The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre on Saturday drew flak over religious conversions from not only the opposition Congress but also from its ruling alliance partner in Punjab -- the Shiromani Akali Dal -- during the Shaheedi Jor Mela, the annual event observed to mark the martyrdom of two sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
While chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir personally avoided a direct attack on the Narendra Modi government, other speakers, all hand-picked, lashed out at conversions questioning the motives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The state wing of the VHP has planned a “shuddhikaran” (purification) in Bathinda on January 1 where 200 Christians are expected to be brought into the Hindu fold.
“The SAD is anti-conversion,” said Sukhbir reiterating that every religion, including Christianity and Islam, had the right to flourish. Talking to mediapersons later, the CM slammed conversions describing them as “unfortunate and against the basic tenets of Sikhism”. He said, “Sikh gurus sacrificed their lives resisting conversion.” In fact, reassertion of the Sikh identity and its uniqueness from Hindus remained the dominant theme of the SAD convention this time, indicating that the party is shifting its focus back to the conventional Panthic agenda.
Most of the speakers made it a point to say that Sikhs are a different “quam” (community) and the time had come to strengthen the SAD as the “mother party” of Sikhs that had stood by them through all threats.
The CM and the deputy CM also used the forum to criticise the Centre in having “failed” to control drug smuggling into the country. Sukhbir devoted a major part of his speech to the responsibility of other state governments, especially Rajasthan, in encouraging opium cultivation and consumption.
Alleging that Punjab was the victim of a false and vicious propaganda that everyone in the state was into drugs, Sukhbir said his police were in fact waging a war against drugs on behalf of the country. “If a terrorist arrested somewhere says he worked for the home minister of India, would we start questioning the home minister? How can we believe a statement given by a criminal?” said Sukhbir, indirectly coming to the defence of his brother-in-law and state revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was grilled for over four hours by the enforcement directorate on the issue on Friday.
The Congress, in its convention, which happened a few kilometres away, however, vowed to “book” Majithia for his alleged involvement in the drug trade when they come to power. On conversions, Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa said Modi and Badal were modern-day “Aurangzebs”. “The SAD can’t absolve itself of the conversions, as the CM and deputy CM for personal interests are working as agents of the RSS in the state. The RSS is also trying to convert Sikhs,” Bajwa said.
SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann espoused the cause of the militants languishing in jails. “The Punjab government did not let Gurbaksh Singh continue his struggle in Punjab so he moved to Haryana,” he said at the SAD (A) convention. The Aam Aadmi Party which conducted its maiden convention at the mela attacked the Badal family’s rule in the state.