Voices of dissent are emerging from within the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as it battles the growing anger among Sikhs over incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. Questioning the timing of pardon to Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Sikh clergy, SAD Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral said it “added fuel to the already full-blown agrarian crisis in the state”.
Gujral, however, distanced the party from the decisions of the Sikh high priests – who issued the pardon -- saying neither the Akali Dal dictated terms to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) nor the latter could dictate the Akal Takht to take a particular decision. “I want to dispel the perception that Sikh institutions are dictated by the SAD. The Akal Takht takes its decisions independently. The Akal Takht thought the move would bring harmony among Sikhs and dera followers in the state but it backfired. They did not fathom how much anger it would generate. The timing was a mistake. It added fuel to the already frayed tempers in the state,” Gujral told HT.
The genesis of the present crisis, according to Gujral, is the farmers suffering huge losses on account of failure of cotton crop and crashing of basmati prices. “Punjab is an agrarian state and farmers are not getting their due. As a party representing the state, we have repeatedly raised the issue of low minimum support price (MSP) in Parliament. The MSP does not even cover the input costs. The grant of the pardon at a time the farmers were protesting after suffering losses precipitated the anger as fringe groups that were lying dormant in the state got active to oppose it. The incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib that followed were clearly designed to destablise the state as there is a clear pattern to these. The protests against the sacrilege plunged the state into a deeper crisis,” he said.
The opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have accused the Parkash Singh Badal government of playing the “dera pardon card” to deflect public attention from the farmer protests.
On the flip-flop by the state government of first arresting two brothers for the sacrilege at Bargari village and later releasing them, he said no state government had the long arms to investigate foreign handlers of culprits. “That is why we have entrusted the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which can take the help of national and international intelligence agencies to probe the incidents,” the MP said.
For the public anger against the ruling Akalis, Gujral blamed the media. “The media has played a huge role in creating the perception that all decisions are taken by the ruling party. We are not living in dreamland and are aware of the perception and trying to deal with it,” he added.