A Hindu-dominated seat is ironically the hotbed of ‘Panthic’ ire in Punjab over last year’s incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
Kotkapura is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s next and last stop in the state before it heads for polls on February 4. Here and in adjoining assembly seats of Faridkot, Jaito, Baghapurana and Moga are ‘jathas’ (followers) of Sikh preachers Panthpreet Singh and Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale that are quietly asking Sikh voters to punish those behind the sacrilege incidents.
While the first sacrilege incident took place at Bargari village in Faridkot, the police and protesters had clashed at the main chowk of Kotkapura town and later two Sikhs had died in police firing at Behbal Kalan village in the Jaito assembly segment.
Panjgrain Khurd, a village in the neighbouring Baghapurana seat in Moga, had shot to fame after two brothers were arrested and beaten up by cops and later released for want of evidence.
Sitting at their home, brothers Jaswinder, 29, and Rupinder, 23, deny reports that they have joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), saying they are religious not political people. But Rupinder, a BA final-year student, admits he is sharing the stage of the AAP and telling people how the “Gur Sikh” (baptised) family was “falsely implicated and beaten up by the police”.
The AAP candidates have pictures of the two protesters killed at Behbal Kalan — Gurjeet Singh and Krishan Bhagwan Singh — at its rallies and a pre-recorded telephonic message of party chief Arvind Kejriwal where he is promising to punish the culprits.
Rupinder’s family alleges it became a target for being followers of Panthpreet, who led protests against sacrilege and later to secure the brothers’ release, but has since gone silent.
“Loki vota naal Badala nu daanga marange (voters will beat ruling Badals with their votes),” says a frail-looking Rupinder, who says AAP leader HS Phoolka helped them fight the “false” police case.
AKALIS PIN HOPES ON PM
As he campaigns for a third win, Kotkapura sitting Akali Dal MLA Mantar Singh Brar is hoping the sacrilege ire will be countered by Modi.
Some angry Sikh voters accuse Mantar of not coming when police clashed with protesters at the town’s chowk. But he says the mob was in a mood to lynch Akali leaders and had insulted a Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) member.
“They would have killed us as some Sikh radicals were fanning trouble. The AAP has had a pact with radicals that after coming to power they would hand over the reins of the SGPC to them. Mine is a Hindu-dominated seat, who respect PM Modi and his agenda of development,” Brar says.
SACRILEGE FUELLING AAP CAMPAIGN
It’s the sacrilege anger that seems to be “fuelling” the campaign of AAP candidate Kultar who dubs the support voluntary and spontaneous.
At Kothey Theh village of Kotkapura where Kultar, grandnephew of former President Giani Zail Singh, was campaigning on Thursday, 26-year-old Gurinder Singh claims there have been 95 incidents of sacrilege in Punjab since last year.
Amandeep Singh, 23, who stands out of the crowd dressed in a robe of 10th Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh, echoes the views of Gurinder that the AAP will punish the culprits of sacrilege.
“It is not just sacrilege, people want ‘jharu’ (broom) to clean the deep rot set in Punjab by the Akalis and Congress. The youth volunteers are themselves paying for fuel of their motorcycles and joining me from one village to another,” Kultar says, adding, “many ‘Premis’ (followers of Dera Sacha Sauda) are also with us and even Hindus are not with Modi.”
At his tyre shop in Kotkapura town, Dharampal Taneja says a majority of businesses in Kotkapura, including its grain market, are run by Hindus. “Our shops were shut for a week after the clash between protesters and the police. Agar mohol kharab hua toh business ka nauksan hoga (if the situation gets tense, it will hit our business). The Hindus and other urban voters will vote for the Akali-BJP and rural ones for the AAP. The Congress is out of contest after fielding an outsider,” Taneja says.
Which way the weighing scales (SAD symbol) will tilt will not just depend on Sikhs and Hindus, but also where ‘Premis’ and other Dalits, a third of Kotkapura’s voters, decide to go.