In an apparent attempt to divert people from their outrage over the Moga bus horror, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has taken the old winning route of religion.
A joint event of the Punjab government and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the bringing of Sikh Gurus' relics from Patiala to Anandpur Sahib after a journey across Punjab, began on Wednesday as the exclusive show of the SAD. The Bharatiya Janata Party, coalition partner of the Akalis in the state, stayed away from the spectacle that started when chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, and Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh flagged off the exhibition on wheels here.
Master of the game of exploiting religious sentiments, the SAD hopes to regain the lost ground after the Moga molestation and murder; distressed sale of wheat; denying of special economic package to Punjab; drug menace; and losing its say in the central government. In every district, a cabinet minister or a senior Akali leader will receive the procession, and in every assembly constituency along the way, halqa in-charges will throw a crowd around it. The route is planned to cover 70 assembly constituencies.
Horses, elephants, gatka parties, and brass bands escort the bus carrying the relics. Driving along in open vehicles, Badal, Sukhbir and the other Akali ministers acknowledged the crowd but avoided the media.
Akali workers and allied organisations of the SGPC mobilised the rooting public. The Akali leaders accompanying the procession included cabinet minister Surjit Singh Rakhra in Patiala, and Makhan Singh Lalka at Nabha. "A series of incidents after sub-par performance in the Lok Sabha elections have brought the popularity of the SAD to an all-time low, so once again, Badal has played his ace card of religion for political gain," said rebel Akali leader Manjit Singh Calcutta, who has worked as minister with Badal.
The CM, however, told the gathering that it was his "humble tribute to the great Gurus", for providing people with a glimpse of the holy relics, "hoping it would promote the Sikh ethos of fighting against tyranny, oppression, and injustice". Sukhbir in his address requested the SGPC to take this yatra into Rajasthan, Haryana, and Delhi as well.
The SAD did manage to gather a throng on the first day, relying on the divine powers of Guru Hargobind, Guru Teg Bahadur, and Guru Gobind Singh.