised. It will also never vote a complete Hindu nationalist party into power, and no, having Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the cabinet won’t help either.

What Punjab needs right now is a real leader, not someone who makes compromises for political gains. As Muktsar Maghi Mela demonstrated, AAP is emerging as the real hero. The BJP, SAD and the Congress don’t have the young energy to take on Punjab. It isn’t even the same beast anymore, the voters don’t relate to them — 31 per cent of its population are Dalits, who view these parties as neither fit nor mature enough to understand their problems.

After Kashmir and its alliance with PDP, the BJP is trying the same tactic in Punjab. Trying to befriend their biggest opposition — the erstwhile Khalistanis. It is a dangerous road to tread - the history of Congress party is witness to that - but as they say, desperate times, call for desperate measures.

Last updated: February 23, 2016 | 20:13
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