The presence of blue and saffron turbans outside the psychiatry ward of the Guru Nanak hospital seems to be a clear indication of the importance the 'panthic' leaders are attaching to the ‘VIP patient’ being treated inside.
The VIP in the ward is the 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, who was transferred to Amritsar from the national capital on medical grounds. It is learnt that despite his criminal background, Bhullar may be let off on parole very soon.
It was only after the Punjab government gave its consent, the former Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) militant was transferred to his home state, where he did not even spend an hour inside the prison and was shifted to an air-conditioned room of the Guru Nanak hospital.
The BJP, an alliance partner in the Punjab government, was left baffled by Akali Dal’s decision. Many BJP leaders claimed that party was not consulted in the Bhullar case.
Change of heart part of bigger plan
The question now arises what prompted this sudden change of heart in the Akalis who once described Bhullar as 'dangerous' and said his presence in Punjab could endanger peace?
It’s a known fact that all’s not well in the SAD-BJP relations. The two alliance partners have been left “disappointed” with each other on several occasions.
With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government assuming power at the Centre, one thought that the SAD-BJP relations would improve. On the contrary, the relations deteriorated as the BJP took the loss of its senior leader and now Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley from Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency very seriously, holding the Akalis responsible for the humiliating defeat.
In May, when BJP chief Amit Shah came to Punjab, leaders of party’s state unit gave him a deeper insight into their "dukh-dard" (pain) and questioned the logic of staying in an unhappy marriage with the Akalis. At that time, all state-level office-bearers and district party presidents, besides present and past MPs and legislators gave vent to their ire against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and told him that "every wrong of the Akalis dents the BJP image."
SAD-BJP relations have hit an all-time low with some observers saying there is a strong possibility of the two parting ways ahead of the 2017 assembly elections.
In such a scenario, the Akalis are keen to revive their 'panthic agenda’ and capitalise on traditional rural Sikh votebank. The grand function to commemorate 350 years of Anandpur Sahib and the statewide 'yatra' of the Gurus’ relics are a step in this direction. The decision to shift Bhullar to Amritsar, too, seems to be part of the big plan to revive the ‘panthic’ agenda.
Sikh radicals shower praises on Badal
Sikh radicals have already expressed their happiness over the government’s decision to bring back Bhullar and showered praises on chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Many radical leaders, including former Akal Takht Jathedar Jasbir Singh Rode and Damdami Taksal head Harnam Singh Dhuma, have paid visit to Bhullar at the hospital.
Bhullar’s wife Navneet Kaur has also hailed Badal’s move. The Akalis are also hopeful of winning back the support of NRI hardliners, many of whom were sympathetic to Bhullar’s cause. This section had not taken kindly to the Akalis joining hands with the BJP.
Though so far no senior leader of the ruling SAD has met Bhullar, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh visit clearly indicates the importance the Akalis attach to the convict. The Jathedar, too, praised Badal and said all such prisoners should be released. The ruling SAD also hopes to neutralise its splinter rival Akali factions, who see themselves more close to hardliners.
Knowing well that the electorate is not happy with their performance, the Akalis are banking on revival of the 'panthic' agenda to garner people’s support.