It's a bit intriguing how the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) poll results, like the January assembly election results, have taken opinion-makers and social media oracles by surprise. Why do politically aligned or inclined experts repeatedly confuse their wishes with their judgement? Why do the seemingly ignorant masses always appear to disagree with the intellectual's view of what is good for the people and the country? Is the country really wiser and even smarter than its intellectual class? And despite all the talk of popular cynicism about the politician, why is it always the politician and the people who appear to understand the grassroot truths better than those who conduct surveys on them?
In Punjab, for example, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legend Parkash Singh Badal has seldom been found on the wrong side of public mood and opinion. He has often been the only reliable barometer on the mood of the state and its people. In or out of power, no one has been able to reckon without his towering presence. This, however, has not stopped many from talking about him and his party with moral and intellectual snobbery.
Symbol of change
Are the experts missing something here? It seems that a new Punjab and a new India are evolving. For many colonial centuries, the future had been locked away from our view. Despite taking firm steps into a bold present, there still is some haze in Punjab's tired eyes about its future. Does SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal hold the password to a promising zone of the future, and the capability to bring his party in sync with that new reality? He has quietly turned the political script of the state on its head, broken the anti-incumbency jinx and woven a social and political tapestry that seamlessly combines the colours of modernity with heritage. Something vital is quietly taking shaping in the collective political psyche and idiom of Punjab. Of that, Sukhbir probably is just a symbol, but no one can deny that today, there is hardly a stronger symbol around.
Something else is happening too, and it is happening in and to the SAD. Sukhbir is the first president of this strongly religion-based party to lead it to two back-to-back thumping victories in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and now the DSGMC, braving and defying the colourful but hazardous uncertainties of Panthic politics. Amazingly, this has been achieved without upping the Panthic ante, and more importantly without any letting up on what is essentially his father's forte - the secular ingredient. This is more than just personal good news for the SAD president. This is an amazing religio-political synaesthesia whose true value is to the social and political landscape of the state that had suffered grievous fractures in its psyche. But to refuse to acknowledge Sukhbir's part in this would be cussed. In the 2002 high-profile SGPC executive poll, Sukhbir first revealed his bold and out-of the-box approach to issues, flying nearly 150 SGPC members in a chartered plane from Delhi into Amritsar to stun a rampaging Capt Amarinder Singh and gift a Panthic victory to his father and party. In my view, that changed the SGPC and Sikh politics forever, pulling it out of an ideatic seclusion and the Sikhs out of a persecution complex. But even in those days of intense, passionate religious fervour, not once did Sukhbir raise a slogan that any non-Sikh would not have responded to. There was enthusiasm but no stridency. The SAD suddenly stepped - or flew - into the new age. None of the politics based on religious principles was abandoned; but Sukhbir reinterpreted those principles to make every Punjabi relate to them. Enter religion. Exit religiosity.
Cracked the code?
And the shift was accompanied by political windfalls. Since Sukhbir first assumed charge as the SAD's Campaign Field Marshal in 2005, the party has never lost an election - assembly, Parliament, civic, panchayat or SGPC and now the DSGMC. In between, Sukhbir promised and delivered on beating the anti-incumbency jinx, leading the SAD-BJP back to the corridors of power.
What does all this mean for the state? Is it time for a serious re-evaluation of the CEO's slot in the rough cross-currents of religion and politics in Punjab? Has he cracked the code that opens floodgates towards modern and secular future for his state, without losing its religio-cultural moorings? Someone had to do this, but has Sukhbir? And can he ensure that he is more than a "match winner" for his party? For this, he has to focus on the larger task of team building for his state, bringing consensus as an essential ingredient in the social and political life of his people. This is where his true test lies. The DSGMC win means that Sukhbir, more than anyone else, must take Sukhbir extremely seriously. The match begins now. I am betting my shirt on him.
The writer is adviser (media and national affairs) to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Views expressed are personal