The door to a violent past which had firmly been shut is now being prised open in Punjab. A foundation stone has been laid in the Gol-den Temple in memory of those killed in Operation Bluestar. Along with this comes the glorification of BS Rajoana, a convict on death row for the 1995 assassination of former chief minister Beant Singh, as a living martyr.
The Shiro-mani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chose to do this on June 6, the 28th anniversary of Operation Bluestar. Even though the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders stayed away, it would seem this was out of political expediency rather than any aversion to the event. The move could well mean a resurrection of a political and socially divisive issue that the state had put behind it.
The opposition, mainly the Congress, lost no time in slamming the SAD for acceding to the hardliners’ demand for erecting the memorial. Even though deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has washed his hands off the ceremony, it is an open secret that both the SGPC and clergy are handmaidens of the SAD, a party that has always employed religion as a major currency in politics.
Predictably, the BJP, the SAD’s coalition partner, is angry. Building the memorial at the behest of the Damdami Taksal, a Sikh seminary that militant-preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale once headed, and, more disturbingly, praising the killer of Beant Singh amounts to conferring legitimacy on those who acted against the State. Any quarter given to the fundamentalist fringe only resurrects fears of the revival of a radical ideology that subsumed Akali politics not too long ago.
Political observers are puzzled to see the Akalis’ acquiescing to the radicals’ agenda, especially after Punjab handed them a historic second innings in the recent polls. After all, it was the first election in which the deputy chief minister embraced a positive, inclusive charter, pitching himself as the future CEO and the best guarantor of social harmony and progress.
The party’s sudden concession to the radical fringe is explained, in part, by the Akalis’ tacit pre-poll understanding with the Taksal and Sant Samaj, a conglomerate of Sikh seminaries, to mop up the Sikh vote and marginalise hardliners led by Simranjit Singh Mann in the closely-fought elections. But, such a quid pro quo with radical stream, at a time when Punjab is firmly in peace mode, is fraught with danger.
It could derail Mr Badal’s efforts to woo investors to boost Punjab’s sagging economy. Self-interest dictates that the Badals steer clear of the radicals. Otherwise they may find it hard to cork the genie that they themselves have freed.