‘Nationalist’ new catchword for SAD; Cong makes secular pitch | punjab | Hindustan Times
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‘Nationalist’ new catchword for SAD; Cong makes secular pitch

Going by the numbers, the recent radical Sarbat Khalsa should have alarmed the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, but it ended up helping the party latch on to the new catchword of “nationalist”.

punjab Updated: Nov 14, 2015 09:31 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal with CM Parkash Singh Badal.
Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal with CM Parkash Singh Badal.(HT Photo)

Going by the numbers, the recent radical Sarbat Khalsa should have alarmed the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, but it ended up helping the party latch on to the new catchword of “nationalist”.

The naming of Jagtar Singh Hawara, convicted of assassination of former Congress chief minister Beant Singh, as the Akal Takht jathedar and the demand for a separate Sikh state has alarmed the Congress that hoped to ride the strong wave of Panthic anger against the ruling Akalis -- over a spate of sacrilege incidents of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing at protesters -- in the 2017 state elections.

Leaders from both the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had shared the stage with Sikh outfits at the bhog ceremony of the two Sikhs killed in the police firing held at Bargari village in Faridkot on October 25. A statement from Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh, showing solidarity with the Sikh bodies was read out at the gathering by party leader Harminder Gill. AAP’s Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur, in his address, had called for “freeing Sikh institutions from the stranglehold of the Badals”.

But fringe religious and political groups taking centre-stage at the radical Sarbat Khalsa and laying bare their secessionist agenda have forced the Congress to make a secular pitch. The SAD not only tried to outwit opposition parties by terming itself “as a repository of nationalist and patriotic sentiments, which will remain in the forefront of unity of the country and harmony in Punjab” but also accused the Congress of courting extremists.

Amarinder, who had been whipping up anti-Badal sentiments among angry Sikhs and Panthic bodies, at a meeting with his loyalists over dinner before the event had expressed the apprehension that a huge gathering at the radical Sarbat Khalsa would not be a good sign for Punjab.

In his statement after it, Amarinder said this way (of appointing jathedars) would only kill the institutions that had been set up after a lot of struggle and sacrifice and would set a “dangerous trend”. When contacted, Amarinder made a secular pitch to reject the radical Sarbat Khalsa. “We are a secular party and our stand is clear. The presence of our leaders at the Bargari bhog was to show solidarity for hurt sentiments of Sikhs due to incidents of sacrilege and firing at Sikh protesters. But we cannot agree with the way the radical Sarbat Khalsa was convened that tried to appoint jathedars,” he said. On his loyalist MLA Ramanjit Sikki participating in the event, Amarinder said Sikki might not be aware of the resolutions expected to be announced there.

Bajwa echoes Capt’s views

Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, who had so far refrained from speaking on the radical Sarbat Khalsa, saying the party could not comment on religious affairs of Sikhs, also toed Amarinder’s line. “Sikhs went to the radical Sarbat Khalsa with hurt religious sentiments. The announcements made by radicals came as a rude shock to the people and have helped the ruling Badals. The resolutions were disruptive and do not reflect the aspirations of Sikhs in Punjab and other parts of the world who want peace and unity,” Bajwa said.

Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, who too had not voiced his disapproval for the resolutions at the radicals’ show, reacted by saying the party rejected them outright. “The extremists have tried to come forth but who has given them the environment to push their agenda after so many years by meddling with religious affairs? The Congress seeks ouster of the SAD-BJP government to stop extremist elements from disrupting peace,” Jakhar said.

Aam aadmi party silent

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had flirted with radicals to garner their support during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been silent on the radical meeting and the resolutions passed by it. The party, which hopes to cut both ways -- woo radicals and moderates -- said it would not like to interfere in religious affairs of Sikhs.

However, according to party insiders, AAP is trying to prove its nationalist credentials by not openly siding with radicals and letting Akalis blame the Congress for mobilising crowds for the congregation and setting its agenda, while on the other, it also hopes to gain support of Sikh hardliners by not opposing them.

Finally, the fight for Panthic votes will not be just among Akalis, Congress and AAP, but also the latter’s breakaway

faction, Swaraj Lehar, spearheaded by Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, if they throw their hat in the poll arena in 2017 and vie forsupport of radicals.