Conceding that the spate of peace-threatening protests, sparked off by emotive religious issues of Sikhs, have hit the image of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday expressed cautious optimism over police busting the designs of “external agencies and some internal political forces” attempting to destabilise Punjab.
Badal’s candid admission assumes significance as the popularity of the SAD, which has been in power since March 2007, has hit rock bottom following flip-flop over pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case. Now, the ruling Akali Dal, which thrives on core Panthic matters, has seemingly lost both face and following among the masses after statewide protests have erupted over desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in what the chief minister described as a “deep-rooted conspiracy”.
“Who is behind it (sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib)? That’s the question disturbing me. People of every faith are worried and Sikhs particularly are in grief… we will have to find out the conspirators…,” a visibly upset Badal said.
Looking deeply hurt by the ongoing turmoil in the state, he reiterated his pet phrase, ‘aman-shanti’ (peace), as his top priority and called upon the Sikhs to “punish us (Akali Dal) if we have faltered, but don’t take steps that can disrupt peace of Punjab.” “The image of the Akali Dal,” Badal admitted, “has been hit by the current developments.”
Appealing to people to give some time to police to crack this conspiracy, Badal recalled how once Sikh shrines were desecrated by throwing cigarettes and body parts of cows in temples. He said external agencies operating in the state did such acts to trigger communal tension. “All political parties should unitedly work to expose these designs,” Badal said.
“There are agencies across the border trying to vitiate and disrupt peace in Punjab. Some political forces are also working to exploit public sentiments. People should understand who all are behind this. The SAD-BJP alliance government is committed to peace and communal harmony,” he said.
He refused to be drawn into the contentious question and growing perception that deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal was behind Akal Takht’s September 24 decision to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda head and that the decision was reversed after he himself intervened keeping in view the public sentiment. “I will not comment on that… The Akal Takht is much bigger than the deputy CM and the CM,” is how Badal dodged the question.
No religious angle, says Badal
Worried over the delay in unearthing the conspiracy but committed to bringing the culprits to book, the chief minister said his “instruction” to the police was to bust the case with “foolproof evidence” that must be “convincing to the public.”
He hoped that in a day or two the investigation would shed some light. Making an appeal to all to let police go into the depth of the conspiracy of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, he said the protests were diverting the focus of cops. “This conspiracy has no Hindu-Sikh, Sikh-Christian/Muslim or any other religious angle,” he said. Badal underlined that it was a “sensitive matter” and that it needed to be handled with sensitivity.
“My priority is to nab the culprits. Police are working day and night. I am sure some clarity will emerge soon,” he added.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal indicated that not only the police but also the political class was caught napping on the issue of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot district. Badal wondered why people did not bring the issue (theft of ‘bir’ in June) to the notice of political leaders when they visited the area. He said the deputy CM was regularly touring that area but people didn’t inform him nor did other local politicians bring this to his notice.